Former UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya believes he would have retained his belt against Alex Pereira at UFC 281 at Madison Square Garden on Sunday had the referee not called a stoppage when he did.
Adesanya went up three rounds to one when he slipped in the middle of the octagon. He tried to recover but it was the beginning of the end.
When Adesanya retreated to the fence, Pereira followed him and punched him in the face, leaving him stunned and nearly unconscious. Referee Marc Goddard ended the fight when Adesanya’s body went limp, although Adesanya protested the stoppage as he tried to regain his composure.
Pereira (7-1 MMA, 4-0 UFC) defeated Adesanya for the third time by stopping the then-champion by fifth-round TKO. The loss was Adesanya’s first at middleweight and his first stoppage.
“I was fine. The first thing I told the judge was that I was fine, I was still lucid. But yes, that happens,” the Nigerian-New Zealander told reporters at the post-fight press conference.
“Well, I talked to my coaches and I trust them. But I was fine, my eyes might have rolled back a bit but I was clear.
“My ego would say at least let me go out in hiding but I don’t think I would have gone out because I was still there. He might have gone on to win that round, but I would still be champion.’
Adesanya has responded positively to talks of a rematch: “Of course, this is my third fight in 10 months. Every time I fight, I was in danger of losing (the belt). I’ve launched because I’m not just trying to do it once and this happens, but again, dare to be great, and I am.
“Right now, I’m focused on rehydrating and fulfilling my duties.”
Adesanya doesn’t think a potential rematch will be more of a challenge than a garden fight.
“No, I know what he can do. It hit my peroneal nerve so my footwork was compromised. Kudos to you for investing in those calf kicks because it was really worth it.
“Like the wolf of Wall Street, I’m still here, I’m not going away. It’s not over.”