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UFC 281 predictions: Israel Adesanya vs. Alex Pereira: fight card, odds, prelims, preview, expert picks


On Saturday night, a ghost from Israel Adesanya’s past will reappear at UFC 281. Adesanya will defend his UFC middleweight title against Alex Pereira, a vicious striker who defeated Adesanya twice in kickboxing and is the only person in combat sports to knock him out. A compelling headliner for the promotion’s return to New York City’s Madison Square Garden.

With each successful title defense, Adesanya establishes himself as the greatest middleweight of all time, armed with a sublime and suffocating striking game. Adesanya will put his kickboxing skills to the test against arguably the only fighter capable of matching or exceeding them, former two-division Glory kickboxing champion Pereira.

In his sixth and seventh UFC fights, Adesanya won the UFC interim middleweight and undisputed middleweight titles. A notable accomplishment, but one overshadowed by Pereira’s meteoric rise through the ranks. Pereira’s first-round KO of Sean Strickland at UFC 276 earned him a top-five ranking and a shot at the UFC title in only his fourth fight with the promotion. Adesanya welcomes a difficult challenge after defeating Anderson Silva, Robert Whittaker (twice), Yoel Romero, Paulo Costa, Marvin Vettori (twice), and Jae Cannonier.

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With so much going on on Saturday night, let’s take a closer look at the full fight card, complete with the most recent Caesars Sportsbook odds, before we get to our staff predictions and picks for the PPV portion of the festivities.

Odds for the UFC 281 fight card

Caesars Sportsbook odds

Middleweight championship, Israel Adesanya (c) -210 vs. Alex Pereira +175
Women’s strawweight championship, Weili Zhang -340 vs. Carla Esparza (c) +270
Dustin Poirier -230 vs. lightweight Michael Chandler +190
Frankie Edgar +170 vs. Chris Gutierrez -220, bantamweight
Claudio Puelles +130 vs. Dan Hooker -155, lightweight
Renato Moicano -125 vs. Brad Riddell +105 in the lightweight division
Light heavyweight Dominick Reyes -220 vs. Ryan Spann +180
Women’s flyweight, Erin Blanchfield -400 vs. Molly McCann +310
Wellington Turman +170 vs. Andre Petroski -200, middleweight
Women’s strawweight, Silvana Gomez Juarez -115 vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz -105
featherweight Choi Seung-woo -165 vs. Michael Trizano +140
Ottman Azaitar -135 vs. Matt Frevola +115 in the lightweight division
Bantamweights Montel Jackson -200 vs. Julio Arce +170
Light heavyweights Carlos Ulberg -135 vs. Nicolae Negumereanu +115

Picks and predictions for UFC 281

Pereira vs. Adesanya (c) Adesanya Pereira Adesanya Adesanya Adesanya Esparza (c) vs. Zhang Zhang Zhang Zhang Poirier vs. Chandler Chandler Poirier Poirier Poirier Poirier
Gutierrez vs. Edgar
Edgar Gutierrez
Puelles Hooker vs. Hooker
Puelles Hooker Hooker Hooker Hooker Records
27-26 26-27

Pereira vs. Adesanya

Campbell: Despite the fact that Pereira has twice defeated Adesanya in kickboxing, including once by brutal knockout, the differences between the two as MMA fighters cannot be overlooked. Yes, Pereira has terrifying power in both hands, but he’s also incredibly inexperienced as an MMA fighter, having only seven pro fights, three of which were in the Octagon. The threat of Pereira’s strike should produce a focused Adesanya who is always ready to counter.Unlike the more loose, point fighter he’s become recently when opponents aren’t willing to go all in against him. Pereira should be more than willing, which means Adesanya must be at his best. But as the fight progresses, more unknowns about Pereira emerge, ranging from his stamina and ground game to his ability to make adjustments.

Brookhouse: Despite Pereira’s two kickboxing victories over Adesanya, Adesanya is the more technically gifted striker. Pereira, on the other hand, is one of the sport’s pound-for-pound heaviest hitters and will not allow Adesanya to sit back and point fight. Mind games could also play a role, but I believe that would lead to Adesanya looking to “make a point” rather than becoming gunshy. The issue I see for Adesanya is that striking is extremely dangerous for him in this fight. Yes, he is technically superior, but MMA gloves not only make Pereira’s shots harder, but they also make defending against those shots more difficult. The more likely outcome is an Adesanya victory, but this feels like the type of fight where the challenger has a much better than average chance of pulling off the upset. Pereira only needs one shot to end this fight, while Adesanya must be on point at all times.

Mahjouri: It’s been a long time since siding with Adesanya required such prudence. Pereira has the stronger kickboxing and is full of confidence after defeating Adesanya in two previous kickboxing matches. Adesanya is the more elusive striker, using feints, footwork, and counterattacks to confuse most opponents. Pereira has been far more hittable in the Octagon thus far, which should work in his favor. Pereira’s KO of Adesanya in their second kickboxing match appears to be concerning. A full replay of the fight, however, reveals that Adesanya was dominating Pereira prior to the finish. Adesanya by decision or Pereira by KO seems more likely, so let’s go with the former.

Zhang vs. Esparza

Campbell: It’s unusual for a two-time champion on a six-fight winning streak to be dismissed so aggressively by seemingly everyone ahead of a title defense. Whether it’s fair to blame Esparza for how boring her title win over Rose Namajunas was in their May rematch, few expect her to leave the Octagon still wearing her 115-pound belt. The reason for this is largely due to how much better Zhang appears to have become as a fighter since losing her title to Namajunas. Zhang, the first Chinese-born UFC champion, rebuilt her body and improved her wrestling skills to become a nearly 4-1 favorite. Zhang appears to be the smart pick for good reason, given that four of Esparza’s six recent wins involved disputed scoring.

Zhang is a strawweight powerhouse, according to Mahjouri. Few in the division can match her ability to deliver crushing blows. She has a striking advantage over Esparza, but so do the majority of the top contenders. Zhang’s 60% takedown defense is concerning, but I believe her coaches have placed a high value on her wrestling to complement her physical strength. Zhang’s improved wrestling, natural strength, and head-rattling power should propel him to victory.

Chandler vs. Poirier

Campbell: When you put everything on the line for the first five minutes of every fight, you’re likely to win as much as you lose. Chandler’s 2-2 record since making his UFC debut last year appears to support this. However, the former three-time Bellator MMA champion’s blitzkrieg approach may be his best chance of getting under Poirier’s chin, whose damage accumulation over an incredible career will one day catch up to him. Even if Chandler follows through on his threat to play it safer than usual (by wrestling), given the possibility of a title shot for the winner, The fireworks that fans expect should still be present at some point. Chandler nearly knocked out then-champion Charles Oliveira in 2021 and appears to be primed for a rematch.

Brookhouse: Yes, the logic of Poirier “one day” losing all punch resistance is reasonable. However, there is no evidence that that day has arrived. Chandler, on the other hand, has a notoriously weak chin, especially for someone who fights in his style. It’s still a minor miracle he made it to the scoreboards against Justin Gaethje.

Chandler was dropped by a badly faded Tony Ferguson and simply gets hit too cleanly and too frequently to match up against someone with Poirier’s precision and overall gameplan. Chandler is the epitome of a “puncher’s chance,” but his best path to victory may be to be a wrestler first and a striker second. I don’t see him carrying out that plan once Poirier begins to land. Chandler will most likely return to his habit of over-engaging with wild strikes, leaving him open to crisp shots from Poirier before the fight is stopped.

Who will win between Adesanya and Pereira? And how does each fight conclude? Find out now by visiting SportsLine and getting detailed picks on every fight at UFC 281, all from the incomparable expert who’s up more than $13,000 on MMA in the last three years.

Best bets and predictions for UFC 281 include Weili Zhang vs. Carla Esparza and Dustin Poirier vs. Michael Chandler.

On Saturday, UFC 281 will take place from Madison Square Garden in New York City. It’s another packed card as the UFC looks to end 2022 on a high note. In the main event, Israel Adesanya defends his middleweight title against Alex Pereira, a dangerous striker who has two kickboxing victories over Adesanya.

Since joining the promotion as a middleweight, the champion from New Zealand has been nearly perfect. His lone blunder came in a one-sided loss to Jan Blachowicz in an attempt to become a two-division champion at light heavyweight. Aside from that hiccup, Adesanya has defeated every single rising challenger in the 185-pound division, twice.

Meanwhile, the fight that many fans are most looking forward to is between two action stars in the lightweight division. Dustin Poirier and Michael Chandler are set to square off as the aging veterans look to make one last big statement in the loaded 155-pound division. Poirier has won three of his last four fights, including two knockouts, since 2020. Chandler, meanwhile, is 2-2 since making his debut with the promotion in 2021, with both victories coming via TKO.

Every big UFC card draws a lot of attention at the sportsbooks, but a card as big as UFC 281 may draw even more people than usual. With that in mind, we’ve got you covered with our picks for the best bets on each main card fight using Caesars Sportsbook odds.

Claudio Puelles vs. Dan Hooker via submission (+240)

The general consensus on this fight is to avoid it entirely. Hooker has gone 1-4 in his last five fights, with three of those defeats coming by stoppage. Puelles is a -155 favorite (as he should be), but he has good grappling and has won three UFC fights via kneebar. If you must throw something at the fight, throw a small dart at Puelles via submission, which Caesars Sportsbook has increased from +240 to +270.

Frankie Edgar vs. Chris Gutierrez (-220)

Edgar, like Hooker, has fallen off a cliff in recent years. Edgar has stated that this is his final fight, and it would be fantastic to see him end his incredible career with a victory. Still, if Edgar hadn’t won an undeserved decision over Pedro Munhoz, he should be 0-5 in his last five fights. Gutierrez isn’t a particularly good fighter, but he’s younger and has momentum. While Gutierrez is whipping in kicks, Edgar will have to close the distance by going through some dangerous areas. Edgar’s chin isn’t what it used to be, making closing that gap even more dangerous. Gutierrez via KO/TKO/DQ at +200 is tempting, but we recommend going with the straight moneyline.

Michael Chandler (-230) vs. Dustin Poirier

Poirier by KO/TKO/DQ is the play if your sportsbook offers it. Most books currently have it at +125, though Caesars does not have it available at the time of publication. Given that, simply bringing Poirier here makes the most sense. Some believe Poirier’s best days are behind him, but Chandler’s chin remains an issue, even though he survived three rounds with Justin Gaethje. While Chandler tries to bomb away, Poirier should be able to find plenty of space to land clean shots with his better technique. It’s a dangerous fight for both men, but Poirier has the upper hand.

Weili Zhang vs. Carla Esparza over 2.5 rounds

Zhang is the overwhelming favorite going into the fight, which makes sense. Zhang is also a dangerous finisher, but Esparza’s wrestling game can disrupt Zhang’s tempo and force the challenger to navigate some tricky situations. Zhang may find the finish, but it is unlikely to come before 2:30 of Round 2.

Under 3.5 rounds (+150) for Israel Adesanya vs. Alex Pereira

The odds favor the fight going the distance, with Adesanya winning by decision as the most likely outcome. Despite the fact that Adesanya’s recent style has been to outwork opponents for easy decisions, he has shown a willingness to go for the kill in fights where he feels the need to make a statement, such as his brutal stoppage of Paulo Costa following his heavily criticized outing against Yoel Romero. Pereira’s strikes have otherworldly power, and if Adesanya opens up, the fight becomes dangerous for both men. It’s tempting to take the under 4.5 round line at +110 and buy five minutes of extra time for the fight to end, but taking the extra risk pays off more. Pereira by KO/TKO/DQ at +250 is the winner.

Who will win between Adesanya and Pereira? And how does each fight conclude? Find out now by visiting SportsLine and getting detailed picks on every fight at UFC 281, all from the incomparable expert who’s up more than $13,000 on MMA in the last three years.

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