UFC 281 fight card — Israel Adesanya vs. Alex Pereira: Five biggest storylines to watch in New York


Mixed martial arts may not have an official specialty like golf or tennis, but UFC 281 Saturday card from Madison Square Garden in New York definitely starting to feel like one

With a couple of title fights at the top of the marquee, along with a stellar lightweight bout that could lead to the next title contender, the promotion’s sixth trip to “the most famous arena in the world” since MMA was legalized by New York State in 2016 year. Definitely one of the most anticipated fight maps of 2022.

Let’s take a closer look at the most important storylines that will appear in this weekend’s event.

1. Israel Adesanya must defeat the ghost of his kickboxing past

Short of a close loss in 2021 when he was in contention for the light heavyweight title, Adesanya (23-1) was nothing short of a perfect MMA pro fighter. The reigning UFC middleweight champion is 12-0 in the 185-pound Octagon, including five title defenses. But less than a year before his UFC debut in 2018, Adesanya ended his kickboxing career by knocking out Alex Pereira in the third round. In fact, this loss was the second in many years for the Brazilian slugger, and both fights were held under the banner of Glory of Heroes. Adesanya will finally get his chance for revenge on Saturday when he faces the challenge of the 35-year-old Pereira (6-1), who quickly won a title shot after winning all three UFC fights after debuting in one. a year ago. How big of a chance are the bookmakers giving Pereira? Adesanya has become the favorite to bet in all 13 of his UFC fights. But this time, underdog +140 Pereira has the best chance of defeating any opponent during Adesanya’s reign.

2. Adesanya’s middleweight days are numbered

Although Adesanya has not yet commented on his future post Pereira, given the challenges he has faced, there is reason to doubt that a victory will leave the Last Style Bender at 185 lbs without any achievement. Not only did Adesanya take on every challenge available to him while at the top of the division, he fought Robert Whittaker, whom he beat by knockout in 2019, for the second time to make sure it wasn’t a fluke. Last year, Adesanya lost to Jan Blachowicz for the light heavyweight title, and the size difference between the two was pretty much the difference on the ground. If Adesanya decides to build his body properly for a full division transition, it might be hard to pass up the opportunity to go even deeper into the UFC record book as a bi-division champion. Of course, he will need to get rid of Pereira first, but if he stays at middleweight, then there will be no real problem for him. Rising contender Sean Strickland was recently knocked out by Pereira, and undefeated Khamzat Chimaev looks set to stay at welterweight despite recent weight-cutting issues.

3. Spoiler: Dustin Poirier-Michael Chandler will be frank

It doesn’t take a crystal ball to expect this easy tilt to be anything other than an all-occasion classic. Recent history in the 155-pound division suggests that such a prediction will almost certainly come true. Over the past seven years, UFC fans have been spoiled by an uninterrupted string of exciting fights organized by those who have dominated the rankings during that time: Rafael dos Anjos, Eddie Alvarez, Conor McGregor, Tony Ferguson, Justin Gaethje and Charles. Oliveira, just to name a few. If Islam Makhachev’s recent loss to Charles Oliveira in their October title shot has taught us anything, it’s that a new generation of division stars is poised to take over. But not before two aging shooters who have yet to cross paths inside the octagon will finally do so in a fight that could be more than just bragging rights among action heroes. Despite featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovskiy’s recent campaign to be the first to beat Makhachev, both Poirier and Chandler know that a spectacular performance – given their names and history – could be enough to secure one last shot at undeniable UFC gold.

4. Carla Esparza still fights for respect despite being a champion.

With so many big names on the card, it’s only natural that at least one important fight could go unnoticed for UFC 281. There was no hype against former champion Zhang Weili. In fact, much of the talk has been with most expecting Zhang, the 4-1 odds favorite, to reclaim the title ahead of a possible trilogy with former two-time champion Rose Namajunas. So how did we get here? Whether or not Esparza is solely to blame for how boring her win over Namajunas in the UFC 274 rematch in May was, it was a fight that most fans would like to forget. The 35-year-old Esparza, the division’s first champion in 2014, was showered with applause when he was announced as the winner, overshadowing what should have been an unforgettably emotional moment. For a fighter with a six-fight winning streak, Esparza enters Saturday with a ton to prove she deserves champion status. Esparza’s four victories in this series were by split or majority decision. “Cookie Monster” is also making the first defense of his second title as a betting underdog for the fifth time in his last six fights.

5. Don’t fall asleep on Dominic Reyes’ redemption story

Inactive for 17 months after losing three fights and suffering multiple facial fractures in his latest loss, it’s easy to forget that Reyes nearly ended Jon Jones’ light heavyweight reign just two years ago with a controversial loss. But at 32, with a new team around him, Reyes will return to the octagon during Saturday’s preliminary card as the favorite to bet on rebounding against Ryan Spann. Although he lost slightly to Jones, Reyes was considered a natural successor to GOAT at 205 pounds after Jones vacated his title to move up to heavyweight. But five months later, Reyes was stopped by Blachowicz in their fight for the vacant title, after which he was brutally finished by defending champion Jiří Prochazka. The California native went to extremes during his absence, moving his camp to Glover Teixeira’s camp in Connecticut, where he trains alongside Brazilian fighters like Pereira and Wellington Thurman. Reyes may seem out of the picture and out of the picture as it has to do with division rankings lately, but a win over Spann could catapult him back into contention.

Source: www.cbssports.com