Mixed Martial Arts: Kiwi UFC star Israel Adesanya vows to return from stunning loss of middleweight crown to Alex Pereira

Kiwi UFC star Israel Adesanya has hinted at taking time out to deal with "medical stuff", before returning to challenge for his middleweight crown back, after a stunning technical knockout defeat to Brazilian rival Alex Pereira at New York's Madison Square Garden.

Leading on points into the final round of five, Adesanya could not withstand a determined assault from his opponent, who had already inflicted two losses on him during previous meetings in the kickboxing arena.

The result was only the second mixed martial arts defeat for Adesanya and first as a middleweight, but he remains undeterred, despite the setback.

Israel Adesanya in action against Alex Pereira
Israel Adesanya in action against Alex Pereira. Photo credit: Getty Images

"It's not over yet," he insisted. "I can already take a lot from this fight."

In the Octagon, Adesanya's initial reaction to the stoppage was that it came too early and he was ready to fight on. Upon review, he is more philosophical and already talking about a rematch - eventually.

"I don't disclose everything," he revealed. "I've had some medical stuff that I've put on the backburner, stuff that people make fun of me for.

"I've got to look after myself, because my health comes first. Think about Chadwick Boseman, everyone was making fun of him - "He looks so this, he looks so skinny, he looks so sleepy" - not knowing behind the scenes he was fighting cancer."

American actor Boseman reached the pinnacle of his movie career as Marvel superhero Black Panther, but died in 2020, after a four-year battle with colon cancer, which he kept out of the public arena.

Adesanya has been teased by opponents for his gynecomastia condition, a swelling around the nipples often regarded as a symptom of steroid use. He has previously insisted the affliction is the result of excessive marijuana consumption.

"People always make fun of me about my chest and other things, but they don't know what I'm going through in life," continued Adesanya. "I just keep things on the backburner, so I've got some things to fix first and I'll be back."

Adesanya dominated the early stages and came close to ending the fight in the opening round, but blames the loss on Pereira's kick attack to his legs, which pinched a nerve and affected his mobility, as the fight wore on.

"Give me three seconds, four more seconds and it would have been over," he said. "That hook didn't land the way I wanted it to, but that's hoopla.

"Shoulda, woulda, coulda... it doesn't matter. He is the new champion, congrats to him and he did it again."

UFC president Dana Whyte admits the result opens up a division that Adesanya has dominated, since he took the belt in October 2019.

"It always does," said Whyte. "It's part of the business - there's always great fights to make, especially in that division.

"There's just so many savages in the top seven."

While Adesanya could not defend his crown for a sixth time, City Kickboxing stablemates Carlos Ulberg and Dan Hooker emerged from UFC 281 with reputations enhanced, after finishing their respective opponents early.