FightWatch- UFC 281: Adesanya vs. Pereira
By Mick Robson
One of the bigger events on the UFC calendar went down this past weekend, as the Ultimate Fighting Championship made their annual trip to Madison Square Garden. The World's Most Famous Arena has played host to some iconic UFC moments in the past few years, including Conor McGregor becoming champ-champ, GSP coming back after years away to win the middleweight crown then promptly retiring again, and The Rock walking out in MSG to his WWE music, with the BMF belt on his shoulder. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
This year, a stacked card at the Garden hopes to follow in those footsteps. The main event sees two old kickboxing rivals renew their feud in a different sport, as Alex Pereira looks to capitalise on his considerable striking skills against a man he's already beat twice, one of those times being by knockout- The Last Stylebender, the reigning middleweight champ, Israel Adesanya.
Let's do this!
Fight 1: (205) Carlos Ulberg def. Nicolae Negumereanu via KO (punches) at 3:44 of R1
Thoughts: Can't start a card much better than that! First round knockout. Ulberg, representing City Kickboxing, the home gym of Adesanya, got things off to a great start. He chops Nicolae down with strong leg kicks, then lands clean upstairs for the finish. Essentially a flawless performance.
Fight 2: (135) Montel Jackson def. Julio Arce via unanimous decision (30-27 X 2, 29-28)
Thoughts: A more methodical start to this fight, which the New York crowd had NO patience for. They were spoiled early. The first two rounds were close, with no real clear cut moments on either side, but that changed in the third as Jackson got a knockdown with a stiff jab then maintained top control, Arce tried to throw up submissions, but to no avail. A little surprised at the 30-27s for Jackson, but when they're that close, I guess it just so happened to swing in Jackson's favour that bit more on this night.
Fight 3: (Catchweight- 147.6) Michael Trizano def. Choi Seung-Woo via KO (punches) at 4:51 of R1
Thoughts: Aaaaand we're back. Trizano's weight miss made him ineligible for any performance bonuses, which is a shame because not only was it a great finish, but it was a wild fight for every second of it. They knock each other down in the opening seconds, and we basically get them swinging bombs for the duration of this fight. The fact that this was only in contention for Fight of the Night speaks to how great this whole card gets later.
Fight 4: (W-115) Karolina Kowalkiewicz def. Silvana Gomez Juarez via unanimous decision (29-28 X 3)
Thoughts: Great pressure from the former title challenger Kowalkiewicz, getting the takedown and a lot of ground control in the first round. Juarez, to her credit, rebounds nicely in the second, and we go the 15 with a very competitive fight on our hands. We get some shenanigans at the end with an athletic commission official coming into the Octagon to adjust the scorecards before Buffer could read it out, which I don't think we've seen before. I do think the announced result was the correct one though.
Fight 5: (155) Matt Frevola def. Ottman Azaitar via KO (punch) at 2:30 of R1
Thoughts: Wow. Every finish to this point has been in the first round! Both men are heavy hitters, unafraid to throw, but Frevola did seem to be the sharper one in the early exchanges. They get in close to clinch territory, and Frevola lands a left hook which absolutely puts Azaitar's lights out! Frevola is elated in his post-fight interview and comes across extremely likeable.
Note- Before we move on... they fit 5 fights into a 2 hour window, and it was wonderful, zero dead air. Would like to see that more often.
Fight 1: (185) Andre Petrovski def Wellington Turman via unanimous decision (30-27 X 2, 29-28)
Thoughts: This was a fairly pedestrian fight. I'm actually putting together this review the day after, and while I can work from memory for the most part, I had to go back and rewatch the footage, because nothing in particular stuck in my head from this one. Looking back, they did land some hard shots early, but the gas tank on both guys really failed them, and the output slowed majorly. Petrovski does have good enough wrestling skills to gain top control and negate a lot of attempted offense from Turman.
Fight 2: (W-125) Erin Blanchfield def. Molly McCann via submission (kimura) at 3:37 of R1
Thoughts: Meatball Molly had the popularity and the hype train behind her, but Blanchfield was actually the favourite according to the odds, and the way this fight played out showed why. Almost immediately, Blanchfield got a takedown and worked into the crucifix position. She rained down strikes, but Molly did enough bucking and moving to survive. So Blanchfield switched to the sub, and after a struggle, got the tap. Blanchfield was the youngest fighter on this card at 23, but carried herself with a veteran's poise.
Fight 3: (206.6) Ryan Spann def. Dominick Reyes via KO (punches) at 1:20 of R1
Thoughts: Reyes is not the same fighter that he was a few years ago, when he took Jon Jones to the limit. His reflexes are slower and the chin is weaker. That said, you can be as durable as you want, but Spann has that game changer power. Much like Trizano earlier, it's unfortunate that a weight miss costs Spann a bonus here.
Fight 4: (155) Renato Moicano def. Brad Riddell via submission (rear naked choke) at 3:20 of R1
Thoughts: The first round finishes keep coming! Moicano was sharp with the striking, landing a big head kick and bloodying up the tough Riddell. Moicano takes the back, and curiously, Riddell doesn't even attempt to fight the hands. The commentators were just as confused as I was- perhaps Riddell thought he could tuck his chin enough and just gut it out? Excellent performance by Moicano, who almost out-performs the fight in his interview with Rogan, letting the expletives fly at will. He's fired up, and "Moicano is money!"
Fight 1: (155) Dan Hooker def. Claudio Puelles via TKO (body shots) at 4:06 of R2
Thoughts: Hooker has faced a murderer's row in recent years, and took a slight step down in competition here, as #12, he faced an unranked opponent. Puelles is a leg lock specialist, and almost got a kneebar with a Imanari roll, but Hooker escapes. Puelles exposed himself as a one-trick pony, drawing boos and I believe a "pussy" chant from the crowd, after continually going for the roll and outright refusing to fight on the feet. Hooker starts picking him apart, and continual body kicks soon spelled the end. Great return to form, and another win for City Kickboxing.
Fight 2: (135) Chris Gutierrez def. Frankie Edgar via KO (knee) at 2:01 of R1
Thoughts: Damn. This was sad. The retirement fight of the legendary Frankie Edgar, from the area, had his family in attendance... and got sparked with the first major shot of the fight. A stark reminder that this isn't WWE, and you can't write your own storybook ending. Even Gutierrez looked a bit upset after the fact. I'll fondly remember seeing Edgar's career from the beginning, especially the Maynard fights. Enjoy retirement, Frankie. Thank you.
Fight 3: (155) Dustin Poirier def. Michael Chandler via submission (rear naked choke) at 2:00 of R3
Thoughts: If you put money on this being Fight of the Night, it turned out to be a pretty safe bet! Both men swung for the fences and landed hard in R1. Poirier hurt Chandler bad in the waning seconds of the first frame, causing Chandler to remember that he has wrestling skills, and we went into the 3rd most likely at 1-1. Then after a good scramble, Poirier found the back and got that choke in. A brilliant performance from Poirier, perhaps securing a future Lightweight title shot. Amazing battle!
Fight 4: UFC Strawweight Championship- Zhang Weili def. Carla Esparza (c) via submission (rear naked choke) at 1:05 of R2
Thoughts: Weili has been primarily known as a striker during her time in the UFC, but displayed great grappling acumen here, either stopping takedowns or scrambling to reverse position. Carla had no answer on the feet, and was getting picked apart at will. In the second, a takedown attempt is awkwardly but effectively reversed by Zhang into the crucifix position, and then a choke is applied out of nowhere! Brilliant finish, and Esparza looked completely lost out there.
Before the main event, the commentary team makes some announcements for UFC in Perth (UFC 284) this February. Islam Makhachev vs. Alexander Volkanovski for the Lightweight Championship is confirmed, and with the Featherweight Champion chasing glory in other divisions, we're getting an Interim Featherweight Championship fight on the Perth card- Yair Rodriguez vs. Josh Emmett. With Robert Whittaker vs. Paulo Costa also on the card, this is looking like another stacked PPV! Definitely plan to go.
Main Event: UFC Middleweight Championship- Alex Pereira def. Israel Adesanya (c) via TKO (punches) at 2:01 of R5
Thoughts: Wow! From all the early finishes to a late one to cap things off! Adesanya was winning- looked sharp in the striking in the first, rocking Pereira at the horn. The challenger came back in the second round, but Adesanya went on to mix the martial arts, and won Rounds 3 and 4 by incorporating clinches and takedowns, even taking the back for a spell. But just when it seemed like Izzy was heading to another UD... albeit a far more exciting decision than we've seen him have recently... Pereira starts swinging hammers! Adesanya is dazed and staggering everywhere, and referee Marc Goddard saves Adesanya from further punishment. Some are calling "early stoppage" because he didn't completely go down... but nah. Guy was on dream street. Some Sonnen/Silva, or more recently Usman/Edwards vibes. Huge victory for Pereira... again!
Stacked cards don't always live up to the hype, but this one sure did! Tied for most finishes on a UFC card in history, and also ties the record for the most first-round finishes. The new champs picked up POTN bonuses, while FOTN went to Poirier and Chandler, but I hope a lot of behind the scenes bonuses were cut by Dana for this one, it was an incredible night of MMA action!
Overall Score: 9/10
Until next time, take care.