A ghost from Israel Adesanya’s past returns to UFC 281 on Saturday night. Adesanya defends his UFC middleweight champion from Alex Pereira, a vicious striker who defeated Adesanya twice in kickboxing and remains the only man in combat sports to knock him out. The story headliner of the promotion returns to Madison Square Garden in New York.
Adesanya, armed with a superb and suffocating punching game, builds his business as the greatest middleweight of all time with every successful title defense. Adesanya will test the quality of his kickboxing game against perhaps the only fighter who can match or surpass him, former Glory two-division kickboxing champion Pereira.
Adesanya fought his way to the interim UFC middleweight and undisputed middleweight titles in his sixth and seventh UFC fights respectively. A feat worthy of praise, but overshadowed by Pereira’s rapid rise through the ranks. A first-round knockout of Shawn Strickland at UFC 276 earned Pereira a top-five ranking and a UFC title shot in just his fourth fight in the promotion. Adesanya, who has defeated Anderson Silva, Robert Whittaker (twice), Yoel Romero, Paulo Costa, Marvin Vettori (twice) and Jared Cannonier, is taking on a tough challenge.
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With so much going on Saturday night, let’s take a closer look at the full fight card with the latest odds from Caesars Sportsbook before we get into our staff’s predictions and picks for the PPV celebration part.
UFC 281 fight card, odds
Odds via bookmaker Caesars
- Israel Adesanya (c) -210 vs Alex Pereira +175 Middleweight Championship
- Weili Zhang -340 vs. Carla Esparza (c) +270 Women’s Strawweight Championship
- Dustin Poirier -230 vs Michael Chandler +190 Lightweight
- Chris Gutierrez -220 vs. Frankie Edgar +170 bantamweight
- Dan Hooker -155 vs Claudio Puelles +130 Lightweight
- Renato Moicano -125 vs Brad Riddell +105 Lightweight
- Dominick Reyes -220 vs Ryan Spann +180 Light Heavyweight
- Erin Blanchfield -400 vs. Molly McCann +310, Women’s Flyweight
- Andre Petroski -200 vs. Wellington Thurman +170 Middleweight
- Silvana Gomez Juarez -115 vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz, under 105 lbs, women’s lightest weight.
- Choi Seung Woo -165 vs. Michael Trizano +140 Featherweight
- Ottman Azaitar -135 vs. Matt Frevola +115 Lightweight
- Montel Jackson -200 vs Julio Arce +170 bantamweight
- Carlos Uhlberg -135 vs. Nicolae Negumereanu +115 Light Heavyweight
With such a massive main event in mind, the CBS Sports team made their predictions and chose the main card. Here are your picks: Brent Brookhouse (combat sports writer), Brian Campbell (combat sports writer, Morning Kombat co-host), Shaquille Mahjuri (screenwriter), Michael Mormail (producer), and Brandon Wise (senior editor).
UFC 281 Election Predictions
|Adesanya (c) vs. pereira||Adesanya||pereira||Adesanya||Adesanya||Adesanya|
|Esparza (c) vs. Zhang||Zhang||Zhang||Zhang||Zhang||Zhang|
|Poirier vs. Chandler||Chandler||Poirier||Poirier||Poirier||Poirier|
|Edgar vs. Gutierrez||Gutierrez||Gutierrez||Gutierrez||Edgar||Gutierrez|
|Hooker vs. Puelles||a prostitute||bridges||a prostitute||a prostitute||a prostitute|
|Records to date (2022)||29-24||29-24||27-26||26-27||32-21|
Adesanya vs. Pereira
Campbell: As good as Pereira’s backstory is, defeating Adesanya twice in kickboxing, including once by brutal knockout, one must not forget the differences between the two as in mixed martial arts. Yes, Pereira has intimidating power in both hands, but he’s still incredibly young as an MMA fighter with just seven pro fights, including three in the octagon. Pereira’s punch threat should create a focused Adesanya who is always ready to counterattack, as opposed to the more relaxed, pinpoint fighter he has become of late when opponents don’t want to go all-in against him. Pereira has to be very ready, which means that Adesanya has to be at his best. But the deeper the fight goes, the more unknown questions Pereira has, including everything from his stamina and ground play to his ability to make adjustments.
Brookhouse: Despite Pereira having two kickboxing victories over Adesanya, Adesanya is the top hitter on a technical level. However, Pereira is one of the heaviest hitters in the sport and he won’t let Adesanya sit back and fight. Mind games can also come into play, although I believe this will result in Adesanya looking to “get his point across” rather than being cautious. The problem I see for Adesanya is that punches in this fight are extremely dangerous for him. Yes, he’s better technically, but MMA gloves not only lead to stronger punches from Pereira, but also make it harder to defend against those punches that go to you. Adesanya’s win is the more likely outcome, but it looks like a fight where the challenger’s chances of winning are well above average. It only takes one hit from Pereira to end this fight while Adesanya should always be on top.
Mahjuri: It feels like it’s been a while since defecting to Adesanya’s side required such caution. Pereira has stronger kickboxing and is full of confidence having beaten Adesanya in two previous kickboxing bouts. Adesanya is a more elusive striker, using feints, footwork, and counterattacks that disarm most opponents. So far, Pereira has proved much more vulnerable in the octagon, which should play into the hands of the champion. On the face of it, Pereira knocked out Adesanya in their second kickboxing fight. However, a full view of this fight shows that before the finish, Adesanya got his way with Pereira. Adesanya’s decision win or Pereira’s knockout seems the most likely, let’s support the former.
Esparza vs. Zhang
Campbell: Rarely has a two-time champion with a six-fight winning streak been so aggressively dismissed, it would seem, by everyone who went to defend the title. But fair or not, as fans continue to blame Esparza for how boring her victory over Rose Namajunas in the May rematch was, few expect her to leave the octagon still carrying her 115-pound belt. The reason is how much better Zhang has become as a fighter since losing the title to Namajunas. Zhang, the first Chinese-born UFC champion, has rebuilt her body and improved her wrestling skills so much that the bookies made her almost a 4-1 favorite. Given that four of Esparaza’s six recent victories have been controversial, Zhang seems to be the smart choice for good reason.
Poirier vs. Chandler
Campbell: When you risk everything from the first call during the first five minutes of every fight, you are more likely to win as much as you lose. Chandler’s spectacular 2-2 streak since his UFC debut last year seems to bear that out. But the former three-time Bellator MMA champion’s blitzkrieg could also be his best chance to get to Poirier’s chin, whose accumulated damage from an incredible career will one day catch up with him. Even if Chandler makes good on his threat to play safer than usual (by wrestling), given that a title shot might be in the game for the winner, fireworks, as fans expect, should still be the end result. Chandler nearly knocked out then-champion Charles Oliveira in 2021 and looks ready for a second run for the belt.
Brookhouse: Yes, the logic that “one day” Poirier may lose all resistance to impacts is reasonable. But there is no evidence that this day has come. Meanwhile, Chandler has a notoriously cracking chin, especially for someone who fights in the same style as him. It still seems like a small miracle that he made it to the points against Justin Gaethje. Chandler has been dropped by a badly tarnished Tony Ferguson, and he hits too cleanly, too often, to be picked against someone with Poirier’s accuracy and overall game plan. Chandler always has the very definition of “puncher’s chance”, but his best path to victory may be to first become a wrestler and then a striker. I don’t see him following this plan once Poirier started landing. Chandler is likely following his habit of throwing excessive punches, which will leave him open to Poirier’s clean shots before a stoppage.
Who will win Adesanya vs Pereira? And how exactly does each fight end? Visit SportsLine now for details on every fight at UFC 281.all from an incomparable expert who has earned over $13,000 from MMA over the past three years and find out.