The blockbuster UFC 281 card goes down this weekend. It marks the UFC’s annual return to Madison Square Garden, New York and is headlined by a pair of title fights. Taking the main event spot will be the middleweight champion, Israel Adesanya defending his belt against his former foe, Alex Pereira. The co-main event sees current champion, Carla Esparza clash with former champion, Zhang Weili.
From top to bottom there are competitive, compelling fights with interesting backstories. We broke down the card in its entirety on the latest MMASucka podcast, which can be found here:
The main event is a compelling contest between two elite strikers. UFC 281 will mark the third time that the two men face off, however, it’s the first time in which they meet in an MMA bout. Previously, the two met in GLORY, where Saturday’s challenger, Pereira went 2-0 over the champion. Firstly, he won a narrow decision before brutally knocking out Adesanya in a rematch. He remains the only person to finish Adesanya in combat sports.
Adesanya is far more experienced in MMA with 24 professional fights under his belt, including 13 UFC bouts. Pereira, however, will compete in just his eighth professional MMA bout and just his fourth UFC fight. He’s never been scheduled to go five rounds before, whereas Adesanya has gone 25 minutes in six of his last eight fights.
— MMAFighting.com (@MMAFighting) November 8, 2022
There are so many questions surrounding the main event. Can Adesanya prove that he’s the better MMA fighter? Can Alex Pereira cause an upset and go 3-0 in the series? Who knows but what we do know is that it’s going to be an entertaining one.
The co-main event is certainly one that is going under the radar. Two-time champion, Carla Esparza will look to make the first defence of her title after a lacklustre performance last time out against Rose Namajunas. On this occasion, she did enough to win the belt, however, it was instantly forgettable.
Former champion, Zhang Weili is on a mission to regain the belt having dropped it to Namajunas back in April of last year. It’s worth remembering that Weili has lost just two of her last 24 fights, both to Namajunas, who might just be her kryptonite.
Esparza is a gamer, she’s a stand-out wrestler who is riding an impressive six-fight winning run, including big wins over Namajunas, Marina Rodriguez and Yan Xiaonan. Will she have the stand-up to deal with the challenger, who has recorded 11 knockout victories? Can she take it down to the ground and grind out another victory? We’ll find out on Saturday night.
Elsewhere on the UFC 281 main card
The featured non-title bout on the UFC 281 card is set to be contested at lightweight between former interim champion and perennial contender, Dustin Poirier and former title challenger and former Bellator champion, Michael Chandler. This one guarantees fireworks. Two men always come to scrap, never take a step backwards and look to leave it all in there are competing in a bout which could potentially see the winner get a shot at Islam Makhachev. The two have respect for each other, however, realise that a win could get them to where they want to be. This is one not to be missed.
UFC 281 also marks the end of an era in the UFC. Former lightweight champion, featherweight title challenger and bantamweight contender, Frankie Edgar is set to retire following his bout with Chris Gutierrez. Edgar has had a hall of fame career, but at 41 and having competed across multiple different weight classes since his promotional debut in 2007, it’s time to hang up the gloves. He’s got a tough task against Gutierrez, however, who is enjoying a seven-fight unbeaten run dating back to 2018.
Dan Hooker returns to lightweight for the first time since losing to Makhachev in October last year. He tried his hand back down at featherweight against Arnold Allen, however, it didn’t go his way. He takes on Claudio Puelles, who is making quite the name for himself at 155lbs. The Prince of Peru has recorded victories against Jordan Leavitt and notably, Clay Guida last time out. It’s a tough task for Hooker, but if he is to get back to where he once was, he’ll have to be on his A game.
The prelims are also littered with interesting, competitive fights. Headlining the prelims is a lightweight banger between Brad Riddell and Renato Moicano. The two men are competing for a spot in the top 15 at 155lbs.
Former two-time title challenger, Dominick Reyes makes his anticipated return to clash with #12 Ryan Spann. If Reyes can snap his three-fight losing streak here, we could see him in a big fight next.
Liverpool’s Molly McCann makes her New York debut following consecutive spinning back elbow knockouts when she takes on the dangerous, talented Erin Blanchfield.