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Israel Adesanya didn’t just exorcise his demons. He put them to sleep.
Alex Pereira defeated Adesanya three times, twice in kickboxing and twice by knockout. On Saturday night, Adesanya returned the favor and got the albatross off from around his neck for good.
Adesanya knocked out Pereira with several brutal right hands at 4 minutes, 21 seconds of the second round in the main event of UFC 287 here at Kaseya Center. With the violent triumph, Adesanya regained the UFC middleweight championship. He’s the first two-time middleweight champion in UFC history and only the fourth out of 15 fighters to win their titles back in an immediate rematch.
“I hope every one of you behind the screen, in this arena, can feel this level of happiness just one time in your life,” Adesanya said in his postfight interview. “I hope all of you can feel how f—ing happy I am right now. … But you never feel this level of happiness if you don’t go for something.”
Pereira was doing well again Saturday night.
He had Adesanya against the cage, ripping off combinations. Adesanya said afterward that he was playing possum. He countered with a massive right hand that hurt Pereira, then followed up with another right and a left hook that put Pereira down.
Adesanya put a stamp on the victory with a hammerfist as referee Dan Miragliotta pulled him away and stopped the fight. Pereira was unconscious.
“That last one had everything,” Adesanya said. “That was since 2017. That last hammerfist was from the gods.”
With Pereira prone on the canvas, Adesanya stood over him and made a motion like he was pulling back on a bow and arrow. It’s the same taunt Pereira uses, including during his entrance Saturday night.
“The hunter became the hunted,” Adesanya said.
Pereira defeated Adesanya via fifth-round TKO to win the title at UFC 281 last November at Madison Square Garden. Pereira also beat Adesanya twice in kickboxing, the most recent time by knockout in 2017. He’s the only man to ever knock Adesanya out.
“They said revenge is sweet,” Adesanya said. “If you know me, I got a sweet tooth.”
Coming in, ESPN had Adesanya ranked No. 5 on its pound-for-pound MMA list and Pereira tied for No. 10.
Adesanya (24-2) had five title defenses at middleweight before losing to Pereira last year. The Nigerian-born New Zealand resident had never lost at 185 pounds prior to that, with his only MMA defeat previously coming in a UFC light heavyweight title fight in 2021 against Jan Blachowicz. Adesanya, 33, still owns the second most title fight wins in UFC middleweight history (8).
“People were asking in interviews leading up to this fight, do you think [Adesanya is] messed up mentally and do you think [Pereira is] in his head?” UFC president Dana White said. “And I did not think that. … [Adesanya] is special. He’s different.”
Pereira (7-2) came in on a seven-fight winning streak, with his only previous loss coming in his MMA debut in 2015. The Brazil native is a former Glory Kickboxing middleweight and light heavyweight champion. Pereira, 35, trains out of Connecticut with former UFC light heavyweight champion Glover Teixeira.
“No matter what, Alex is a great champion,” Adesanya said. “He lost the belt tonight, but he will always be a champion. In his story, I’m the antagonist. In his story, I’m the bad guy. But tonight, it’s my story. History.”
White stated he believes Pereira will move to light heavyweight after this bout because of how much weight he has to cut to make the 185-pound limit as a middleweight.