Monday, December 5, 2022

UFC 281 Predictions: Expert Picks By MMA News Staff

UFC 281: Adesanya vs. Pereira is now days away, and MMA News is here to continue getting you prepared for the event with our expert staff predictions!

Two title fights will headline the UFC 281 pay-per-view, with Israel Adesanya defending his middleweight championship against Alex Pereira in the main event. The co-main event will see two-time champion Carla Esparza defending her strawweight championship against Zhang Weili. And of course, the whole world is waiting for the lightweight banger between Dustin Poirier and Michael Chandler that is expected to steal the show.

UFC 281 takes place Saturday, November 12, 2022, from Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York. The main card will be available on pay-per-view beginning at 10:00 PM ET. The preliminary card starts at 8:00 PM ET, with the early prelims beginning at 6:00 PM.

Staff Predictions For UFC 281: Adesanya vs. Pereira

UFC 281 Main Card

UFC Middleweight Championship Bout: Israel Adesanya (c) vs. Alex Pereira
UFC Strawweight Championship Bout: Carla Esparza (c) vs. Zhang Weili
Dustin Poirier vs. Michael Chandler
Frankie Edgar vs. Chris Gutiérrez
Dan Hooker vs. Claudio Puelles

MMA News is the place to be for all the latest UFC 281 updates. Harvey Leonard, Andrew Starc, and Drew Beaupré, have provided their picks for you below.

Dan Hooker vs. Claudio Puelles

Dan Hooker, Claudio Puelles
Image Credit: Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Harvey Leonard: Hooker’s been on a poor run, but it has included a featherweight mistake and a FOTY contender opposite Dustin Poirier. Given his opposition and the scenarios, it seems way too early to dismiss “The Hangman” as a top 15-worthy lightweight.

With that, I believe he has the skills to turn away Puelles’ shot at earning a ranking. The Peruvian will certainly need to take the fight to the ground, but I expect Hooker to sprawl and withstand any level changes. From there, he’s got a significant kickboxing advantage that should help him secure a much-needed rebound win. (Prediction: Dan Hooker)

Andrew Starc: It’s hard to believe Dan Hooker, who was once a win away from a title shot, has now lost four of his last five. Granted, the losses came against the best of the lightweight division, and most recently, a future featherweight title challenger in Arnold Allen. But he was also finished on three of those occasions.

Against Claudio Puelles he faces a 26-year-old with a 12-2 record who’s unbeaten in five UFC fights. Puelles is yet to be tested by a high-caliber lightweight but carries a dangerous submission threat. I think Hooker’s experience will get him the win here. (Prediction: Dan Hooker)

Drew Beaupré: The intrigue in this matchup lies not only in the clash of styles but also the clash in momentum from both men. Puelles was stopped in his UFC debut but has won five-straight fights since then and finished three of those opponents via kneebar. Hooker has been finished in his last two fights and only has one victory through his last five bouts, but “The Hangman” has only been fighting top competition during that period.

This would easily be the biggest win of Puelles’ career if he defeats the New Zealander, while Hooker is desperately in need of a victory. If he even considers playing around on the ground with the Peruvian it could end his night in a flash, but I’ll go with Hooker to negate Puelles’ attempts to grapple and use his striking skills to snap his current losing streak (Prediction: Dan Hooker)

Consensus: 3-0 Hooker

Frankie Edgar vs. Chris Gutiérrez

Frankie Edgar, Chris Gutierrez

Harvey Leonard: It’s somewhat difficult to assess where Edgar is at heading into his retirement fight. On one hand, he’s suffered consecutive brutal knockouts, but on the other, he’s faced two high-ranked contenders. I think the key comparison with this matchup is the Vera loss. Before outpointing Font and stopping Cruz, Vera was in a close contest with Edgar, even losing the first two rounds on one scorecard.

Prior to the KO, it was clear that Edgar had slowed down in the final round. With that in mind, Gutierrez may need a similar late surge given that his past struggles with high-level wrestlers may mean he falls behind on the cards, especially given Edgar found success last time out against a better grappler than Gutierrez. I’ll back the vet to impose his will en route to a decision. (Prediction: Frankie Edgar)

Andrew Starc: Frankie Edgar will be looking to end his career on a high after racking up four losses in his last five. At 41-years-old and coming off two knockout losses, it will be interesting to see if Edgar has the durability to withstand the proven finishing ability of Guiterrez.

Gutierrez is riding a seven-fight unbeaten streak, having most recently earned a Performance of the Night TKO against Danaa Batgerel in March. While his past victories have all come against unheralded opponents, I think Guiterrez will get it done. (Prediction: Chris Guiterrez)

Drew Beaupré: No disrespect to Chris Gutierrez, but this is a well-deserved step down in competition for Edgar. Even if this wasn’t his retirement fight, “The Answer” was in serious need of a more reasonable matchup after being finished by top bantamweight contenders Marlon Vera and Cory Sandhagen in his last two fights.

Gutierrez hasn’t lost since falling to Raoni Barcelos in his UFC debut, and the lone blemish on his record since then is a draw with Cody Durden. He’s won another three fights since then, and this matchup with Edgar is the chance to put a huge name on his list of wins.

Edgar is a legend of the sport and will no doubt find himself in the UFC Hall of Fame not long after he retires, so I’ll take “The Answer” to get the win on Saturday and hopefully receive a fitting send-off from the crowd at Madison Square Garden. (Pick: Frankie Edgar)

Consensus: 2-1 Edgar

Dustin Poirier vs. Michael Chandler

Dustin Poirier Michael Chandler

Harvey Leonard: I think Dariush was spot on with his description of this fight — Chandler has the skill set to beat Poirier if he plays to his strengths. However, should he continue putting an emphasis on entertainment and striking battles, he may find himself with another FOTY contender, but falling short of a win.

If Chandler engages in a volume battle on the feet, it’ll play right into the hands of Poirier, who’s largely made his name in such situations throughout his UFC career. I’m backing “The Diamond” purely because of my expectation that Chandler will do exactly that. From there, I can see Poirier landing clean on the counter after rolling some of Chandler’s haymakers. (Prediction: Dustin Poirier)

Andrew Starc: Dustin Poirier hasn’t fought in almost a year since losing to Charles Oliveira for the title. Michael Chandler, meanwhile, bounced back from two straight defeats with the likely KO of the year against Tony Ferguson in May.

This isn’t the first time Poirier has faced a wrestler with knockout power. In 2018, the “Diamond” successfully weathered the storm that was Justin Gaethje to finish him in the fourth round. I think Poirier will do the same against Chandler and get a knockout finish. (Prediction: Dustin Porier)

Drew Beaupré: For a while, it felt like the UFC might drop the ball on putting this matchup together, but thankfully, they figured out how much sense it made for two of the UFC’s best lightweights to square off. Even with newly crowned champion Islam Makhachev’s first title defense seemingly already set against Alexander Volkanovski, it would be no surprise to see either of these men receive a title shot after the dust settles from that proposed fight.

Aside from his most recent win against Tony Ferguson where he front-kicked “El Cucuy” in the opening seconds of the second round, Chandler has historically been at his most dangerous during the first five minutes of a fight. That doesn’t mean that he can’t win decisions, but “Iron” is far more explosive and apt to score a finish earlier in the bout.

Poirier has remained remarkably durable despite being in some incredible wars during his career, and even if he takes some early punishment, I expect him to weather the early pressure from Chandler and start to take control as the bout goes on. That being said, on paper this is a pretty clear frontrunner for Fight of the Night and should be one of the highlights of the card. (Pick: Dustin Poirier)

Consensus: 3-0 Poirier

Carla Esparza vs. Zhang Weili

Zhang Weili, Carla Esparza
Image Credits: @ufc on Twitter & AFP

Harvey Leonard: I think Zhang Weili is the best strawweight and is unlucky to not already have the gold back in her possession. Aside from the KO loss last April, “Magnum” has impressed in every outing, and I think she did enough to feel slightly hard done by to have not taken the decision in her rematch with Namajunas. With that in mind, I don’t see Esparza halting her pursuit of a second reign.

As well as having a grappling game that should not only help her keep the fight standing, but make exchanges more than competitive, Zhang is head and shoulders above the champ in the standup realm, and she certainly won’t let Esparza outpoint her there through inactivity, which is how Esparza found herself with the title in May. (Prediction: Zhang Weili)

Andrew Starc: Carla Esparza may have dethroned Rose Namajunas, but she did it with perhaps the most unspectacular performance in UFC history. Weili Zhang, meanwhile, bounced back from two consecutive defeats to Namajunas with a huge KO of Joanna Jędrzejczyk in her last fight. 

Esparza’s wrestling could pose a problem for Weili, but the Chinese is one of the most vicious KO artists in the strawweight division. I think Weili has regained her confidence and will get a TKO finish in this one. (Prediction: Zhang Weili) 

Drew Beaupré: Even if it was arguably the worst title fight in the history of the UFC, seeing Carla Esparza reclaim the strawweight title after she only had it for a few months as the division’s inaugural champion was a nice moment. That being said, this fight with Weili Zhang is arguably a worse matchup for her first title defense than when she fought Joanna Jędrzejczyk at UFC 185.

Jędrzejczyk was largely focused on keeping Esparza at range to batter her with strikes and avoid grappling exchanges. Zhang is capable of not only out striking “The Cookie Monster” but is strong enough that she likely won’t have many concerns when the two women do clinch up. Esparza has spent basically her entire UFC career surprising larger women with her wrestling skills, but it feels like she’d need a remarkable performance in order to keep Zhang from reclaiming the UFC’s strawweight title on Saturday. (Pick: Zhang Weili)

Consensus: 3-0 Weili

Israel Adesanya vs. Alex Pereira

Israel Adesanya Alex Pereira
Photos via Instagram @stylebender @alexpoatanpereira

Harvey Leonard: Adesanya may have lost two kickboxing bouts to Pereira, but a look back at them actually makes it easier to back the champion at UFC 281. In the first match, most would probably agree that Adesanya should have had his hand raised. And in the rematch, he was on track for retribution until the late KO blow.

With that, this really may be as simple as: decision = Adesanya, finish = Pereira. Given how much he’s evolved in the UFC, I’d back “The Last Stylebender” to outpoint “Poatan” over the challenger finding the fight-ending shot. In the same vein, I also expect Adesanya to approach the fight in a similar fashion to his recent defenses. If the explanation for them was based on the avoidance of risks, why would that plan alter for someone as dangerous as Pereira? (Prediction: Israel Adesanya)

Andrew Starc: Israel Adesanya might be feeling increased pressure to deliver in this one. Not only given his highly criticized recent performances, but to avenge the man who once knocked him out. 

Alex Periera might be Israel Adesanya’s biggest ever challenge at middleweight—or at least it’s been marketed that way. But I can’t see him getting the better of Israel, who just seems untouchable at middleweight. I’m predicting a decision win for Adesanya. (Prediction: Israel Adesanya)

Drew Beaupré: I admitted in my picks before UFC 276 that I was all-in on the idea of a grudge match between Adesanya and Pereira for the UFC’s middleweight title, but then I still went ahead and picked Strickland anyway.

Now that this matchup has finally arrived, I’m still plenty excited but am also doing my best to stay realistic about Adesanya’s potential game plan. There’s obviously bad blood between Adesanya and Pereira from their kickboxing days, and “The Last Stylebender” has been talking up everything he plans to do to the Brazilian at UFC 281.

The fact is that Adesanya has been far more focused on keeping the title through his last few fights than trying to do anything crazy for the sake of impressing fans, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Even if a lot of fans don’t like it, there’s no reason for Adesanya to take any major risks against a guy that packs as much power as Pereira does.

So many people (and probably the UFC) are hoping this turns into a kickboxing match in MMA gloves, but Adesanya has three times the number of pro MMA fights that “Poatan” does. It may not turn out to be the most entertaining fight, but I’ll take the champion to draw on his experience and do whatever is needed to get the win without putting himself in unnecessary danger. (Pick: Israel Adesanya)

Consensus: 3-0 Adesanya

That’ll do it for our UFC 281 staff picks! What do you think? Do your picks look similar? Let us know in the comments section! Also, you can check out the UFC 281 undercard below. And be sure to stick with MMA News for all the coverage leading up to UFC 281 as well as Fight Night and post-fight coverage!

UFC 281 Preliminary Card (8:00 PM EST, ESPN+/ESPNEWS)

Brad Riddell vs. Renato Moicano
Dominick Reyes vs. Ryan Spann
Molly McCann vs. Erin Blanchfield
Andre Petroski vs. Wellington Turman

Early Preliminary Card (6:00 PM EST, ESPN+, UFC Fight Pass)

Matt Frevola vs. Ottman Azaitar
Karolina Kowalkiewicz vs. Silvana Gómez Juárez
Michael Trizano vs. Choi Seung-woo
Julio Ace vs. Montel Jackson
Carlos Ulberg vs. Nicolae Negumereanu

Be sure to keep it locked right here on all fight week and throughout the event!