5 best finishes from UFC 281: Israel Adesanya vs. Alex Pereira

Alex Pereira stunned everyone by stopping Israel Adesanya in the fifth round
Alex Pereira (right) stunned everyone by stopping Israel Adesanya (left) in the fifth round

Last night’s UFC 281, which took place in New York’s famed Madison Square Garden, was one of 2022’s most highly anticipated events, and it didn’t fail to deliver.

With 11 of the 13 bouts at UFC 281 ending in finishes, including every bout on the main card, there was literally something for everyone here.

So with some of the most entertaining finishes of 2022 on offer, it was a surprise to see only four fighters awarded a $50k bonus cheque after the event.

Regardless, here are the five best finishes from UFC 281: Israel Adesanya vs. Alex Pereira.


#5. Ryan Spann knocks out Dominick Reyes in a UFC light-heavyweight bout

Ryan Spann absolutely flattened Dominick Reyes in their highly awaited bout
Ryan Spann absolutely flattened Dominick Reyes in their highly awaited bout

The most intriguing preliminary bout at UFC 281 pitted former light-heavyweight title challenger Dominick Reyes against rising prospect Ryan Spann, and hopes for a violent finish were high. In the end, the fight that lasted just over a minute was packed with action and, indeed, ended in a nasty fashion.

Reyes, who hadn’t fought since his knockout loss at the hands of Jiri Prochazka in May 2021, came out to strike but found himself in trouble pretty much straight away when Spann appeared to stumble him with a right hand.

From there, the two men exchanged wildly, with ‘Superman’ whiffing on a guillotine attempt before they got back to their feet. ‘The Devastator’ again came lunging in with strikes, but as before, he left himself far too open, and Spann capitalized with a short left-right combination that switched his lights off immediately.

The knockout was sudden, and Reyes wasn’t helped by the fact that Spann added a largely needless extra shot before referee Marc Goddard could rescue him.

Where does Reyes go from here? With four straight losses that include three knockouts, it might be time for him to reconsider his future, if only for his own health.

As for ‘Superman’, the win should move him into the top 10. With plenty of interesting opponents out there for him, he could find himself in a Fight Night headliner next time out. Overall, not only was this a violent win, it was probably the best of Spann’s career, too.


#4. Weili Zhang defeated Carla Esparza via submission to become UFC strawweight champion again

Weili Zhang used a unique submission to beat Carla Esparza for the strawweight title
Weili Zhang used a unique submission to beat Carla Esparza for the strawweight title

The first title change at UFC 281 took place in the strawweight division, and unlike the dramatic headliner between Israel Adesanya and Alex Pereira, it was largely a straightforward bout. Essentially, former champion Weili Zhang simply whitewashed Carla Esparza, making ‘The Cookie Monster’ look like she didn’t belong in the same octagon as her, en route to what was a largely unique submission win.

‘Magnum’ looked on from the offset of the bout, taking the fight to Esparza with her striking, and when the champion did attempt to take things to the ground, Zhang simply reversed her and took a dominant position to punish her there as well. It was clear by the end of the first round that the fight was likely to only go one way, and sure enough, Zhang reversed another takedown attempt, took the back, and in a slick move, she secured a crucifix from that spot.

From there, ‘Magnum’ somehow managed to latch onto a no-hooks rear naked choke, instead using her legs to control Esparza’s arms to prevent her blocking. The tap came shortly after, and Zhang regained the title she lost in 2021.

With the form she's in, it’s going to be hard for anyone, including former champion Rose Namajunas, who may be gunning for a third bout with the Chinese fighter after already defeating her twice.


#3. Dustin Poirier submits Michael Chandler in a UFC lightweight bout

Dustin Poirier looked excellent in his finish of Michael Chandler
Dustin Poirier looked excellent in his finish of Michael Chandler

UFC 281’s Fight of the Night award went to Dustin Poirier and Michael Chandler, who lived up to all the hype in their dramatic lightweight clash. Everyone expected this one to be a legitimate war, and the two former title challengers didn’t disappoint.

They went back and forth hard in the first round, with both men landing nasty shots that stunned the other, but the difference appeared to be the fact that Poirier was a little less wild than ‘Iron Mike’, meaning his shots seemed to count for more.

Chandler switched things up in the second round, though, taking ‘The Diamond’ down to abuse him on the ground with punches and elbows. Despite risking a point deduction by hammering Poirier to the back of the head during one instance, he clearly took the stanza, leaving the result hinging on the third round.

However, Poirier ended up leaving nothing to doubt. After a big slam attempt went awry for Chandler, he looked to have run out of steam, and ‘The Diamond’ was able to reverse position, take his back, and from there, submit him with a slick rear naked choke.

The finish was a highly-needed reminder that Poirier is a more than capable grappler as well as a concussive striker. With Islam Makhachev set to defend his lightweight title against featherweight kingpin Alexander Volkanovski in the headliner of February’s UFC 284, there’s a very high chance that ‘The Diamond’ could fight the winner thanks to this victory.


#2. Chris Gutierrez knocks out Frankie Edgar with knee to the head

Chris Gutierrez put Frankie Edgar to sleep, retiring him in the process
Chris Gutierrez put Frankie Edgar to sleep, retiring him in the process

While it didn’t have the same ramifications as one of the other knockout finishes last night, UFC 281’s flashiest finish definitely came from bantamweight prospect Chris Gutierrez. He ended the career of the legendary Frankie Edgar with a slick knee in the first round.

The bout always looked like a difficult one on paper for Edgar, who was coming off two nasty knockout losses at the hands of Cory Sandhagen and Marlon Vera, respectively. Gutierrez wasn’t seen on the same level as the other two foes, but with a lengthy win streak and a knockout victory via spinning back fist in his last bout, he was clearly both confident and dangerous.

It didn’t take ‘El Guapo’ long to dispose of ‘The Answer’, as he popped him with numerous strikes from the outside before landing a beautiful step-in knee to the jaw that switched Edgar's lights off immediately.

Some fans will probably claim that Edgar should’ve been given a softer bout to retire on, if only for the good of his own health. However, the reality is that, like pro wrestling, MMA is a snake that eats its own tail, and every great fighter tends to build their reputation on the back of previous champions.

Whether Gutierrez now goes onto bantamweight title contention remains to be seen, but this was a beautiful, signature knockout for him, and given that it retired a legend, it should remain memorable for years to come.


#1. Alex Pereira defeated Israel Adesanya for the UFC middleweight title via TKO

Alex Pereira's stoppage of Israel Adesanya left the MMA world stunned
Alex Pereira's stoppage of Israel Adesanya left the MMA world stunned

There’s no disputing the fact that the best and most memorable finish last night came in the headliner, which saw Alex Pereira stun everyone by unseating longtime champion Israel Adesanya for the UFC middleweight title.

The general consensus was that if ‘Poatan’ were to pull off a victory, it’d come by knockout, most likely an early one, too, and probably via his famed left hook. In the end, that wasn’t the case. Pereira was being outstruck by Adesanya, who used his superior movement, footwork, and knowledge of the UFC’s octagon to his full advantage for nearly five rounds.

Sure, he had some success in the second, but he was hurt badly by ‘The Last Stylebender’ in the first round, was dominated on the ground in the third, and looked out of gas heading into the fifth.

However, things changed when he checked Adesanya's leg kick, leaving ‘The Last Stylebender’ looking a little off balance and possibly hurt. That was all the opening that ‘Poatan’ required.

Suddenly, the Brazilian marched forward and unloaded with some truly vicious shots, and Adesanya was on the ropes from there. While the champ desperately tried to cover up and evade, Pereira kept pouring it on. Finally, when it became clear that Adesanya wasn’t getting out of the situation, Marc Goddard stepped in and called a standing TKO.

This wasn’t as wild as Leon Edwards’ last-gasp KO of Kamaru Usman earlier this year, but it wasn’t far off, and incredibly, we’ve now got a new champion at 185 lbs for the first time since 2019.

Essentially, Pereira was billed as having the ultimate equalizer in the form of his tremendous punching power, and he proved that to be absolutely true with this finish.

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Edited by Allan Mathew