• Rick

UFC 281 - Adesanya vs Pereira

Going into the last two fight cards we were up nearly twenty units on the year. The last two cards have wiped all of that out. Much like a stock, I'd recommend buying the dip. We have a phenomenal card on Saturday from start to finish, my only concern is whether Adesanya puts up another entertainment-based stinker in primetime. If Pereira forces the dog out of him we should be in for an all-time fight, and I hope he does. Zhang Weili challenges for the title against Carla Esparza as a -425 favorite, and other UFC legends have their shine in Frankie Edgar, Dan Hooker, and Dustin Poirier. We have prospects, legends, and quality matches up and down the card so let's get rolling right into it!

Carlos Ulberg (-130) vs Nicolae Negumereanu (+110)

If there’s one thing I love about Pay Per View cards, it’s that the prelims typically involve talents that the UFC wants to build a fanbase for and give a platform for their fighters to build it on. The first fight of the night is no different. Our opening fight is no different. Carlos Ulberg touts a fantastic kickboxing skillset but poor takedown defense, while Negumereanu has very basic (yet effective) boxing but phenomenal wrestling. If you’ve read my articles, you can probably guess where I lean.

Carlos Ulberg is a talent the UFC believes in, especially after dominating victories of Fabio Cherant and Tafon Nchukwi. The former male model’s best attributes are his movement, distance control, and ability to land consistently at range. His takedown defense is alright, and this matchup will be a pure test of that. If he is able to keep the fight on the feet, I favor him behind leg kicks and combinations from all angles.

Whether he can pass that test is a different animal though. Negumereanu is now 4-1 in the UFC and it’s all behind his fantastic wrestling. He loves a good double-leg takedown and unlike many wrestlers, while he’s in the clinch and in the process getting takedowns he lands damage. Whether it’s knees in the clinch or controlling one wrist while unloading with his other hand, he utilizes his body pressure to keep fighters on the cage while doing so. He should have the cardio advantage and thus be able to push the pressure for all three rounds, and because of that I like him in this fight.

I don’t like that Negumereanu has looked hittable in the past, so if Ulberg is able to stuff takedowns and keep the fight at range with his movement and footwork then Negumereanu could be in real trouble. I doubt he will, and the wrestler is able to notch a fifth consecutive win under his belt.

Pick: Negumereanu +110 (1u)

Julio Arce (+175) vs Montel Jackson (-220)

It’s a testament to how quality this card is that Montel Jackson faces Julio Arce in our 2nd fight coming in. I won’t harp on it every fight we have, but this card is incredibly deep. Arce and Jackson might be 10-5 combined in their UFC careers, but both have faced high-quality opposition in their time. Arce has 3 losses, two of which came by split decision and one to Song Yadong by knockout. His wins have come against high-level opposition like Dan Ige, Julian Erosa, and Andre Ewell.

Montel Jackson comes in as a -220 favorite due to his impressive wrestling and power in his left hand. Typically he fights cross stance since he’s a southpaw, but this fight will look traditional as both fighters are lefties. He should lean on great movement, striking defense, and power on his left straight and hook to deal the more damaging strikes.

He’ll need those if he’s going to beat a pressure-heavy, volume-oriented boxer like Arce. Much like Jackson, Arce’s striking defense and movement on the feet is fantastic and if Jackson tries to land offensive takedowns he’ll have to work for them. Arce boasts a 94% takedown defense, which will be pivotal if he wants to have a chance in this fight. While Jackson was a former Olympic wrestling hopeful, he’s struggled to take down and hold down other good grapplers like Arce.

This fight will come down to volume and pressure for Arce versus the damage and wrestling of Jackson. I believe in Arce’s ability to keep this fight on the feet and think we should have a fairly even scrap until the final horn. Because of that, I’ll go for Arce at much longer odds to get it done, and sprinkle in just a half unit.

Pick: Arce +175 (.5u)

Mike Trizano (+137) vs Seung Woo Choi (-164)

Trizano and Woo Choi haven’t lived up to the hype they came into the UFC with, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t here to entertain. Now a combined 6-7 in the competition, both fighters are looking to get back on track and establish themselves as mainstays in the Featherweight division. For Choi, it’s all about the offensive striking. He’s a fan of biting down on his mouthpiece and getting into 50-50 exchanges with opponents, typically landing more power than they do. Six of his ten wins have come by knockout and that’s a big reason why.

On Trizano’s side, he has nice power himself. He’s a solid boxer but has shown he’s hittable throughout his career. Where he’ll find his success in this matchup is in counterstriking and utilizing wrestling to stifle Woo Choi. Neither of these fighters has the best chin and Choi’s defensive grappling isn’t great, so while the odds have this fight going to decision I’ll take a flier on it not and for Trizano to walk out of the cage with his hand raised after leaning on his wrestling.

Pick: Trizano +137 (1u) & Fight not to go the distance +150 (1u)

Karolina Kowalkiewicz (-110) vs Silvana Gomez Juarez (-110)

Two 37-year-olds fight in what should be the lowest-quality fight we’ll see this evening. Kowalkiewicz snapped a 5-fight losing streak by submitting Felice Herrig, and even though her losses came to some of the top fighters in the division, 5 fights in a row is a tough look for anyone. Gomez Juarez is now 1-2 in the UFC after knocking out Ni Liang. Both fighters will want to make it back-to-back victories otherwise they might not be in the UFC for long, so let's get into who will win.

Juarez is a traditional boxer that holds unprecedented power in her hands, but if you dive deeper it’s a very basic jab and overhand right. That’s basically it. Don’t get distracted by her two armbar victories, those are both early in her career and she won’t use her wrestling here today. Kowalkiewicz won’t either but her striking is much more volume-oriented and could very well pick her up rounds if she doesn’t take much damage from Juarez. Truthfully, I wouldn’t put much money on this, but I do lean Kowalkiewicz.

Pick: Kowalkiewicz -110 (1u)

Ottman Azaitar (-145) vs Matt Frevola (+110)

Both of these fighters are 32 years old and wield a 71-inch reach, so it’s safe to say the measurables won’t give any advantages here. If Frevola is going to win this fight it’s going to be by implementing his offensive wrestling from the first minute until the last. Standing across from Ottman Azaitar is a poor idea, as 9 of his 13 wins have come in the first round. He boasts a Master of Sport in Thai Boxing and wields unbelievable power in both hands, but it’ll be interesting to see how he performs after a 2-year layoff.

If Frevola can’t notch a takedown early, his striking game is very basic and will be exploited. If he can notch one or two takedowns, even if it gets back to the feet the hesitation from Azaitar will allow Frevola more ins than keep Azaitar reluctant. This fight will go one of two ways: Frevola will grapple and frustrate Azaitar to a decision victory or Azaitar will keep this fight on the feet and knock out Frevola in incredible fashion. Because of that, I’m going to bet on Azaitar to win by finish only. It’s important to find that line, because if the fight goes to decision the bet voids. Azaitar could win by decision, but if anyone is going to finish their opponent I’ll bet it’s Azaitar.

Pick: Azaitar by finish ONLY -145 (1u)

Andre Petroski (-220) vs Wellington Turman (+180)

Wellington Turman is looking to take the zero from Andre Petroski’s 3-0 UFC record. At 3-3 in the UFC and only 26 years old, Turman is clearly developing and his mixed bag of results showcases that clearly. His record isn’t that straight forward though. Two of his losses come by first-round knockout losses and his wins have not been impressive. He beat a poor Sam Alvey by split decision and even though he submit Misha Cirkunov he was outstruck 50-24 in that fight and nearly got finished before hitting a Hail Mary armbar.

If he’s had trouble against all of those fighters, he’ll definitely struggle against Petroski. Turman won’t be able to rely on grappling against Petroski. He dominated Nick Maximov, finishing him by Anaconda choke 76 seconds in, and beat Phil Hawes and Eryk Anders in a grappling competition recently. All three of his fights have been finishes, and the most likely scenario here is more of the same. Turman doesn’t move his head off the center line well at all and that’s shown in each and every one of his fights. Give me Petroski by finish.

Pick: Petroski ITD +110 (1u)

Erin Blanchfield (-425) vs Molly McCann (+300)

If you haven’t heard of Molly McCann, you better open a tab right now and look for her fights in London this year. Two spinning-back elbow knockouts in front of her home crowd were a sight to behold, and she knows how to cater to a crowd as well as anyone. Now 6-3 though, McCann faces a matchup nightmare in Erin Blanchfield. Undefeated in the UFC, Blanchfield faces her toughest test in Molly, but she has a clear path to victory - the most dominant mixed martial art: wrestling.

Blanchfield is as good as they come in the wrestling department, look no further than her utter domination of Miranda Maverick. Maverick is one of the best wrestlers in the UFC and Blanchfield was able to control her for the entirety of the fight. Her downward pressure on fighters when she’s on top to exhaust and force them back to the ground is some of the best I’ve seen, and she rarely jumps on a submission that could lose her position. Her striking is serviceable, but she typically just uses it to engage in wrestling.

If for whatever reason the Blanchfield corner decides to try and prove that she can strike with McCann, this fight will be short and iconic for Molly. To be clear, that won’t happen. Not many fighters can strike with Molly, and it’s Molly’s volume and power boxing that overwhelms opponents. She is able to unleash flurries of 50 or so strikes then spend a minute regaining her composure so she doesn’t gas out. She’ll need to compose herself on Saturday to make sure she doesn’t leave herself susceptible to a takedown. If she does, she won’t get up.

Blanchfield is a massive favorite here because of her wrestling. Oddsmakers know just how much of a difference-maker dominant wrestling is, and I agree. If she can get into the clinch and get her first takedown, this fight is nearly over. Conversely, if Molly is able to withstand some attempts and hit her stride on the feet, she should win comfortably. As I tend to, I’ll favor wrestling.

Pick: Blanchfield by Dec -115 (1u)

Dominick Reyes (-220) vs Ryan Spann (+175)

Dominick Reyes might be 6-3 in the UFC and 0-3 in his last three fights, but if you know why, you know not to doubt him. Those three losses come to Jon Jones, Jan Blachowicz, and Jiri Prochazka. Those are arguably the three best names over the past decade in the Light Heavyweight division excluding Daniel Cormier. He’s a phenomenal striker, fairly durable, and will go to deep depths in every fight for a win.

He’s in a stylistic mismatch with Ryan Spann, who is all about his grappling and takedowns. Now 6-2 in the UFC, Spann is looking to build off of a guillotine victory of Ion Cutelaba. Spann has had some interesting results, like losses to Anthony Smith and Johnny Walker and a split decision victory against Sam Alvey, but it all comes back to his wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu. If he can take Reyes down early he could easily find the neck quickly. Otherwise, Reyes should obliterate him on the feet. Though his right-hand does have some zip on it, his durability is extremely questionable.

That’s why I’m not going to pick a side in this matchup. Both of these fighters are finishers and finishers early. For Spann, six of his eight fights have finished in the first half of the fight, and Reyes has ended fights in the 2nd round or earlier in 8 of his last 11 fights. This fight will be entertaining but unfortunately won’t last long.

Pick: u1.5 -115 (1u)

Renato Moicano (-124) vs Brad Riddell (+101)

If you’re a fan of Renato Moicano, I respect you. You have good taste. He recently took Rafael Dos Anjos on short notice and was brutally murdered for the entirety of that fight. It was genuinely hard to watch at time, but at no point did Moicano ever stop trying to right the ship. Now 8-5 in the UFC, Moicano has lost to all of the best contenders: Brian Ortega, Jose Aldo, Korean Zombie, Rafael Fiziev, and RDA. He’s never been able to get over the hump, but is clearly solidified himself in the rankings with wins over Calvin Kattar, Cub Swanson, Jai Herbert, and Alexander Hernandez.

Moving over to Brad Riddell, he started his UFC career on a four-fight win streak before running into buzzsaws named Rafael Fiziev and Jalin Turner. Finished in both of those fights, he’s looking to restore the hype behind his name today. I picked Riddell in his last fight against Jalin Turner thinking that he’d be able to counter Turner and get on the inside. I was wrong, but I do still like his ability to have success in the boxing ranges with a great looping hook, bodywork, and dirty boxing.

Moicano is a grappler at heart, but he has no problems standing and trading with opponents. While Riddell is surely training his wrestling in preparation for this fight, I expect Moicano to stand and trade until he gets rocked in this fight and is forced to implement it. We should have entertainment for as long as it lasts, but I’ll favor the guy who has outstruck Calvin Kattar and Brian Ortega plus has better wrestling.

Pick: Moicano -124 (1.5u)

Dan Hooker (-170) vs Claudio Puelles (+140)

It’s been sad to see Dan Hooker’s free fall in the UFC. It started with a fight of the year contender against Daniel Poirier, and since then it’s been brutal. Finished by Michael Chandler, Islam Makhachev, and Arnold Allen in the first round of three of his last four fights, his durability is a serious question in this fight. Luckily for Hooker, Puelles isn’t a striker. Actually, Puelles is a kneebar specialist. Not something you’ve heard of? Me either!

Puelles has three wins in the UFC by kneebar and honestly, I’m probably doing him a disservice by saying he’s a kneebar specialist. His scrambling and ability to locate and lock up submissions anywhere on the mat are of an unbelievable level. While Hooker has been able to hold his own with some of the best grapplers in the UFC, Puelles on the mat will give him a test he’s only seen before in Islam Makhachev. No, I didn’t compare Puelles to Islam, but in the grappling department, they’re both that dominant.

If this fight is on the feet, Hooker will knock Puelles out. If it’s on the ground, Puelles will finish Hooker. Give me under 2.5 rounds in this fight, and I could see Hooker getting back in the win column.

Pick: u2.5 -150 (1u)

Frankie Edgar (+185) vs Chris Gutierrez (-235)

Win or lose, Frankie Edgar needs to hang up the gloves after this one. Now 18-10-1 in the UFC and 1-4 in his last five fights, Edgar is struggling against some of the top competition. He’s now given rising star Chris Gutierrez, who is undefeated with six wins in the UFC. This will be the biggest step up in Gutierrez’s career and is one he absolutely needs to pass if he wants the express lane to the top ten.

While Edgar has lost four of his last fights and four of his last fight losses have come by knockout, I’d be wrong if I said he didn’t have his moments. His volume and speed is somehow still there, and while he’s been knocked out he has an uncanny ability to rally. If he can mix in his takedowns with his striking and avoid some of the unorthodox striking of Gutierrez (see his spinning back fist knockout of Batgerel Danaa), he could have a good chance.

Gutierrez might have 6 wins in the UFC and no losses, but much like some of our earlier fighters, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Two of those wins came by split decision and even in that win against Danaa he arguably lost the first round. If Gutierrez hits Edgar clean he will likely knock him down and potentially out, but those opportunities will be few and far between. Gutierrez starts fights slowly, and while his striking defense is decent I trust Edgar to pick up rounds. Give me Gutierrez by finish or Edgar by decision.

Pick: Edgar by Decision +300 (.33u) & Gutierrez by KO +175 (1u)

Dustin Poirier (-230) vs Michael Chandler (+185)

We may have two championship fights this evening, but there’s no fight I’m more excited to watch from an entertainment perspective than this one. Michael Chandler might not be a champion, but if there’s one thing he is it’s entertaining. Whether he’s fighting Tony Ferguson, Justin Gaethje, or Charles Oliveira, each one had their moments. He knocked out Tony Ferguson by head kick, had a round of the year against Gaethje where they both were on wobbly legs for extended periods, and nearly knocked out Oliveira before being knocked out himself in the second round. So while every result doesn’t go his way, Chandler will bring the fight to you and force the issue.

He’ll have met his match in Dustin Poirier on Saturday. Coming off two victories over Conor McGregor, Poirier finally got his chance to get over the hump against Charles Oliveira and was choked out. Stylistically, this won’t be anything like that fight. This will be closer to his fight against Dan Hooker where they went five rounds trading back and forth in one of the more brutal yet beautiful fights you’ll watch.

This fight will come down to something rather simple in my eyes. Does Poirier’s chin hold up to Michael Chandler’s power? If so, I favor Poirier to win this fight in the later rounds. Otherwise, Chandler will win by KO. Poirier is definitely the steadier fighter of the two with high volume led by his left jab he works throughout the fight and calf kicks (see McGregor fight). I doubt either fighter will look to utilize their wrestling game until they get cracked, but I favor Poirier there in the later rounds if Chandler tires out. Regardless, we should have an incredible fight for three rounds, and I’ll take Chandler due to his value in what should be a very close fight.

Pick: Chandler +185 (.5u) & Chandler by KO +400 (.5u)

Media News Group via Getty Images

Carla Esparza (+300)vs Zhang Weili (-400)

Carla Esparza is coming off one of the flukiest, boring championship fights of all time against Rose Namajunas. It’s only fitting she’s on the same card as Israel Adesanya who loves to put on boring championship fights. Esparza won that fight, but by no means did she take the throne by force. She won a close decision that could’ve gone either way by eluding incoming strikes and winning rounds.

If there’s one thing about Zhang Weili, she won’t let that happen. Whether it’s picking Francis Ngannou up over her head or ending Joanna Jedrzejczyk by spinning back fist, Zhang is here to impress and impose her will. With rapid, snapping combinations to the body and head, calf kicks to end combinations, and striking from any range, she’s as dangerous as it comes on the feet.

If there’s anything Esparza knows how to do, it’s getting in incredibly close fights that judges don’t know how to score. Three of her last four fights have gone to a split decision. I doubt she’s able to keep the fight that close to the eyes. Zhang should pull away in the striking and load up on rounds behind her fantastic striking offense and defensive wrestling. Unfortunately, the odds here are too steep for me to bet, and honestly, I’m just going to stay away.

Pick: Pass

Esther Lin - MMA Fighting

Israel Adesanya (-210) vs Alex Pereira (+170)

If you’ve gotten this far in the article, you likely have some understanding of this matchup. You’ll have heard that Alex Pereira is 2-0 against the champion and that while he’s only had a few MMA fights in his career will pose the largest threat to Izzy’s run at middleweight of any contender he’s faced. Their two fights were many moons ago, and while Pereira has been dominant, Adesanya has only improved with every fight. Going for his 6th title defense, Izzy has only lost 1 career MMA fight and that was when he tried to go up a weight class to hold two belts. Jan Blachowicz utilized the size advantage to wrestle Izzy and hold him down. That won’t happen here.

Pereira as I alluded to is only 6-1 in his MMA career and only 3-0 in the UFC. Two of those wins are by stoppage and if there’s one thing everyone is learning quickly it’s that you can’t stay in front of Pereira and trade with him. His power is second to none, and while Adesanya has faced powerful strikers like Robert Whittaker, Paolo Costa, and Jared Cannonier, none have the kickboxing ability of Pereira (see his KO of Adesanya).

The reason Izzy has had so much success is because of his speed, patience, and ability to read and manipulate fights. There’s no surprise there. His illustrious kickboxing career could’ve told you that. Unlike most kickboxers that turn to MMA though, his defensive wrestling is damn near perfect. He’s able to keep fights on the feet and pick opponents apart, so while his fights tend to go to a decision (8/12), he dominates in the process.

Alex Pereira will give him his biggest test to date. Neither fighter will shoot for takedowns and try to grapple, it’ll purely be a striker’s mind game. I favor Izzy slightly with his speed, but the power advantage goes to Pereira. Izzy has more technique, but Pereira will force the issue on Adesanya unlike any of his opponents have in the past. These two are tit-for-tat when it comes to striking, and while Adesanya is more well-rounded it won’t matter since this will be a kickboxing match. Expect Pereira to make this a slugfest and to land the more damaging strikes throughout 5 rounds to usurp the champion.

Pick: Pereira +170 (1u)


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