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NEW YORK — Israel Adesanya will seek his sixth defense of the UFC’s middleweight championship Saturday, when he meets familiar rival in Alex Pereira at UFC 281 inside Madison Square Garden.

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

Bantamweight: Julio Arce (18-5, 5-3 UFC, +175) vs. Montel Jackson (11-2, 5-2 UFC, -210)

UFC 281 results

Light heavyweight: Carlos Ulberg (8-1, 3-1 UFC) def. Nicolae Negumereanu (13-2, 4-2 UFC) by TKO (Watch this fight on ESPN+)

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:

Middleweight championship: Israel Adesanya (c) (23-1, 12-1 UFC, -220) vs. Alex Pereira (6-1, 3-0 UFC, +180)
Strawweight championship: Carla Esparza (c) (20-6, 10-4 UFC, +270) vs. Zhang Weili (22-3, 6-2 UFC, -340)
Lightweight: Dustin Poirier (28-7 1 NC, 20-6 1 NC UFC, -230) vs. Michael Chandler (23-7, 2-2 UFC, +190)
Bantamweight: Frankie Edgar (23-10-1, 18-10-1 UFC, +190) vs. Chris Gutierrez (18-3-2, 6-1-1 UFC, -230)
Lightweight: Dan Hooker (21-12, 11-8 UFC, -155) vs. Claudio Puelles (13-2, 5-1 UFC, +130)
Lightweight: Brad Riddell (10-3, 4-2 UFC, +105) vs. Renato Moicano (16-5-1, 8-5 UFC, -125)
Light heavyweight: Dominick Reyes (12-3, 6-3 UFC, -220) vs. Ryan Spann (20-7, 6-2 UFC, +180)
Women’s flyweight: Molly McCann (13-4, 6-3 UFC, +310) vs. Erin Blanchfield (9-1, 3-0 UFC, -400)
Middleweight: Andre Petroski (8-2, 3-0 UFC, -200) vs. Wellington Thurman (18-5, 3-3 UFC, +170)
Lightweight: Matt Frevola (9-3-1, 3-3-1 UFC, +125) vs. Ottman Azaitar (13-0, 2-0 UFC, -150)
Strawweight: Karolina Kowalkiewicz (13-7, 6-7 UFC, -105) vs. Silvana Gómez Juárez (11-4, 1-2 UFC, -115)
Men’s featherweight: Michael Trizano (10-3, 3-3 UFC, +145) vs. SeungWoo Choi (10-5, 3-4 UFC, -170)
(c) = defending champion

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