Two New Champions Crowned at UFC 281


Zac Cordova, Contributing Writer

Over the weekend, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) 281 took place at Madison Square Garden in front of a sold-out crowd of 20,845. There were two championship bouts, the retirement of a UFC legend and an explosive matchup between two of the sport’s most exciting lightweights.

Frankie Edgar, the former UFC lightweight champion, made his final walk to the octagon as fans gave him a standing ovation and chanted his name. In the final bout of Edgar’s career, he took on rising bantamweight Chris Gutierrez. The fans hoped for Edgar to turn back the clock for one last great performance. But the fight ended in the first round after Gutierrez landed a knee to the chin of Edgar, sending him to the canvas and into retirement with a knockout. Before leaving the octagon, Edgar said in his post-fight interview, “I love this sport man, didn’t wanna go out like that.” He also expressed his love and appreciation for all the support from the fans. It is the end of a legendary career for Frankie Edgar that included nine UFC title fights, which will no doubt earn him a spot in the UFC Hall of Fame soon.
In the third fight of the main card, top-ranked lightweight contenders Dustin Poirier and Michael Chandler faced off in a bout that promised to bring fireworks to the Garden, something Chandler did last year when he took on Justin Gaethje at UFC 268.

The opening round began with Chandler landing big and knocking Poirier back against the cage in a flurry of strikes. Although, the experience and resilience of Dustin Poirier helped him regain control and answer back with some big shots of his own, knocking down Chandler with 30 seconds to go in the round and nearly finishing the fight just as the horn sounded.

It was about as loud as the Garden could get after such an explosive round, and the following rounds were no different as Poirier and Chandler are no strangers to being in exciting fights.
In the third round, Chandler attempted to take down Poirier by lifting him up over his shoulder, but in a scramble on the ground Poirier ended up on Chandler’s back, a dangerous position to be in with a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt like Poirier. This gave Poirier the opportunity to sink in a choke, which forced Chandler to tap out, ending what could be a potential fight-of-the-year candidate. The fight was awarded “fight of the night,” earning the two lightweights a well-deserved bonus.

In the first title fight of the night, reigning champion American Carla Esparza took on former champion Zhang Weili for the women’s strawweight title. In a bout scheduled for five rounds, Weili was a major favorite to reclaim her title that she won back in 2019 to become the first ever Chinese UFC champion. Esparza won the title back in May after defeating then-champion Rose Namajunas in a fight that was just as close as it was uneventful. Weili has been known to bring high doses of energy to every fight, and this one was no different.

It was a one-sided affair as Weili dominated the fight on the feet with her lightning-quick striking and even seemed to out wrestle Esparza in what should have been the champion’s way to victory. Weili had the full support of the crowd as they cheered her on against the American.
It was apparent that Weili had worked a lot on her ground game, as she was able to counter all of the champion’s takedown attempts, which is what ultimately won her the fight. After a scramble on the ground, Weili was able to secure a rear-naked choke causing Esparza to tap and forfeit her belt. “Every day I dreamed of this, my belt would come back,” said Weili in a post-fight interview. It was yet another incredible performance by the Chinese-born fighter to once again assert herself as the best in the division.

In the final fight of the evening, the UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya took on challenger Alex Pereira, in a long-awaited rematch from the two fighters’ kickboxing days that ended with Pereira knocking out Adesanya. Adesanya had successfully defended his belt five times since he claimed the title in October 2019. Pereira has only fought in the MMA octagon a handful of times but the Brazilian-born fighter is no stranger to big fights, as he was a multi-divisional champion back when he was fighting in the Glory Kickboxing promotion. After a back-and-forth first round, Adesanya landed a big punch that stumbled Pereira right before the horn sounded. Pereira recovered quickly as he looked unfazed entering into the next round.

Shockingly, both men attempted and landed takedowns in the fight despite neither of them having any background in grappling. Adesanya made the most of the time on the ground, securing over six minutes of control time. Coming into the fifth round, it was apparent that Adesanya was winning the fight and only needed to hold on until the final horn. Pereira’s corner told him, “One round for you to be a world champion,” advising him that he had to hunt down a finish if he wanted to win the fight. In the closing minutes of the final round, Pereira landed a combination of punches that wobbled the champion, causing Adesanya to retreat. Pereira’s relentlessness didn’t allow Adesanya to recover, as Pereira kept landing punches until the referee stepped in and ended the fight, putting an end to Adesanya’s reign and shocking the MMA world. In a post-fight interview, Adesanya said, “It’s another great story for him, but it’s not over, this is still war.” After a very active title reign, Adesanya seems deserving of an immediate rematch, a possibility that UFC president Dana White said that he is definetly not going to rule out.
What is next for the newly crowned champion is yet to be seen, although the rematch seems to be on the horizon. UFC 281 was definitely one for the history books, as the stacked card delivered in every way, bringing a ton of excitement to a sold-out Madison Square Garden and UFC fans around the world.