In a shocking display over the weekend reigning middleweight champion Israel Adesanya lost his belt to arch rival Alex Pereira via TKO in the fifth and final round at UFC 281. This was after having Pereira out on his feet at the buzzer of round one and winning three of the first four rounds on the judges’ scorecards.
Adesanya had held the title since Oct. 2019 and was unbeaten as a middleweight. The loss to Pereira was eerily similar to how Adesanya had lost to him in their last pro kickboxing fight back in 2017. Adesanya appeared to be outstriking and winning the bout until the resilient Pereira found a home for that power shot in the final round.
Now we learn that the former champ almost pulled out of his UFC 281 title fight against Pereira. In an appearance on the podcast Flagrant with host Andrew Schultz yesterday, and after a few drinks with the boys, Adesanya shared the news for apparently the first time:
“Also, breaking news. I was gonna pull out of this fight early on. Last time I fought in New York, (UFC) 230 (Nov. 3, 2018), I was gonna pull out of that fight with three weeks left but then with (Derek) Brunson cause of my knee. This knee that time (his other knee). But then I had cortisone injection and took a whole five days off with nothing, no nothing, five days off, and then it just got better. I came over to MSG and I dominated. This time it’s from the last fight with Cannonier. I hurt my PCL and that’s the thing that keeps your knee from going backwards. And yeah, early in camp I had some problems, so there was a bit, and for maybe three weeks I just did boxing. Boxing and grappling. No kicking. So sparring I would just put boxing gloves on and I would spar my teammates and tell them ‘no kicks’. Just so to give this a chance to heal. And it healed quite well. Eventually towards the end of camp, or towards halfway, I was taking leg kicks from Carlos, checking them, and he’s the hardest kicker in the gym. But yeah, so I was gonna pull out early on but I was like nah, I wanna get this done cause I’m a prideful man. I’ll be damned if people say I’m scared of this guy. Cause I know I’m not. I knew I wanted to fight. And I knew I also wanted to make a point to fight three times this year as a champion. I wanted to make a point.”-Israel Adesanya
Adesanya wasn’t trying to make excuses for the loss and title or no title, he’s stated he wants a rematch against Pereira next. Adesanya looked great most of their last fight as well as their previous two fights, but Pereira’s resilience and power seem to be just too much. And ‘fourth time’s a charm’ just isn’t really a thing.