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UFC 281

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

UFC 281: Five Things We Learned

UFC 281
(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

UFC 281: Five Things We Learned

UFC 281 was a great night of fights as the UFC boasted another all-time great card at the historic Madison Square Garden.

The bouts lived up to the hype we had heading in. We saw two titles switch hands as Alex Pereira and Zhang Weili walked away champions, while Dustin Poirier and Michael Chandler put on a fight-of-the-year contender. Outside of those fights, we saw seven first-round finishes. Needless to say, UFC 281 was special. With that in mind, we learned a lot of lessons, so here are five major takeaways.

1. Alex Pereira gets the better of Israel Adesanya

Pereira was able to get it done against Adesanya in the main event of UFC 281. It was not easy, but he secured the victory.

Heading into the final round, Adesanya led 39-37. That did not matter though, as Pereira was able to land a flurry of massive shots to finish Adesanya with only a few minutes left in the bout. As a result, Pereira became the UFC middleweight champion.

This terrific victory cemented the fact that he is an elite-level UFC fighter. He was already a tremendous striker, however, he proved he could translate that skill to MMA against the best in the world. He used his power and cage control to outstrike the best striker in the UFC. It was an all-time great performance.

There is one massive red flag in Pereira’s game; he can not grapple at all. I mean he was clearly out-grappled by Adesanya who is not known for his wrestling. Pereira will struggle mightily against solid middleweights that can grapple like Robert Whitaker, Marvin Vettori, Khamzat Chimaev (if he moves up to middleweight) and more. With that being said, he will have a while to prepare for any of those fights as he will likely face Adesanya in an MMA rematch.

2. Zhang Weili is undoubtedly the best strawweight in the world

Weili is now undoubtedly the best women’s strawweight in the world after submitting Carla Esparza in the second round of their bout at UFC 281. You could make the case she was before this bout, but Weili left zero doubts with her impressive performance.

On the feet, Weili was miles better than Esparza, landing a bunch of powerful strikes. On the ground, she managed the wrestling of Esparza and eventually came out on top with a great rear-naked choke finish.

The only other strawweight that could debate this claim, at least at the moment, is Rose Namajunas. Namajunas defeated Weili twice. The first came by knockout while the second came by a close decision. However, Namajunas dropped a boring decision to Esparza. At this point, Weili seems to be more skilled as she has shown improvements in her last two bouts.

3. Dustin Poirier remains elite

Poirier and Chandler were booked to fight solely to bring violence to Madison Square Garden at UFC 281. That is exactly what they did. In the end, Poirier won the war, submitting Chander in the third round.

This performance, once again, proved that Poirier is an elite lightweight. He was able to deal with Chandler’s early explosive outbursts and he eventually landed a massive counter that mangled Chandler’s nose. Although Chandler was able to out-grapple Poirier in round two, “The Diamond” righted those wrongs in round three. He was able to reverse position and take Chandler’s back. From there, Chandler was exhausted and it was a matter of time before Poirier got the finish.

At this point, it is common knowledge that Poirier is one of the best lightweights in the world. The top of that division is stacked with Islam Makhachev and Charles Oliveira, but Poirier does not sit too much further back in the lightweight division though. For the 33-year-old, the only question is if he wants to chase the title or if he wants to chase money fights. Either way, I imagine he will look great doing it.

4. Chris Gutierrez breaks into the top 15

Gutierrez spoiled Frankie Edgar’s retirement party at UFC 281. That is not a negative — that was his job — and he did it well. Regardless, Gutierrez looked good. He threw a handful of impressive shots that nearly finished Edgar. It began with a great hook and a spinning elbow and he eventually landed a massive knee that put Edgar out cold.

With this win, Gutierrez will take Edgar’s spot in the UFC bantamweight rankings. It is well deserved as he has proved that he is a serious threat at bantamweight. He has crisp striking that is led by elite leg kicks. His confidence is likely at an all-time high as well since he’s won his last two fights with highlight-reel knockouts.

There are no easy fights once you reach the bantamweight rankings, though. With that, Gutierrez will likely get a tough fight in his next time out. If he wins, he may be looked at in the upper echelon of the bantamweight division.

5. Dan Hooker gets back in the win column

Hooker pulled himself out of his slump at UFC 281. Before this bout, he was 1-4 in his last five with losses to elite competitors. That made his bout with Claudio Puelles at UFC 281 crucial to his career.

Hooker did not disappoint. He defended against Puelles’ early knee bar attempt and got the fight back to the feet. From there, he schooled Puelles on the feet with solid punches and teeps to the body. Still, Puelles hopelessly dove for Hooker’s legs. Eventually, Puelles had enough as Hooker landed several teeps that ended the fight.

Hooker was in desperate need of a win and he got it in an effortless fashion. As of right now, the train is back on the tracks for Hooker.


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