The UFC returns to Madison Square Garden this Saturday, with an action-packed card that will feature two world title bouts.
Middleweight champion Israel Adesanya will defend his belt against the heavy-handed Alex Pereira.
Israel Adesanya vs. Alex Pereira
They already faced each other twice in kickboxing, and on both occasions Pereira was the winner. Therefore, the great attraction of this battle is that the great champion will fight against one of his demons.
We might see a different version of Israel Adesanya, considering that he’ll no longer have his usual height and reach advantage over his opponent. It would not be smart to stand and bang with Pereira either; the champion has already felt the Brazilian's power in his own flesh.
The champion has greater experience in mixed martial arts, while Pereira made his pro debut only seven years ago. We could be witnessing a new version of Adesanya, ready to wrestle and dominate his opponent on the canvas.
Pereira will always have a chance to win, as he will have 25 minutes to land a single devastating blow. Five of his six MMA victories came by (T)KO, not to mention more than 20 knockouts in his extensive kickboxing career. Pereira has an absurd amount of power.
Prediction: Israel Adesanya wins by Unanimous Decision.
Carla Esparza vs. Zhang Weili
Although she became a champion for the second time, Esparza’s last fight wasn’t quite impressive; in fact, her bout against Rose Namajunas was one of the most boring title matches ever. The champion needs to step up her game.
Esparza is one of the best wrestlers in the 115-pound division and has been at the top of the division for almost 10 years. Perhaps the champion doesn't get the credit she deserves, and this Saturday's fight will give her the opportunity to make a statement against a tough opponent.
No 115-pounder has more takedowns landed (44) than Esparza in the division, and this speaks to the effectiveness the champion shows while taking the fight to the ground.
The challenger, Zhang Weili, is by far the toughest fighter in the division; the Chinese warrior can take punishment and then finish the fight with a single blow.
We can expect Weili to come out aggressive, throwing a barrage of punches and kicks in order to wear down her opponent. Esparza won’t be able to weather the storm in a 25-minute fight.
Although Weili is a far superior striker than Esparza, she’s fairly decent at wrestling, and her submission game isn’t that bad, as she holds seven submission wins in her pro career.
Zhang Weili should demolish the champion inside three rounds. The Chinese is on a roll and is looking more and more terrifying inside the octagon.
Prediction: Zhang Weili wins by (T)KO.
Dustin Poirier vs. Michael Chandler
Undoubtedly, this will be the fight of the night.
We may be in the presence of a fight to define the next lightweight challenger; this comes after champion Islam Makhachev faces Alex Volkanovski.
Poirier and Chandler are two extremely complete fighters, each with their own style. Poirier has more stylistic boxing, while Chandler possesses real bombs in his hands.
In terms of grappling, both are extremely efficient and experienced. That said, we will see an unpredictable fight between two of the best and most eye-catching lightweights on the planet.
Poirier, a southpaw, will try to slow-cook the fight, boxing from the outside, kicking the calf, and moving around the octagon. If necessary, we'll see him take the fight to the ground.
Chandler is going to be on the hunt. The former Bellator champion is going to move forward, switch his stance constantly, feint with level changes, and throw his powerful right hand when the time is right.
This is the ideal fight to grab some popcorn, get comfortable on the couch, and open your eyes wide, because at any moment something interesting could happen.
Prediction: Michael Chandler wins by (T)KO
UFC 281: Adesanya vs. Pereira – Full Card
MAIN CARD (10:00 p.m. ET / 7:00 p.m. PT) - Only on ESPN+ PPV
Middleweight Championship: Israel Adesanya vs. Alex Pereira
Women’s Strawweight Championship: Carla Esparza vs. Zhang Weili
Dustin Poirier vs. Michael Chandler
Frankie Edgar vs. Chris Gutierrez
Dan Hooker vs. Claudio Puelles
PRELIMS – (8:00 p.m. ET / 5:00 p.m. PT) - ESPN+
Brad Riddell vs. Renato Moicano
Dominick Reyes vs. Ryan Spann
Erin Blanchfield vs. Molly McCann
Andre Petroski vs. Wellington Turman
EARLY PRELIMS – (6:00 p.m. ET / 3:00 p.m. PT) - ESPN+ and UFC Fight Pass
Matt Frevola vs. Ottman Azaitar
Karolina Kowalkiewicz vs. Silvana Gomez
Michael Trizano vs. Seungwoo Choi
Julio Arce vs. Montel Jackson
Carlos Ulberg vs. Nicolae Negumereanu