Adesanya (23-1) has won more than three times as many MMA contests as Pereira (6-1) has even competed in, but the UFC accelerated this matchup due to their history. Pereira holds two victories over Adesanya in professional kickboxing, including a vicious knockout in 2017.
It’s a great narrative for Adesanya’s latest title defense, and should preclude a highly technical fight. Pereira has finished two of his three UFC opponents via knockout.
In the co-main event, two-time strawweight champion Carla Esparza (19-6) is a significant underdog against former champion Zhang Weili (22-3), although Esparza has thrived in the underdog role before. Also, lightweight fan favorites Dustin Poirier (28-7) and Michael Chandler (23-7) square off and icon Frankie Edgar makes the final Octagon walk of his career as he faces Chris Gutierrez.
Follow along as Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim recap the action or watch the fights live on ESPN+ PPV.
Fight in progress
UFC 281 results
Women’s flyweight: Erin Blanchfield (10-1, 4-0 UFC) def. Molly McCann (13-5, 6-4 UFC) by submission (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Erin Blanchfield stuns the Madison Square Garden crowd by forcing Molly McCann to tap out.
Even Molly ‘Meatball’ McCann’s magical 2022 couldn’t slow down the growing phenom that is Erin Blanchfield.
Blanchfield, 23, thoroughly demolished McCann in the first round of their crucial flyweight contest. Blanchfield took McCann down with ease in the opening round and eventually forced her to tap to an armbar at the 3:37 mark.
McCann valiantly tried to escape one bad position after another, but was overmatched entirely on the floor. Blanchfield is quickly becoming one of the division’s more feared grapplers. She quickly caught McCann in a crucifix after taking her down and racked up 93 total strikes landed.
Despite McCann’s popularity, Blanchfield went into the fight as a significant betting favorite. She improved to 4-0 in the UFC with two finishes and asked to crack into the Top 10 next. McCann, of Liverpool, sees a three-fight win streak snapped.
Middleweight: Andre Petroski (9-2, 4-0 UFC) def. Wellington Thurman (18-6, 3-4 UFC) by unanimous decision (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Petroski put everything he had behind practically every punch he threw early on, but his relentless grappling and top control proved his greatest strength.
Petroski had two takedowns in each of the first two rounds and kept Thurman on the defensive on the canvas for practically the whole second half of the fight. But he wanted more from his performance.
“I know what I’m capable of,” he said. “I know I’m capable of beautiful finishes., So I’m not happy.”
The crowd got “USA! USA!” chants going several times — even though Petraski is from Philadelphia, whose sports teams are generally despised by New York fans, and Thurman, while from Brazil, lives and trains less than 70 miles away in Danbury, Connecticut. Oh well.
Two judges gave all three rounds to Petroski, and the third scored it 29-28 in his favor.
Petroski, 31, has won four fights in a row since his only career defeat. Thurman, 26, saw a two-fight winning streak end.
Lightweight: Matt Frevola (10-3-1, 4-3-1 UFC) def. Ottman Azaitar (13-1, 2-1 UFC) by knockout (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Matt Frevola drops Ottman Azaitar with one incredible punch to the chin.
Long Island showed out at Madison Square Garden.
Frevola starched Azaitar with a right hand followed by a left hook for a knockout at 2:30 of the first round. Azaitar came in hard and landed a shot of his own, but Frevola countered with that short right and then put Azaitar down for good with the left.
Frevola, 32, has won two straight and has just two losses in his last seven fights. “The Steamrolla” picked up his first pro career win in New York. At MSG, he went to a draw with Lando Vannata at UFC 230 in 2018.
Azaitar, a 32-year-old German-born Morrocan fighter, was undefeated, coming in with a pair of UFC KO/TKO victories on his record.
Strawweight: Karolina Kowalkiewicz (14-7, 7-7 UFC) def. Silvana Gómez Juárez (11-5, 1-3 UFC) by unanimous decision (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Kowalkiewicz, of Poland, improved to 2-0 in 2022 with a close decision victory over Gomez Juarez. All three judges scored the bout 29-28 for Kowalkiewicz.
Kowalkiewicz dominated the opening round with her grappling, immediately taking Gomez Juarez’s back and maintaining that position for the entire round. However, the second and third rounds were extremely close, with Kowalkiewicz working straight punches at angles and Gomez Juarez responding with heavy counter shots.
Gomez Juarez especially started to time the counter right hand. She also went to the body in boxing exchanges. Kowalkiewicz narrowly out-landed her in total strikes, but the power seemed to favor Gomez Juarez. Nevertheless, Gomez Juarez nodded as the scores were read and Kowalkiewicz said she believed she’d done enough to win the fight.
Kowalkiewicz, 37, said she’s re-committed to MMA after going back and forth with retirement amid a five-fight skid. Gomez Juarez drops to 2-2 in the UFC.
Men’s featherweight: Michael Trizano (11-3, 4-3 UFC) def. SeungWoo Choi (10-6, 3-5 UFC) by knockout (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Two featherweights on losing streaks entered the Octagon, determined to get off to a positive start. Then, in the opening 30 seconds, both unleashed big left hooks simultaneously. Both landed flush, and both men fell to the canvas.
And with that we had the first crowd-pleasing fight of the night. Once both men climbed back to their feet, they resumed throwing big leather, with Choi continuing with the hard left hooks and Trizano landing right hands that threatened to end the fight. But then he went back to the left, did end the fight with a crisp check hook.
The first round was winding down when Trizano floored Choi and swarmed him for the finish at 4:51.
“I was not going to be denied. I don’t care. I was going to go out on my shield,” said Trizano, who is 30 and from Ramsey, New Jersey, and ended a two-fight losing streak.
Choi, a 30-year-old from South Korea, has lost three fights in a row.
Bantamweight: Montel Jackson (12-2, 6-2 UFC) def. Julio Arce (18-6, 5-4 UFC) by unanimous decision (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
With the help of that late knockdown, Jackson was able to pull out a unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28) victory over Arce. Jackson has now knocked down his opponent in five straight bouts. This one came on a power jab that ended up causing nasty swelling and bruising on Arce’s left eye. Jackson said he started the fight wrestling to get Arce more stationary in the striking, leading to that success on the feet.
“I was looking for him to get set a little bit,” Jackson said. “He was moving a lot with his head.”
Jackson, 30, has won three straight and six of his last seven fights. The 30-year-old Milwaukee native has a 6-2 UFC record and seems ready for bigger things in the 135-pound division. Arce, a 33-year-old who lives in Queens, New York, has alternated wins and losses in his last eight fights.
Light heavyweight: Carlos Ulberg (8-1, 3-1 UFC) def. Nicolae Negumereanu (13-2, 4-2 UFC) by TKO (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Carlos Ulberg sends Nicolae Negumereanu to the mat and finishes him off with a flurry of punches.
In his first MMA appearance in New York, Ulberg put on an absolute show in a first-round finish against Negumereanu. Ulberg immediately compromised Negumereanu’s lead left leg with calf kicks, before dropping him with a perfect left hook in the center of the cage. The finish came at 3:44 of the round.
Ulberg is one of four members of New Zealand’s City Kickboxing team competing tonight, and he certainly got them off to a hot start. It was a flawless performance, as Negumereanu was only credited with two strikes landed, neither of which had any effect on Ulberg.
The 31-year-old improves to 3-0 in his last three fights and 3-1 overall in the UFC since coming off Contender Series in 2020.
Still to come:
(c) = defending champion