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UFC 281 Preview

The UFC returns to New York for the UFC 281 pay-per-view event taking place in Madison Square Garden. The stacked card is headlined by a middleweight title fight between Israel Adesanya and Alex Pereira. The co-main event features another title fight as Carla Esparza defends her women’s strawweight title against Weili Zhang. With plenty of other great fights, Ryan O’Leary from MMA Viking previews the action.


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UFC 281 Prelim Card 

Explosive light heavyweights open the action as Carlos Ulberg takes on Nicolae Negumereanu.  Ulberg is a training partner of headliner Adesanya, and this should also see heavy hitters throw down on the feet. 

Julio Arce battles Montel Jackson in bantamweight action. Jackson should come out on top in this encounter. 

Mike Trizano faces Choi Seung-Woo in a featherweight tilt. Choi is a slight favorite to get the victory. 

Former title challenger Karolina Kowalkiewicz had lost five fights in a row and looking to be exiting the top promotion until she picked up a win against Felice Herrig in her last outing.  The Polish fighter faces Silvana Gomez Juarez in a women's strawweight matchup. This fight is essentially a pick ‘em. 

Matt Frevola takes on the undefeated Ottman Azaitar in a lightweight encounter. Azaitar is expected to get the victory and remain undefeated. 



Andre Petroski faces Wellington Turman in a middleweight tilt. This should be competitive, but Petroski should emerge victorious. 

Erin Blanchfield takes on Molly McCann in a women's flyweight bout. All signs point to Blanchfield getting a comfortable victory with her superior grappling over McCann.  However, “Meatball Molly” always steps up in big events and wouldn’t surprise me to see her do it again. 

Former title challenger Dominick Reyes faces Ryan Spann in a light heavyweight battle. Reyes is on a three-fight losing streak, but has changed up his training and is confident that he will finally get in the win column this time around. 

The featured prelim sees Brad Riddell battle Renato Moicano in a lightweight contest. This is an extremely close encounter that will likely stay standing. Moicano is  the slightest of favorites to get the win, but I like Riddell in this one. 



UFC 281 Main Card 

Dan Hooker (21-12) vs. Claudio Puelles (13-2) 

The main card opens up with a lightweight bout between Dan Hooker and Claudio Puelles. Hooker is coming off a TKO defeat to Arnold Allen in his featherweight debut back in March. Overall, he has lost four of his last five outings and slipping quickly in the rankings.

Puelles on the other hand, has won his last five, including another kneebar submission win over Clay Guida in April. In Hooker, however, Puelles will face his toughest task yet. And despite the New Zealander’s recent struggles, Hooker is the slightest of favorites to come out on top and return to the win column. 



Frankie Edgar (23-10-1) vs. Chris Gutierrez (18-3-2) 

Former champion Frankie Edgar competes for the last time when he faces Chris Gutierrez in a bantamweight encounter. Edgar hasn't competed since November last year when he was knocked out by Marlon Vera. Overall, the legend has lost four of his last five outings.

Gutierrez is coming off a TKO win over Danaa Batgerel in March and is undefeated in his last seven. All signs point to Gutierrez getting the victory and spoiling Edgar’s retirement fight, but every fight fan hopes Frankie has one last “Answer”. 



Dustin Poirier (28-7, 1NC) vs. Michael Chandler (23-7) 

The people’s main event takes place in the form of a lightweight barnburner between former title challengers Dustin Poirier and Michael Chandler. Poirier hasn’t competed since his submission defeat to then champion Charles Oliveira back in December. Prior to that, Poirier was on a three-fight winning streak. 

Chandler returned to the win column with a devastating knockout victory over Tony Ferguson in May. Another win over Poirier, and the former Bellator champion could be in line for another title shot, but the same applies to the former as well now that Islam Makhachev is the new champion.

While anything can happen, especially with the power these two possess, oddsmakers seem fairly confident in Poirier’s chances. Both fighters have consistently put on exciting, fan-friendly brawls.  Expect the same here. 



Carla Esparza (20-6) vs. Weili Zhang (22-3) 

The co-main event sees Carla Esparza look to defend her women’s strawweight title against former champion Weili Zhang. Esparza became a two-time champion following her forgettable split decision win over Rose Namajunas back in May. The wrestler will now be looking to defend her title for the first time and deliver a much better performance. 

She’ll certainly have her hands full against Zhang, who is coming off an emphatic knockout victory over Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Zhang is not only younger, but simply much more well-rounded than Esparza, and the betting odds reflect this as she is a comfortable favorite. Expect a new champion with Zhang likely getting the finish as Esparza’s take-down ability will fade as the fight progresses. 



Israel Adesanya (23-1) v Alex Pereira (6-1) 

One of the most eagerly-anticipated fights takes place in the main event of UFC 281 as Israel Adesanya looks to defend his middleweight title against Alex Pereira. There’s a backstory to this fight as Adesanya suffered defeat not once, but twice to Pereira in their kickboxing days, with the second defeat being a knockout back in 2017.

Adesanya has since transitioned to MMA extremely well and remains undefeated at middleweight. He recently completed his fifth title defense following a unanimous decision win over Jared Cannonier. 



Pereira, meanwhile, only joined the UFC in 2021, but is already challenging for the title. One reason is his history with Adesanya, but another is his emphatic knockout victory over title contender Sean Strickland in July. He has the bragging rights over Adesanya, but this is mixed martial arts which “The Last Stylebender” has been doing for far longer.

Pereira always has a shot with his powerful left hook and kickboxing credentials with the betting odds only having him as a slight underdog. However, this should end up going Adesanya’s who’s game has developed quickly in the MMA cage and should be able to outpoint the Brazilian over five rounds. 

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About Ryan O’Leary  

Ryan O’Leary is a veteran mixed martial arts journalist and commentator. The Swedish-based writer is the founder and editor at MMAViking.com, which is the premier source for Nordic mixed martial arts news since 2008. 

V: 1.25.0 All rights reserved. August 2021
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