This past Saturday at UFC 281 in Madison Square Garden, Israel Adesanya squared off against former kickboxing foe Alex Pereira. Adesanya was attempting to avenge two of his five losses during his illustrious 75-5 kickboxing career as well as his only knockout defeat. But how did these two former kickboxers find themselves rematching in a different sport at the most famous arena in the world?
Both Adesanya and Pereira began their careers as kickboxers respectively from New Zealand and Brazil. The two fighters began tallying up wins and knockouts until they were finally matched to fight one another. The first fight between the two took place in China in 2016 where Pereira, somewhat shockingly was declared the winner by decision.
In their second bout, which took place only one year later in Pereira’s home country of Brazil, Pereira became the first person to ever knockout Adesanya with his famous left hook. Pereira would finish his kickboxing career with a 33-7 record, winning Glory kickboxing championship belts across multiple weight divisions. This is where Pereira earned the nickname “Poatan” which translates to hands of stone.
Following this knockout loss to Pereira, Adesanya decided to make a change in his career and attempt to fight in the UFC. UFC is different than kickboxing as it includes mixed martial arts and wrestling. The differences in fighting styles and lack of wrestling skills that Adesanya possessed from his kickboxing career left his future in fighting and in particular the UFC in question. Would Adesanya’s fight style of being an unorthodox elite striker work or allow him to flourish in the UFC?
Well, it did, and “The Last Stylebender” (Adesanya’s nickname) went from making his UFC debut against Rob Wilkinson to fighting Kelvin Gastelum for the interim middleweight title in just 426 days. Less than 100 days later, Adesanya was triumphant as the undisputed UFC middleweight champion of the world. Prior to UFC 281, Adesanya held a ridiculous 23-1 record in the UFC with his only loss coming to Jan Blachowicz when Adesanya tried to move up a weight class and become the fourth UFC fighter to hold championship belts across multiple divisions. The only other four fighters to accomplish the feat of being a double champion were the famous Connor McGregor, Daniel Cormier, Amanda Nunez, and Henry Cejudo.
However, lurking in the shadows was Pereira, the man who defeated Adesanya kickboxing not once but twice. Pereira decided like Adesanya to make the jump to the UFC and made his debut in November 2021. And like Adesanya, Pereira’s fighting style would be questioned as he was a kickboxer with elite striking abilities and not a grappler or a wrestler. However, just like his former foe Adesanya, his fighting style flourished in the UFC, and in just 371 days, he was given the chance to fight Adesanya once again, but this time for the UFC middleweight title.
This past weekend, on November 12, at UFC 281 Pereira and Adesanya squared off in the main event of the evening in what was touted as one of the most anticipated fights of the year. As someone who was personally at this event, I can tell you this fight along with the rest of the fight card absolutely lived up to the hype. In fact, there were seven first-round finishes which tied a UFC record. UFC 281 was also the 2nd highest-grossing event in Madison Square Garden all-time, behind only another UFC event.
Through the first four rounds, it seemed as if Pereira had almost no chance. In fact, the scorecard of all three judges had scored the contest 39-37 (in favor of Adesanya) and Adesanya’s live odds of winning the fight were -1300, meaning a bettor would have to risk $1,300 to win just $100. However, Pereira’s corner told him what he had to do in the fifth round to win the fight and the rest was history. Pereira started teeing off on Adesanya throwing a flurry of punches and kicks and in the final round of the fight, Pereira secured a TKO win with his signature left hook. The same left hook he used to previously knockout Adesanya back in 2017. And just like that Pereira became the new UFC middleweight champion of the world.
Now, just days after losing the UFC middleweight title and the opportunity to avenge kickboxing losses against his biggest rival, Adesanya faces another troubling opponent: the law.
On Wednesday, November 16, just four days after the most crushing loss of Adesanya’s career, he was arrested at JFK Airport for criminal possession of a weapon. Adesanya had brass knuckles while going through a TSA screening near the American Airlines terminal around 2 pm. It is unclear whether or not Adesanya was carrying the brass knuckles, or if they were stored in his carry-on bag, however, carrying brass knuckles is a class A misdemeanor according to the state of New York.
Under New York Penal Law § 265.01(1), certain objects are automatically considered weapons regardless of whether or not you had the intent to use that object unlawfully against another person. Therefore, one could be arrested for being in possession of “metal knuckles” or brass knuckles.
Supposedly, Adesanya threw away the brass knuckles and cooperated with the authorities.
Adesanya’s manager responded to his arrest stating, “Israel was handed a gift by a fan, which he put in his luggage. He complied accordingly, the matter was dismissed, and he is on his way home.”
However, there have been no statements made as to whether Adesanya was issued a Desk Appearance Ticket (“DAT”) which means he may have to return to New York for a criminal court case. Receiving a DAT is an alternative to forcing Adesanya to “go through the system” being processed and potentially spending some time in jail.
Why does any of this matter? If Adesanya received a DAT, the first issue is that Israel Adesanya isn’t a United States citizen. He is only a citizen of his home country New Zealand. Secondly, Adesanya would likely have to hire an attorney to make an appearance for him in the state of New York because he returned to New Zealand. Finally, the judge could decide that either Adesanya needs to make an appearance, which is rare, or that Adesanya’s attorney may have to take a plea deal.
Again, we are unsure if Adesanya did in fact receive a DAT because the only people who know about receiving one are Adesanya himself, likely his manager, and the police department. However, if he did receive one, which seems likely since he continued his travels home to New Zealand, we may see an attorney come forward and represent him sometime soon. Based on the reports and information available to the public, it looks like this was just a simple misunderstanding between Adesanya, his manager, and the law.
However, according to the law, Adesanya didn’t need to have any intent (mens rea) to use the object, and therefore, Adesanya still violated the law.
Adesanya will likely not serve anywhere near the maximum sentence of 1 year in jail or three years probation that results in committing a class A misdemeanor in New York, but Adesanya will likely have to pay some sort of fine. So, for those UFC fans, this will likely not cause a delay in a potential 4th fight between Adesanya and Pereira.
Maxwell Popkin was born and raised in Boca Raton, Florida. He went to the University of Florida and graduated in 2016 with a Degree in Bachelor of Science in Business Administration-Management. He's currently a 2L at New York Law School and is involved in the Sports Law Society Club and had the pleasure of taking Dan Lust's Sports Law Class last semester. He can be reached on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/maxwell-popkin/.