UFC 281 Predictions

UFC 281 Predictions

Israel Adesanya and Carla Esparza can rewrite history.

For “The Last Stylebender,” the main event of UFC 281 offers the opportunity to finally earn an elusive victory over Alex Pereira, a kickboxing rival from his past who not only holds a decisive victory over Adesana, but also a Devastating knockout that has been on repeat since before Pereira signed with the UFC. While it’s not a fight Adesanya went on to pursue, an impressive win over Pereira would go a long way in making fans forget about some of Adesanya’s recent critical misfires.

For Esparza, she gets a second chance to defend a title for the first time after her inaugural reign as UFC strawweight champion was abruptly cut short by Joanna Jedrzejczyk. It’s been a long comeback to the belt for Esparza and now that she has it, she feels like she still has to go the extra mile to prove she truly is the best 115-pounder in the world. Zhang Weili, a former champion, is the presumptive favorite going into Saturday’s co-main event, and many are predicting not just victory for the Chinese star, but an emphatic victory as well. Perhaps history is about to repeat itself for Esparza.

In other main card action, lightweight contenders Dustin Poirier and Michael Chandler meet in a clash that has ‘Fight of the Night’ written all over it, Frankie Edgar makes his final march to the octagon as he takes on Chris Gutierrez , and veteran Dan Hooker looks to slow soaring lightweight Claudio Puelles.

What: UFC 281

Where: Madison Square Garden in New York

When: Saturday November 12. The five-fight prelims begin on ESPN+ at 6 p.m. ET, followed by the four-fight preliminaries on ESPNN and ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET. The five-fight main card begins at 10 p.m. ET and is available exclusively on ESPN+ pay-per-view.


(Numbers in parentheses indicate that MMA Fighting World Ranking)

Israel Adesanya (1) vs. Alex Pereira (7)

For Israel Adesanya’s next round, could we see… the martial arts mix? I doubt.

As fun as it is to imagine Adesanya pulling a Francis Ngannou and fighting his way to victory against a dangerous opponent, we’ve seen the middleweight champion’s well-balanced game on many occasions with the way he defends himself. against grapplers. He might consider showing off his wrestling attack in this fight – Adesanya teased “I know something he doesn’t know” earlier this week – but the wisest decision is probably to stick to his strength, even if it is the same strength as Alex Pereira.

Pereira’s knockout power is no joke and his second victory over Adesanya was no fluke, even though the finish came in a fight Adesanya was likely leading. You don’t become a two-division kickboxing champion through pure berserker tactics. “Poatan” knows how to close distance, cut angles, and set his opponents up to eat powerful punches. I’m just not convinced he’s better than Adesanya in that regard.

There’s a big difference between fighting in a ring and fighting in an octagon, and Adesanya has mastered the latter. It’s extremely difficult to pin him down for any significant period of time and equally difficult to land cleanly on him in these situations. Names like Robert Whittaker and Kelvin Gastelum have had more or less success, but they also have more complete MMA games than Pereira. They presented other threats which forced Adesanya to adapt, something Pereira has yet to show he can do.

You can’t count Pereira out of a striker vs striker clash, but I lean towards Adesanya because octagon experience is a real thing and Pereira’s is so limited. Even with 25 minutes left, I don’t see Pereira connecting with a bomb like he did last time out, and that means Adesanya is taking him on the cards.

Take: Adesanya

Carla Esparza (1) vs. Zhang Weili (3)

Let’s get one thing straight from the start: Carla Esparza has an A-plus skill, her wrestling, and any time you have an A-plus skill, it can take you far. It took Esparza all the way to a UFC title and it’s not impossible for her to pick up a win over Zhang Weili.

Let’s move on. Zhang is going to win this one in a rout.

The former champion has it all. Absurd strength (we’ve all seen the video of her picking up Francis Ngannou like a sack of potatoes), quick hands and out-of-this-world athleticism. She’s faced powerful grapplers in Rose Namajunas, Jessica Andrade, and Jessica Aguilar, and while only Aguilar is capable of executing the kind of pressure-fighting play that Esparza can, it’s still a solid list of threats from submission that could not seriously threaten Zhang on the ground. Andrade never even had the chance to try and it is feared that Esparza will meet the same fate.

An aggressive Zhang could play to Esparza’s benefit as timely takedowns stifle the Chinese slugger, but I’m not convinced Esparza can consistently put down Zhang let alone hold her off. If Esparza doesn’t find a way to incapacitate Zhang, even if it just means putting her against the fence and holding on for life, it will be a short-lived fight.

With all due respect to the champion, this is a nightmarish match and could conjure up flashbacks of her loss to Joanna Jedrzecjzyk. And I expect Zhang to get the job done just as quickly.

Zhang by KO in the second round.

Take: Zhang

Dustin Poirier (T3) vs. Michael Chandler (6)

While we may not see D-1 All-American Israel Adesanya in the main event, we could see Michael Chandler return to his roots if he really wants to get back into the win column.

When the matchmakers paired Chandler with Dustin Poirier, they no doubt did so in hopes that the three-time Bellator lightweight champion could recreate the magic of his absurd three-round fight with Justin Gaethje at the Madison Square show. Garden from last year. In all likelihood, these two fan favorites are going to brawl, but Chandler should think about mixing up some takedowns instead of just going up against his fellow lightweight big.

Poirier has always had great jiu-jitsu and an entertaining submission game; Conversely, Chandler has a good top game and defends well against submissions, as evidenced by Brent Primus and Goiti Yamauchi fights. Bonus checks are great, but Chandler has shown he can fight smart and strategic. Can he resist the lure of putting on a show for a rowdy MSG crowd?

That doesn’t even mention that Poirier is more than capable of dealing with the fight of anyone not named Khabib Nurmagomedov. So even if Chandler decides to shoot early and often, Poirier is no sitting duck. He can stifle takedowns and force Chandler to fight, and as effective as Chandler can be in the stand-up, he’s a level below the best of the best in that department at 155 pounds.

Chandler couldn’t surpass Justin Gaethje, Charles Oliveira or Patricio Pitbull, and he won’t surpass Poirier.

Take: Pear tree

Frankie Edgar vs. Chris Gutierrez

Whatever happens, please let this be the last dance for Frankie Edgar.

Anyone who has read my predictions in the past knows that I have unwavering faith in Edgar, a former lightweight champion and three-division contender. The New Jersey native has been at the center of some of my favorite MMA moments, whether it’s slamming Gray Maynard through the mat after being on the verge of defeat, the masterclass he staged against BJ Penn in their second fight, or one of the impressive performances he put on against Charles Oliveira, Urijah Faber, Chad Mendes, Cub Swanson, and more.

Somehow, no matter what division he was fighting in, Edgar’s opponents always seemed to overpower him once he came face to face with them in the cage, but few fighters in the lighter weight classes have never stood taller than him at the end of the night. If that’s the end – and I hope it is, win or lose – then it was a great race.

The ending could be ugly as Gutierrez has the potential to sideline Edgar in the first round. He’s not a classic hitter, but he does a fantastic job mixing up his hitting techniques and at some point he’s going to catch Edgar with something hard. That’s how it goes when you’re only a month away from your 41st birthday and you’re looking straight at the end of the tunnel.

And now I’m sad again.

Take: Gutierrez

Dan Hooker vs. Claudio Puelles

I see better days for “The Hangman”.

Claudio Puelles has all the makings of a future lightweight title challenger, but Dan Hooker is the toughest opponent he’s ever faced. Call me a sucker, but I believe the jovial Hooker when he says he’s in a better place now after an ill-advised return to featherweight and an even more ill-advised fight with Islam Makhachev that he took on short notice. This isn’t to make excuses for Hooker to constantly lose to top competitors, I just think he’s still a cut above Puelles. The pressure is on the “Prince of Peru” to prove that he deserves his own ranking.

What keeps me from picking Puelles is that Hooker has the takedown and submission defense to force Puelles to stand by his side. Then it becomes more of a draw as Puelles quickly develops as a stand-up fighter, but Hooker’s length and experience tips the scales in his favor. It’s as close to do or die for Hooker as it gets, so the motivation is there for a rebound performance as well.

Look for Puelles to put on a spirited performance against Hooker, only to fail in what will be a valuable learning experience for him.

Take: Hooker

Preliminaries

Brad Riddell beats. Renato Moicano

Dominick Reyes (10) def. ryan spann

Erin Blanchfield (13) beats. Molly McCann

Andre Petroski defeated. Wellington Tourman

Ottman Azaitar defeated. Matt Frevola

Karolina Kowalkiewicz defeated. Silvana Gomez Juarez

Seung Woo Choi defeats. Michael Trizano

Montel Jackson beats. Julio Arce

Nicolae Negumereanu defeated. Carlos Ulberg

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