Sport | Brad Riddell

NZ back in takeover mode for UFC 281 in New York

The next UFC pay-per-view event is an extravaganza not to be missed as New Zealand's best fighters take over New York this Sunday for UFC 281.

It will see the latest world title defence for middleweight champ Israel "The Last Stylebender" Adesanya, team NZ captain Dan Hooker's return to the cage, and both lightweight Brad Riddell and light heavyweight fighter Carlos Ulberg are also part of the extraordinary fight card.

Adesanya is fighting a former foe from his days in kickboxing, the only fighter to beat him twice in the combat sport - Alex Pereira. They fight for gold inside the same arena where Adesanya made his debut and began his impressive 12-fight winning streak in the middleweight division, in the famed Madison Square Garden.

Verbal blows traded

During the UFC 281 press conference earlier today, Pereira was quick to bring up old wounds.

“We all know what happened in the last two fights. I forgot about him. I hope you’ve forgotten as well. I’m going to fight you like it was the first time I was fighting you in my life.

“I think I kind of screwed his mind a little bit and he’s a little bit unbalanced psychologically on this one.”

Adesanya isn’t worried about the past, more so looking forward to their eventual third fight.

“He wouldn’t be here without me,” he says. “My run to the title was a lot more impressive than what he’s done, so he should be grateful that he’s here because of me.

“All I’ve ever chased was bodies. Put them in front of me and I take them out, and this is going to be no different. I don’t chase anything, they chase me.”

City Kickboxing has also taken along an army of supporters to the Big Apple, which Adesanya talked about.

“Behind us, there’s a whole army and then behind us, there’s a whole nation. There’s a whole spirit. There’s a whole mana. You can’t f*** with it, trust me, you can’t.”

Pereira was quick to respond, saying that it wouldl only be the two of them inside the octagon. Adesanya’s response: “Yeah it’s you and me, don’t worry, but they’re going to be with me, trust me.

“[Pereira’s] got bragging rights. Talk all you want because they can’t save you either.”

'Biggest moment in NZ combat sports history'

Ngāti Maniapoto lightweight Dan Hooker is back in his first fight since March this year facing off against up-and-comer Peruvian Claudio Puelles, who he credits as a great fighter.

“But we have an opportunity to make this our country’s biggest moment in combat sports history. That’s something that needs to be taken seriously,” Hooker says.

“The people want to see some fights and we’re more than happy to bring it.”

Puelles was short in response, saying that his whole life has led to the moment he will soon live in the biggest fight of his career to date.

The card has Carlos Ulberg (Tainui, Te Atiawa, Hāmoa) kicking the event off in the early prelims against Romanian Nicolae Negumereanu (13-1). Ulberg is going for his third UFC win while Negumereanu looks to extend to five wins in a row. This fight happens at 12pm onSunday, New Zealand time.

Brad Riddell follows next against a former title contender in Renato Moicano as the main fight of the prelims, scheduled to happen between 3pm and 3:40pm.

Hooker kicks off the main card against Puelles from 4pm, and later Adesanya and Pereira cap off the event for the UFC middleweight championship, scheduled to fight at 6pm.