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UFC 281 Preview

Image courtesy: Getty

UFC 281 Preview and Predictions

UFC 281 Preview
Image courtesy: Getty

UFC 281 Preview and Predictions

I always get fairly excited going into UFC pay-per-views. In 2022, the UFC has put on some absolute bangers, and some have flopped. But you can always count on the November show at Madison Square Garden being stacked, and this year is no different. We have two title fights in store and a fight on this card that could easily main event on its own. In the main event of UFC 281, we have an all-time grudge match that goes beyond the UFC that stems from these two fighters from another organization. I have gathered the best minds in the game to bring you our official staff predictions for UFC 281.

No. 12 Dan Hooker vs. Claudio Puelles (Lightweight Bout)

Garrett: The first fight on the main card for UFC 281 sees the return to the Lightweight division for Dan Hooker after a cup of coffee down at Featherweight. I think it is safe to say that quick stop is one he would like to forget. His first-round loss to Arnold Allen dropped him to 1-4 in his last five but good lord he has gone up against some killers (Allen, Islam, Michael Chandler, and Dustin Poirier). This fight isn’t any easier against a rising prospect in Claudio Puelles. Puelles will be looking to get this fight on the mat and work his magic to try and find the submission victory. If Hooker is able to stuff the takedown attempts, it’s Hooker all night. With a takedown defense of 78%, I think he does enough to keep him at bay and can use his distance control to make him second-guess coming in. I will join the group and take Hooker by decision.

James: Dan Hooker is re-entering the lightweight division after a one-fight trip down to Featherweight. That trip did not go as planned as he was finished in the first round by Arnold Allen. That loss made Hooker 1-4 in his last five. I’ll cut him some slack considering those losses came to Allen, Islam Makhachev, Michael Chandler, and Dustin Poirier. Welcoming Hooker back to the division will be the up-and-coming Claudio Puelles. Puelles is a submission specialist that has finished three of his seven UFC fights with a submission. In my opinion, this is the toughest fight to predict on the UFC 281 main card. I can easily see a path to victory for each fighter. On one hand, I can see Hooker defending takedowns and outboxing Puelles to a victory. On the other hand, I would not be surprised if Puelles is able to find a submission in a scramble and make Hooker tap. To be honest, I do not have a strong read here. It looks very 50-50 to me. But, I have to make a pick. I will go Hooker by decision.

Anthony: Dan Hooker via decision

Jerry: Hooker via decision

No. 12 Frankie Edgar vs. Chris Gutierrez (Bantamweight Bout)

Garrett: Frankie Edgar will be competing in his last fight in MMA this Saturday. It has been a story-book career for Edgar, reaching the mountaintop of the Lightweight division and putting on some all-time classics. I usually root for guys to go out with one last win, but this sadly won’t be the case. Chris Gutierrez is simply the wrong guy for Edgar. I love his stand-up and how he is relentless in his pressure. But without a doubt, his favorite tool in the shed is his leg kicks. It is going to take that one lucky shot for Edgar to put out a guy like Gutierrez, but with Edgar’s chin molding into glass over the last few years, I can safely predict Gutierrez via TKO.

James: The UFC 281 main card features Frankie Edgar’s retirement bout. Edgar has had a tremendous career that began all the way back in 2007. The highlight of his UFC tenure was his time as the UFC lightweight champion from 2010 to 2012. Despite his legend status, the UFC did him no favors when selecting his farewell opponent. Chris Gutierrez is a dog. He is a pretty well-rounded striker that can move forward and land efficiently. His best weapons are his leg kicks. He even has a leg kick finish in the UFC. In this bout, I expect Gutierrez to outland Edgar on the feet, but I would not be surprised if Edgar lands a couple of takedowns. Gutierrez does have good takedown defense so that will be a challenge. My biggest issue with Edgar is that, recently, he has been getting hit a lot. He has also been brutally knocked out several times in the last couple of years. I think his durability has slipped and his defense is not as good as it once was. I will take Gutierrez by second-round knockout.

Anthony: Edgar via decision

Jerry: Edgar via decision

No. 2 Dustin Poirier vs. No. 5 Michael Chandler (Lightweight Bout)

Garrett: Here is the fight I referenced earlier as easily being a main event of a card. Dustin Poirier and Michael Chandler are going to leave buckets of blood in the octagon this Saturday at UFC 281 and I am here for it. Both fighters have the belief they can finish the other, but I don’t see a finish coming. For Chandler, he can knock your lights out at any given moment with his precision and dangerous power in both hands. One skill of his not to be slept on in this fight is his wrestling. Chandler has great wrestling and I would imagine his coaches imploring him to use some of it in this fight. For Poirier, he is in the conversation for the best boxer in the UFC (sorry Max Holloway). What he might lack in speed he makes up for in spades with elite combos and insane fight IQ. What makes me scratch my head in this fight is that we haven’t really seen a great performance out of Dustin Poirier since he fought Dan Hooker back in 2020. With Chandler, he has all the potential to claim gold in the UFC but I think he gets too reckless with his punches at times. For the sake of the pick, I think Poirier faces adversity better and picks up a massive win here. I’ll take Poirier via decision.

James: I’ve been waiting for this fight since the second it has been announced. This is my pick for fight of the night and I would not be surprised if it is the fight of the year. Dustin Poirier and Michael Chandler are going to go to war at UFC 281. I expect nothing short of madness. I am also interested to see how each fighter approaches this bout. That is especially true for Chandler. Chandler is lightning-quick and has ridiculous power, but he also has very good wrestling and ground-and-pound. I want to know which set of skills he will opt to use, or maybe he mixes them together. For Poirier, he has some of the best boxing in the UFC. He may not be quite as quick as or powerful as Chandler, however, he has elite timing and he has a plethora of tremendous combos. In this fight, there are two things that concern me on the side of Chandler. The first is his chin. At times, he gets dropped easily. At other times, he can eat massive shots. I mean he was dropped by Tony Ferguson and made it three rounds with Justin Gaethje. It just doesn’t add up. I can not say this for certain, but I bet that is a reflection of how his weight cut goes. My second concern is leg kicks. Chandler has a wide stance and struggles to defend leg kicks. That is an attack Poirier excels at.

For a prediction, I think these two will go to war for three rounds. In that type of fight, I think Poirier will be consistently successful while Chandler relies on big moments. I like Poirier for that reason. Plus, I have fewer worries about his durability. I’ll take Poirier by decision.

Anthony: Poirier via decision

Jerry: Poirier via TKO

(c) Carla Esparza vs. Zhang Weili (UFC Women’s Strawweight Championship)

Garrett: I don’t think there is an easier fight to predict on this entire card, top to bottom, than this one right here. All the credit in the world to Carla Esparza, but she does not stand a chance here. The ONLY way we see Esparza get her hand raised is if she goes out there and secures a takedown in the first 15 seconds of every round and holds Weili there for 5 mins a piece. That simply does not happen. Zhang Weili is far too skilled on the feet, plus she has solid wrestling of her own. No brainer. Zhang via TKO.

James: Carla Esparza will attempt to defend her women’s strawweight title at UFC 281 against Weili Zhang. I’ll keep this short. I love Zhang in this fight. On the feet, she is better in just about every category that you can think of. She is quicker, more powerful, and more technical, and she has far more offensive tools. Esparza will have to out-wrestle Zhang for five rounds if she wants to win and I don’t see that happening. Zhang is incredibly strong and she has very good wrestling. I think Zhang defends the takedowns and out-boxes Esparza. I’ll take Zhang by second-round knockout.

Anthony: Weili via decision

Jerry: Weili via TKO

UFC 281 Main Event: (c) Isreal Adesanya vs. No. 4 Alex Pereira (UFC Middleweight Championship)

Garrett: The main event of UFC 281 is a grudge match between two of the best strikers in the UFC today. These men have fought twice before in kickboxing, with Pereira winning both fights. This will be their first fight in MMA. Pereira is insane power and can put the lights out on anyone with one single punch. If you want to see an in-depth analysis of Pereira, James Herrick does a great film study on him, link is here. I think that there are two key advantages in this fight for Adesanya and that is pure MMA experience and championship conditioning. Adesanya has been under the bright lights in the UFC before and shined. He also has gone against guys with great striking and shows outstanding head movement. I think the turning point in this fight will be the body kicks of Adesanya. He throws kicks very well, and over time the investment of attacking the body will drain the gas tank of Pereira, while Adesanya is still fresh. This will be a strategic war, and I expect Adesanya to come out of it with his hand raised. I will take Adesanya via decision.

James: The UFC 281 main event between Israel Adesanya and Alex Pereira will be one to remember. There is a legitimate chance that this is the best striking match-up we have seen in a UFC octagon. That is how good these guys are. Trying to figure out which one of these elite fighters will pull ahead and prove to be the better striker is a tough question. Adesanya obviously has far more MMA experience as he sits at 23-1 compared to Pereira who is 6-1. In this fight, I expect a lot of kicks to be thrown. Each guy excels at throwing kicks to each area of the body and they can do so from a variety of angles. Plus, they both have tremendous hands. The biggest difference between the two is their output. Pereira is far more powerful and he can put his opponent unconscious in an instant. Adesanya has power, but it is not close to Pereira’s.

However, Adesanya could outland Pereira with an attack led by leg kicks and jabs. The difference maker that sways my predictions is Adesanya’s defensive ability. Adesanya has tremendous movement and he can switch stances with ease. I think he is better than Pereira in those areas and I think he uses those tools to avoid the power strikes early. If he can, he should pull ahead in the late rounds as he has more five-round MMA experience. That does not mean Pereira can’t get it done at UFC 281 because he can. I am just far more confident in Adesanya earning a decision victory.

Anthony: Adesanya via decision

Jerry: Adesanya via TKO

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