Adesanya's reign as UFC middleweight king is over after stunning defeat

Alex Pereira walks away triumphant after the referee stops his fight against Israel Adesanya at Madison Square Garden.

Israel Adesanya’s nemesis Alex Pereira is the new UFC middleweight champion after stopping the Nigerian-born New Zealander in a stunning comeback in New York today.

Pereira, in only his fifth MMA fight, earned a TKO victory in the fifth and final round at Madison Square Garden after being dominated by Adesanya over the first four.

It means the Kiwi has now lost to Pereira three times; the Brazilian beat him twice before in kickboxing bouts and is the only man to stop Adesanya in combat sports.

Adesanya was up 3-1 on the judges’ cards after a brilliant all-round display and had Pereira in big trouble at the end of the first round after connecting with a right hand and left hook.

Pereira appeared out on his feet and was saved by the siren.

Adesanya, feinting well and showing his usual inventive variety of strikes and reflexes on defence, appeared well set to continue his dominance in the division. Certainly, he was the favourite and had the crowd's backing.

But Pereira recovered brilliantly to lead the attack in the second round, scoring with two early left jabs, and getting the better of the clinches.

Adesanya had success with a right hand but Pereira scored with a high kick which glanced off Adesanya’s shoulder and on to his face. Pereira also scored with a takedown to take the points for the round.

Adesanya then took control of the fight and fatigued his opponent with a takedown in round three, dominating Pereira on the ground for several minutes and it appeared the Brazilian’s relative inexperience would be costly.

Pereira looked very tired in the fourth round, with Adesanya scoring with low kicks, question mark kicks, jabs and right hands.

Pereira appeared to be woken up by a right hand – walking forward, connecting, and just missing with a wild left hook; Adesanya did well to clinch and just missed with a right elbow.

Pereira, who had never fought over five rounds, appeared energized by the prospect of the finish line.

Adesanya tripped himself but recovered brilliantly, but Pereira, charging in, tagged him with both hands at least a dozen times and the referee stepped in.

The left hook did for Adesanya last time and it was again the killer punch here.

There will be questions about the referee stepping in when he did but the champion wasn’t looking and appeared set to receive even more punishment.

It is Adesanya’s first defeat at middleweight and it breaks a record streak of 12 victories. A re-match in the near future appears a formality.

“I worked so hard for this,” Pereira said. “It was written.

“It was a very hard fight… I’m ready for the next.”

On the undercard, New Zealander Carlos Ulberg defeated Nicolae Negumereanu via round 1 KO (punches), with fellow Kiwi Brad Riddell losing to Renato Moicano via round 1 submission (rear naked choke) and Adesanya's stablemate Dan Hooker defeating Claudio Puelles via round 2 TKO (front kick to body).