Israel Adesanya was thwarted by Alex Pereira, his old rival from kickboxing days, to lose his UFC middleweight world title. Yet it has been downhill ever since the 33-year-old was stunned.
The curtain coming down on the Nigerian-born New Zealander at UFC 281, inside New York’s Madison Square Garden, was just the start of a forgettable week.
This ignominy of defeat to his former foe, who had twice beaten him in the kickboxing arena, was just one of his recent woes.
The former champion initially protested the stoppage decision, which ultimately cost Grammy-winning recording artist Drake big bucks. Adesanya was then issued an indefinite suspension, which he will use to focus on the future, and subsequently arrested at the JFK Airport for being in possession of knuckle dusters.
To add insult to injury, Pereira championship-clinching triumph has resulted in a permanent reminder with the Brazilian swift to celebrate by inking a new tattoo on his right bicep. His third career success over Adesanya followed a 2016 decision success and a 2017 knockout win.
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Yet Adesanya dominated early on and appeared to be en route to making it a successful sixth defence of his middleweight title, comfortably leading Pereira after four rounds.
Then the Brazilian bounced in action to turn on the style, hitting the self-proclaimed fighter nicknamed the ‘Last Stylebender’ with a barrage of brutal punches.
Referee Marc Goddard was forced to step in to wave off the fight with three minutes remaining, just after Adesanya was rocked by an formidable left hook that put him into survival mode. The relative MMA newcomer remarkably snatched the belt from the jaws of defeat in the fifth round.
This shock success ended Adesanya’s impressive winning streak of 23 middleweight fights. He has been forced to take time off from the sport after being named as one of 19 fighters at the showpiece event to be handed a medical suspension.
The New York State Athletic Commission handed Adesanya a mandatory rest period of 60 days. This was double the length of time issued to the new champion Pereira, whose indefinite suspension has a minimal short rest period of 30 days.
Adesanya, handed his inaugural knockout loss of an illustrious MMA career, plans to use that time to travel and support fellow fighters.
He admitted after his defeat: “It was my third fight in 10 months, as a champion, putting it on the line every single time.
“I’m going to really enjoy myself and just chill. Maybe I’ll travel, and help my teammates as well – help them get ready for their respective fights. But I deserve this [break from the sport], I earned this.”
Adesanya’s travel plans were in immediate chaos after he was arrested at JFK Airport for possessing metal knuckle dusters.
His manager Tim Simpson swiftly issued a statement in his defence: “Israel was handed a gift by a fan, which he put in his luggage. When flagged at the airport, Israel quickly disposed of the item and co-operated with authorities.
“He has complied accordingly. With that the matter was dismissed, and he is on his way home.”
Canadian singer Drake, who picked up a £3m purse at UFC London in October after he backed Molly McCann and Paddy Pimblett, was not achieving such luck at UFC 281.
He wagered £1.4m on Adesanya to defend his crown, but the 36-year-old rapper would have been better off trawling the list of bookmakers on aussiebet.com to compare the best odds from making such a huge punt.
At least there was some good news, albeit theoretical, for Adesanya from world-renowned mixed martial arts coach Firas Zahabi.
Zahabi, the ex-head coach of legendary MMA George St-Pierre, reckoned that Pereira’s lethal flying knee would have destroyed Adesanya had the battle not been called off.
The 35-year-old Pereira made an instant impact on his UFC debut last year, with his flying knee move knocking out Greek Andreas Michailidis.
Zahabi proclaimed in his Adesanya-Pereira analysis on YouTube: “Pereira could have very possibly ended Adesanya’s career if the referee did not intervene.
“If Marc Goddard did not step in, it could have been a serious concussion, broken jaw, broken orbital, or fractured skull even.
“Guys, if the referee did not intervene, a scissor knee was coming. Guys, the greatest scissor knee I have seen in all of combat sports ever is [from] Alex Pereira.
“It’s an incredible knee from a giant, who’s incredibly explosive. He throws it incredibly quick. I thought when Adesanya was dazed like that, the knee was coming.”
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