UFC 281 preview, picks: Dustin Poirier-Michael Chandler, Israel Adesanya-Alex Pereira, more

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Israel Adesanya prepares to fight Jared Cannonier in a middleweight title bout during the UFC 276 mixed martial arts event Saturday, July 2, 2022, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

UFC 281 begins at 10 p.m. ET Saturday at Madison Square Garden in New York on pay-per-view. The co-main events feature two title bouts, including the long-awaited third combat sports meeting between Israel Adesanya — the reigning champion undefeated in middleweight MMA fights — and his Glory kickboxing nemesis, Alex Pereira. The third bout on the main card also features Louisiana native and former interim UFC lightweight champion Dustin Poirier against previous Bellator titlist Michael Chandler.

Here are the betting breakdowns for each main card matchup, with odds courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook:

Dan Hooker vs. Claudio Puelles

Caesars odds: Hooker (-155); Puelles (+130)

UFC veteran Dan Hooker enters this bout owning roughly triple the experience with the promotion of Claudio Puelles, though the latter is on a five-fight winning streak and has not lost since falling short in 2016’s finale of The Ultimate Fighter. Conversely, Hooker has lost four of his last five fights — three by first-round finish — and has not finished any of his last seven opponents since 2019.

All three of Puelles’ UFC wins by submission have transpired via kneebars, but the 26-year-old’s arsenal offers spectacular variety given his age when it comes to making opponents tap. Despite his recent reputation for leg locks, he has professed his favorite submission is actually the rear naked choke. Coincidentally, Hooker previously tapped to two RNCs in his three MMA losses via submission.

Hooker enjoys deploying all his limbs in striking exchanges, so any caught kick could provide the window Puelles needs to bring the fight to the floor. If that happens, the “Peruvian Prince” will obtain a great opportunity to spring the upset.

PICK & PROP: Puelles to win (+130), Puelles to win by submission (+240)

Chris Gutierrez vs. Frankie Edgar

Caesars odds: Gutierrez (-220); Edgar (+180)

Frankie Edgar is a New Jersey native and future UFC Hall of Famer competing in his final fight after 29 previous appearances in the promotion. He will face Chris Gutierrez, a rising prospect in the bantamweight division that has yet to suffer a knockout in MMA or face defeat since losing his UFC debut in 2018.

Gutierrez has some of the most phenomenal kicking ability in the entire UFC, regularly deploying sharp hip feints while targeting all areas of the human body to gradually wear opponents down and throw off their anticipation. Those are two difficult approaches for Edgar to overcome at 41 years old, and quite rarely does a fighter on the wrong end of a decade-wide age gap manage to win under such circumstances.

Edgar and Gutierrez have gone the distance in a combined 33 of 52 previous MMA events, so the result figures to rest within the judges’ scorecards.

PICK & PROP: Gutierrez to Win (-220), Gutierrez to Win by Decision (+160)

Dustin Poirier vs. Michael Chandler

Caesars odds: Poirier (-230); Chandler (+190)

Dustin Poirier last fought at UFC 269 for the lightweight title in a losing effort. Now nearly a year later, the fighter from Lafayette will pursue a bounce-back victory against Michael Chandler, who last appeared in May at UFC 274 and scored one of the MMA knockouts of the year on a front kick to the face of Tony Ferguson.

Chandler’s striking power remains undeniable, but he also harbors a concerning chin given he has experienced twice as many knockout losses as Poirier. While both combatants boast incredibly similar UFC statistics, Poirier owns nearly seven times more experience than Chandler with the top MMA promotion in the world.

Given Poirier has secured a KO in five of his last seven wins, “The Diamond” sits in a good position to find a finish later in the fight after weathering the early storm from a heavy-hitting opponent.

PICK & PROP: Poirier to win (-230), Poirier to win via finish in Round 3 (+1000)

Carla Esparza vs. Weili Zhang

Caesars odds: Esparza (+300); Zhang (-380)

The current strawweight champion, Carla Esparza, won her title at UFC 274 on a highly controversial split decision against Rose Namajunas after what critics considered one of the most uneventful five-round fights in women’s MMA history. Weili Zhang held the belt roughly a year prior before losing back-to-back bouts with Namajunas in two of the only three defeats in her MMA career.

Esparza has a path to victory through securing takedowns on her way to racking up control time and ground punches. However, even in May’s championship effort, Namajunas still managed to stuff nine of Esparza’s 11 total takedown attempts.

Zhang averages more than double the significant strikes per minute that Esparza does. If this bout stays standing for the majority of its duration, China’s “Magnum” will have ample opportunity to achieve her second UFC title-winning knockout.

PICK & PROP: Zhang to win (-380), Zhang to win via KO/TKO/DQ (+120)

Israel Adesanya vs. Alex Pereira

Caesars odds: Adesanya (-210); Pereira (+175)

Five and a half years after their last meeting, Alex Pereira remains the only professional fighter to ever knock out Israel Adesanya in competition. Despite Pereira owning a 2-0 record against “The Last Stylebender” in kickboxing, he enters Madison Square Garden as an underdog opposite Adesanya’s masterful UFC career since debuting in 2018.

An easy explanation of the odds exists in Pereira owning just three UFC appearances in his tenure thus far compared to 13 from Adesanya — including a 7-0 record in middleweight title fights. However, Izzy already understands the power his challenger possesses, having experienced it himself in 2017 and witnessed it in July at UFC 276 when Pereira knocked out another opponent undefeated at middleweight inside of three minutes.

Although both fighters mainly opt into standing exchanges, the MMA ruleset lends Adesanya an edge given his superior octagon experience and slightly more proven grappling ability. Even so, Pereira’s left hook carries some of the most frighting power the UFC has ever seen. If Adesanya’s comfort with fighting at range and motivation for revenge lead to dangerous trades of blows, plenty of reason exists to believe Pereira accomplishes again what no other man has successfully achieved.

PICK & PROP: Pereira to win (+175), Pereira to win by KO/TKO/DQ (+250)

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