Alex Pereira became the undisputed UFC middleweight champion on Saturday, defeating Israel Adesanya in a technical knockout outside a sold-out Madison Square Gardens in New York.
It was a stunning victory from behind with Pereira, taking part in only his fourth UFC bout and eighth MMA bout overall, billed as the underdog against Adesanya who was attempting to win a record-breaking sixth straight title defense.
And for much of the fight, it looked like Adesanya would achieve that record with Pereira languishing on the judges’ scorecards until the final round.
But the Brazilian rallied and hit Adesanya with a flurry of shots in the fifth round to force a referee stoppage and a TKO win.
“I’m very happy,” Pereira said afterwards, according to the UFC website. “It was a great job. And I’m not just saying since I joined the Organization, but everything I’ve done to get here.
“And what I did to be here to get the belt. It was very difficult. I had to overcome some tough opponents but I did.
The two men had already met twice in kickboxing before joining the UFC. Pereira had won both fights, becoming the only man to knock out Adesanya.
Adesanya landed the decisive first blow of the night with a one-two that sent Pereira faltering, but he intervened in the dying seconds of the first round, allowing the 35-year-old to recover for the next round.
And the defending champion’s onslaught continued over the next three rounds, leaving Adesanya ahead on all three judges’ scorecards heading into the fifth and final round.
Aware that he had to find the finish in round five, Pereira unleashed his full power and Adesanya ultimately couldn’t offer an answer.
Meanwhile, in the co-main event, Zhang Weili won the Women’s Strawweight Championship, the second title of her career, by defeating Carla Esparaza via submission with a rear naked choke in the second round.
“Today is like a dream come true. Ever since I lost the belt, I’ve been dreaming of this moment,” she said afterwards, according to the BBC.