With Alex Pereira and Zhang Weili capturing the UFC middleweight and women’s strawweight titles, we look back on a historic night at Madison Square Garden.
The questions over whether or not Alex Pereira’s two kickboxing wins over Israel Adesanya would have any bearing at UFC 281 were answered emphatically on Saturday night.
While Adesanya was 3-1 up on all three judges’ scorecards going into the final round, Pereira had posed a threat throughout, particularly in the second round, bouncing back superbly after being mere seconds away from being stopped at the end of the first.
The thinking was that the longer the fight went on, the more it would suit Adesanya, but after Pereira checked a kick that sent the Last Stylebender flying backwards, the Brazilian immediately applied pressure, landing a series of heavy shots to give Adesanya his first MMA defeat at middleweight.
The fight was close enough to warrant a rematch, especially so given Adesanya’s dominance in the division, but considering Pereira’s power and that he has a reach to rival Adesanya, it’s hard to think he’ll be the same underdog when they next meet in the Octagon.
Widely fancied to regain the title she lost in devastating fashion to Rose Namajunas, Zhang Weili duly provided with a second-round submission over Carla Esparza.
Setting a frightening pace in the first round, it would have been fascinating to see how the fight would have played out had it reached the championship rounds, but ultimately, Zhang was just too good.
Having lost with a head kick KO in the first fight with Namajunas, Zhang was on the wrong end of a razor-thin split decision in the rematch, and the trilogy fight looks a no-brainer.
It’s not often you can pick out a Fight of the Night ahead of the card, but UFC 281 presented one of those rare occasions.
Dustin Poirier vs Michael Chandler was always going to be a barnburner and the pair delivered at Madison Square Garden.
Chandler started superbly and had Poirier backed up against the fence in trouble before Poirier fought fire with fire, briefly putting Chandler to the mat.
Chandler bounced back well to control Poirier on the ground throughout the second, but the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt showed his class in the third to find the finish.
It means that in his last 12 fights, that have featured Conor McGregor twice, Max Holloway and Justin Gaethje, only Charles Oliveira and Khabib Nurmagomedov have beaten Poirier.
Beneil Dariush’s performance at UFC 280 saw him enter the picture, and with new champion Islam Makhachev fighting Alexander Volkanovski at UFC 284 next February, a number one contender fight between Poirier and Dariush may be the fight to make.