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UFC 281

Main Event

Israel Adesanya vs Alex Pereira


The much anticipated rematch is finally here. It didn’t take long for Dana/UFC to give Pereira this shot given his prior kickboxing credentials in spite of only being 6-1 professionally in MMA. He’s 3-0 in the UFC, with 2 finishes and a decision win over Bruno Silva. The Silva fight showed he can have consistent volume if it comes to it, and Bruno’s chin surprisingly held up. Much has also been said this week about Pereira being 2-0 against Izzy already from their prior kickboxing matchups. But let’s be honest about those two matchups, the first win was via decision, which most people think Izzy took, Pereira probably had biased judging, and the 2nd, obviously came via KO, but in both fights, Izzy was clearly the better striker, especially in terms of speed. Izzy is 12-1 in the UFC, and will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest middleweights of all time when it’s done. He’s beaten the best of the best in this division and this is his 6th defense. That said, he’s got a massive advantage when it comes to overall experience and what to expect given a 5 RD affair. He doesn’t have his normal height/reach advantage in this one, but again, his kickboxing helped maintain distance in the prior matchups, that won’t change here. He’s going to chop away at Pereira’s legs as often as possible. Everyone knows the power Pereira possesses in his left, and I of course expect Izzy to be wise to it, he’s got great head movement to complement the striking. I expect Izzy to be a counter striker for most of this one, Pereira pressures well and won’t be on the back foot for much of this one. Pereira needs the KO here, he’s not winning a decision. I feel like once again Izzy has to prove himself to the masses about the level of skill he has and what he can do. He’ll put on a clinic here. Not saying he himself gets a KO , but it’s not out of the realm of possibility. I think he wins a clear decision though. AND STILLLLLLLLL…

PICK: Israel Adesanya $19 FD ($8600 DK)

Alex Pereira $16 FD ($7600 DK)

Co Main Event

Carla Esparza vs Weili Zhang

Women’s Strawweight

Didn’t feel like Weili would be back in this spot so soon after 2 straight L’s to Namajunas in 2021. The first seemed more of a fluky result, but nonetheless, a KO was what lost her the belt. Then a rematch was booked almost immediately, and it was a much closer affair that could’ve gone the other way easily, but lost that one via decision. But a rematch of arguably one of the greatest UFC fights of all time between JJ & Zhang was rebooked in the summer of this year, and it felt like a combination of JJ just being past her prime, and an insane focus and determination to show Zhang could be dominant, and that she was. Zhang’s power and aggression are what make her so dangerous. But the question is, will she actively go after her own offensive wrestling in this one, because that is where Esparza will always prefer a fight to play out. Esparza averages 3.25 TDs per 15mins, while Zhang averages 2.09. Neither’s TDEF is particularly good either, 47% for Esparza, and 60% for Zhang. Will Esparza be able to close distance enough effectively to get this to the clinch is an even bigger question, if she does, will be interesting. Zhang likely plays this smart and won’t actively pursue her won wrestling, her best chance will always be on the feet. She lands 5.7 SS/m (absorbs 4.2 SS/m), while Esparza lands just 2.2 SS/m (absorbs 2.5 SS/m), that in large part to her approach in wrestling, but nonetheless she is much more patient on the feet than Zhang. Cardio edge will go to Zhang down the stretch too. Esparza was gifted with Namajunas being so passive in her last fight, so we didn’t see signs of that, but I can guarantee we will here if we get into the championship rounds, which should favor Zhang. Zhang is most expensive fighter on FD, and 2nd most expensive on DK, so will he tough to pay her price tag off unless we get a performance like her last, which’ll be hard to come by. So from a DFS perspective, it would be dog or pass largely, but there are several dogs who should get wins on this card, so safely using her would be fine, I’m just worried about her score potential. AND NEWWWWWWW…

PICK: Weili Zhang $23 FD ($9400 DK)

Carla Esparza $14 FD ($6800 DK)

Dustin Poirier vs Michael Chandler


This has FOTN written all over it. Both challenged Oliveira and lost via submission. But this fight could set things up for the other to get a title shot again within the next 15 months. There’s a ton of talent at the top of the lightweight division that’ll soon get theirs. As far as this matchup is concerned, this should set up to be an almost exclusive kickboxing affair. Both have wrestling to fall on, but only really see that being an option if someone gets hurt and looks to recover. Chandler does well against southpaws, which makes this even more interesting. Chandler will come out the gate and pressure immediately, likely throwing some bombs in the way of Poirier, and in the past, Poirier likely obliges immediately, leaving himself there to be countered if he doesn’t land his shot instead. But over the last several years, he’s shown to be much more calculated/patient in terms of his output, and it’s seen good results. Chandler proved to us all he could keep a pretty solid pace in his war he had with Justin Gaethje, so the fear he won’t be able to do the same here is kind of out the window. Poirier should be able to match that pace as well though, especially given some of the 5 RD’ers he’s been in. Chandler is certainly one of my fav dogs to target on this dog rich card, but I favor Poirier. Poirier should be able to get ahead come 2nd RD, and begin to set himself apart on the cards from there. Believe he’ll take less damage, and he has a greater chance to find a finish than Chandler IMO. Love this fight for DFS as it should make for a good return.

PICK: Dustin Poirier $20 FD ($8900 DK)

Michael Chandler $10 FD ($7300 DK)

Chris Gutierrez vs Frankie Edgar


Fighters seemingly going in opposite directions. This is the farewell fight for Edgar. He’s lost 4 of his last 5 fights. To everyone at the top of this division pretty much though. But it’s no secret Edgar has had a legendary career, and will be missed. He’s 41yrs young and he’s decided it’s his time. He gets Gutierrez, who’s 4-0-1 over his last 5, with his most recent win being a KO win over Danaa. Gutierrez isn’t the KO king that result would lead you to believe. However he’s improving, and his claim to a successful day at the office is powerful leg kicks. He’ll look to eat his opponents lead leg up first, before putting combinations together, and if successful, really halts opponents game plans against him. He’s got overall solid volume too, lands 4.6 SS/m (absorbs just 2.6 SS/m). Knows how to manage distance well. On the other side though, Edgar is the better overall fighter, he’s constantly moving in the pocket, and looks to put combinations together, and eventually closes distance to look for TDs. He averages 2.3 TDs per 15mins. Even though he suffered a KO loss in his last outing vs Vera. He has constant moments of success in that one. In fact, he won the first round. Vera’s pressure and power he had eventually overcame him before a front kick to the face late in the 3rd ended it. This matchup provides some relief for him though, because should he get it grounded, he’ll have better success with control/posture than in his fight with Vera. Gutierrez is much more willing to accept being on his back, and won’t fire off elbows to the head etc the way Vera did. And I believe Edgar avoids taken too many of those leg kicks flush due to his movement. Give me Edgar via decision in a statement win into retirement.

PICK: Frankie Edgar $9 FD ($7100 DK)

Chris Gutierrez $21 FD ($9100 DK)

Dan Hooker vs Claudio Puelles


Hooker experimented down to Featherweight in his last bout vs Arnold Allen, and the result was ugly. He’s back where he belongs now at Lightweight, and looks to bounce back. Hooker has only won 2 of his last 5, but this is another solid prospect in this division, and he’s only 32, so plenty of room left to grow for him. Puelles has surged here recently, and is a talented grappler with a knack for finding submissions. He’s won 5 straight fights, and gets a main card slot here so all eyes will be on him. He’s locked up back to back knee bar submissions, and would be hard pressed to say that’ll happen a 3rd time, but it’s pretty clear he wants the fights grounded to work his wrestling/grappling. He averages nearly 3 TDs per 15mins (2.74), and nearly 2 submission attempts as well (1.4). Hooker will be wise to it, and has arguably faced better grapplers/wrestlers than Puelles throughout his career. Hooker has solid TDEF, nearly 80% (78%), and should have success stuffing some attempts from Puelles. From there is where the trouble lies for Puelles, Hooker is a far superior striker than Puelles at this point. Hooker lands 4.9 SS/m (absorbs 4.8 SS/m), while Puelles lands just 1.99 SS/m (absorbs 2.89 SS/m). Lack of volume large in part due to his approach, but he’s still much more patient on the feet. Chris Gruetzemacher had success on the feet against before ultimately getting submitted, and this is clearly a step up from that, even Leavitt had his moments. Hooker will have more power as well. Hard for me to feel good about Puelles in this spot, he can grind decisions out, sure. I just don’t see him having sustained success with TDs for one, and two, Hooker won’t put himself in gullible positions on the mat, and he won’t accept positions easily. I think Hooker makes easy work of him, with the chance of a late finish. Just a matter of how much he’ll matter in DFS with others in his price range with better ceilings.

PICK: Dan Hooker $18 FD ($8700 DK)

Claudio Puelles $12 FD ($7500 DK)

Renato Moicano vs Brad Riddell


This should be another solid matchup. Moicano is coming off of a beating to RDA in a fight he took on short notice this past March and it showed. RDA was ahead in every metric. Aside from that though, Moicano is a talented fighter with good all around skill sets. He’s got good technical striking, and his grappling is something he leans on when things hit the canvas. He averages nearly 2 TDs per 15mins (1.7). And with Riddell not having good TDEF, that’s something he likely leans on early. Riddell’s TDEF is 63%. Riddell is coming off of 2 losses where he was finished in both. His last bout vs Jalin Turner ended in 45 seconds via submission, and prior to that, got finished late in the 3rd by Fiziev. Two of the divisions best. Riddell is well rounded also, he’s active in his wrestling approach as well, and also averages nearly 2 TDs per 15mins (1.85), but his less effective in getting them. The size difference will make it tough as well, he’s giving up 4” in height. That should allow Moicano to use his kickboxing to help dictate the range. Riddell is used to being able to pressure effectively, which could be the case here, but the jab of Moicano will still be effective when he counters. In terms of outcome, this’ll be interesting, because Riddell hasn’t finished a UFC opponent yet, and Moicano hasn’t lost a decision. Riddell has gotten a lot of underdog love this week, for good reason, but I think it’s an uphill battle for him, and the longer you give someone like Moicano time on the mat, the more dangerous he becomes in hunting for a submission. I actually believe Moicano can find a RNC at some point in the 3rd.

PICK: Renato Moicano $16 FD ($8300 DK)

Brad Riddell $15 FD ($7900 DK)

Dominick Reyes vs Ryan Spann

Light Heavyweight

I was surprised to see Reyes on the prelims, but he’s lost 3 straight so I get it. Prior to his bout with Jones, he was 6-0 in the UFC. He then subsequently lost the title fight vs Blachowicz, and eventually returned to get destroyed by current champ, Jiri Prochazka. But seems pretty clear he’ll never get over the hump to sit atop of the division. He’s got great overall skills, and likes to put his hands together. Has solid power to go along with it. Many would say he beat Jon Jones in their bout, but the score cards didn’t go his way. There’s concerns now that his chin is gone, after 2 brutal KO losses that followed. However the power that both those men had is to be accounted for, and I don’t think Spann has that type of stopping power, but he has solid power as well. Spann has had an up and down UFC career here recently, he’s 6-2 overall, but has alternated wins and losses over his last 4 fights. He’s clearly capable of putting together a solid game plan, but fight IQ eludes him at times and as a result he pays for it by either getting submitted or KO’ed. Cutelaba gifted him his neck when shooting for a TD and got submitted. However when things hit the ground with Anthony Smith, the skill level was too much to overcome. Spann could surprise again, but I wouldn’t count on it. Reyes is only 32yrs old, and has championship aspirations. This win is huge for him to get momentum going again. I think he finds a 2nd RD KO, he won’t be reckless. He’ll be patient and let everything flow.

PICK: Dominick Reyes $20 FD ($9300 DK)

Ryan Spann $9 FD ($6900 DK)

Erin Blanchfield vs Molly McCann

Women’s Flyweight

Blanchfield has started her UFC career 3-0, and sits #12 in the rankings. She’s established herself as an obvious talent with great skill set, and this time around she gets a ranked opponent on the other side in McCann. Meatball has put on a show in her last two outings, coming away with impressive KO wins. She’s aggressive and wants to stay in the pocket exchanging blows. That style only works on so many fighters though, and this is one where it won’t. Blanchfield has solid striking herself, but her claim to fame is through a relentless wrestling approach as she looks for submissions. She averages basically 4 TDs per 15mins (3.99). McCann’s TDEF is awful too, so those moments will present themselves early (46%). McCann is also pretty solid in her wrestling, but I don’t believe she’ll actively look for TDs in this one, as she knows her best chance is likely by way of KO. Both women come in on 3 fight win streaks. A win for either moves them up in the rankings. I feel like this is a repeat fight of the Procopio bout for McCann. There was a clear wrestling advantage that Procopio took advantage of, and McCann was fighting to keep herself out of submission trouble. Blanchfield should have better time with control, so I see 3-5 TDs for her, and you’d hope she throws a lot of strikes while they’re grounded to get a great score. My hesitancy lies there, in not really believing she hits value, but I think she dominates this fight and potentially finds a 3rd RD stoppage.

PICK: Erin Blanchfield $22 FD ($9500 DK)

Molly McCann $8 FD ($6700 DK)

Andre Petroski vs Wellington Turman


Petroski has come into the UFC and made a statement with 3 wins and 3 finishes. 2 by submission. But it can’t be overlooked the level of competition those guys were. Turman is his toughest test to date IMO. So will be interesting. Petroski fights off the back of a relentless wrestling pace where he looks to grind you out in every aspect. He’s averaging just over 4 TDs per 15mins (4.1), and hasn’t been taken down himself yet in the UFC. Turman is also a talented wrestler, just doesn’t implement the same pace. He averages nearly 2 TDs per 15mins (1.98), and also boasters great TDEF (85%). His entries aren’t great on shooting for TDs though, so hopefully that part of his gm has improved. On the feet, Petroski has more volume, but I’d give slight edge in power to Turman. Turman lands 2.96 SS/m, while Petroski lands 4.07 SS/m. Turman isn’t defensively sound enough to avoid being hit more than he lands, but given the lack of power from Petroski, I think he can withstand being KO’ed this time around. Petroski while keeping a good pace, has shown down as fights get deep, which could open things up for Turman late, but I do favor Petroski and think he wins it. Just not confident he can get a sub within first 10mins to make his price tag a non issue. There are others with better upside around him. Looks like a dog or pass spot for me.

PICK: Andre Petroski $22 FD ($9200 DK)

Wellington Turman $11 FD ($7000 DK)

Ottman Azaitar vs Matt Frevola


I love this fight. Azaitar comes in 13-0 overall, with 2 wins in the UFC so far. Has 10 first RD finishes, so the pedigree is there that he likes to make a statement. He throws big looping shots looking to get you out of there. He gets the perfect willing participant in Frevola. Frevola absolutely ruined my night when he fought Terrance McKinney, and I haven’t quite looked at him the same since. But he’s a fun, high energy fighter who leaves no stone unturned, and he has power in his hands also. His most efficient path to victory would be through wrestling/grappling if he’s smart here though. Azaitar wants a brawl, and as we’ve seen, Frevola can get caught and put away. Azaitar struggles with solid wrestlers in terms of stuffing TDs successfully and being off of his back. Frevola averages 2.47 TDs per 15mins, with 1 submission attempt. On the feet, he’s not extremely technical in his striking, but has solid volume, lands 3.4 SS/m (absorbs 3.4 SS in return). On the other side, the data is skewed just due to only having 2 UFC fights that didn’t last very long, but Azaitar has landed 8.4 SS/m (absorbed just 1.7), but again, don’t read too much into that. From a DFS perspective I love this fight. Especially on DK for 2 reasons, they mis-priced the matchup. Earlier in the week I believe Frevola was favored, and when the contest was put out, it was priced that way. So we’re likely going to see a chalk Azaitar because he’s favored, which opens up value on an overpriced Frevola as a contrarian play. I actually believe him being favored was correct. He has more ways to win, and I think he’ll be smart enough to not engage in a brawl and utilize his wrestling which’ll start to break Azaitar as the fight goes long. I think a 3rd RD stoppage is in play for Frevola here. Making him a smash play with all other peripheral stats he’ll get. If Azaitar wins, it’s likely via 1st RD KO, so he’s still a solid play.

PICK: Matt Frevola $13 FD ($8500 DK)

Ottman Azaitar $17 FD ($7700 DK)

Silvana Juarez vs Karolina Kowalkiewicz

Women’s Strawweight

Karolina was certainly on her way out the door if her last matchup didn’t end up the way it did. She was emotional after a much needed win. Had lost 4 straight prior to that. She’s got solid striking and can put volume together. She lands 5.3 SS/m (absorbs 5.5 SS/m in return). She can be a bit wild in her strikes though, which leaves her open to being countered. If she decides to go there, she likely has better wrestling than Juarez, and would honestly be her best path to victory. Juarez has stones for hands, and if given the chance to tee off, can put your lights out. She skates in and out of the pocket throwing haymakers looking to land, and if she can land flush, it’s likely going to tell the story about the rest of the fight rather quickly. This fight should be simple, Karolina needs to get it grounded without taking a huge left to the face first, and Juarez needs to hope when she connects it puts her lights out. I favor the hands of Juarez more, and think she can get another 1st RD KO as a result. Great fight to target for DFS.

PICK: Silvana Juarez $15 FD ($8000 DK)

Karolina Kowalkiewicz $16 FD ($8200 DK)

Seungwoo Choi vs Mike Trizano


Trizano hasn’t had the best of luck recently. He’s lost 3 of his last 4 matchups, and was KO’ed late in his last one vs Almeida. Trizano is very calculated, he’s not going to do any one thing great. He utilizes his kickboxing, tries to control pace, and wants to grind it out. He missed weight for this bout though, came in at 147.6 (146 limit), so nearly 2lbs isn’t a good look to miss by. Choi has had troubling results in his last 2 fights after a big win over Julian Erosa. He lost a decision to Josh Culibao and was submitted prior to that by Caceres. Choi’s biggest downfall is his volume, he fights at such a methodical pace that he robs himself of being more effective. His got solid technical striking, but is sometimes willing to be too patient with his opponents and that can allow them to get back into a fight. Neither will look to actively wrestle here, so should see a predominant standup affair. In which case I favor Choi, he has more power, and will be more technical. The issue comes in me thinking he doesn’t hit value without a 1st RD finish, and for the most part Trizano is durable and he’s not going to invite a brawl either. I could see Choi finishing this fight, sure, but if it comes late 2nd or in the 3rd, will his score really get there with only about 40-50 strikes landed? Not really too excited for this one in terms of DFS outlook.

PICK: Seungwoo Choi $18 FD ($8800 DK)

Mike Trizano $11 FD ($7400 DK)

Montel Jackson vs Julio Arce


It’s still a mystery how Jackson fights at bantamweight. Dude has such a large frame for the class at 5’10. And in most fights he’ll enjoy a comfortable size advantage. That’s no different here, he has 3” in height and 5” in reach. He uses his length to his advantage pretty well too. He’s solid everywhere the fight is, he has solid power in his hands, and he surprisingly is very aggressive in terms of wrestling. He averages 4.1 TDs per 15mins. On the feet, lands 3.4 SS/m (absorbs only 1.3 SS/m), so he’s not taking much damage. On the other side, Arce is a really good technical striker with more volume, he just allows himself to get backed up too much at times, and in this matchup, you don’t want to give Jackson a chance to tee off. Jackson likely gets this fight up against the cage where he’ll look for TDs. Arce has good TDEF (94%), to this point, but something will have to give. I love Jackson everywhere this goes, the length will be too much for Arce to deal with I feel like. Jackson probably gets 4-5 TDs too. Hard to see either one finishing this fight, but if i had to pick one it’d be Jackson.

PICK: Montel Jackson $19 FD ($9000 DK)

Julio Arce $10 FD ($7200 DK)

Carlos Ulberg vs Nicolae Negumereanu

Light Heavyweight

I’ve been back and forth on this one all week. It’s a treat we get to see this one first. Ulberg was a highly touted prospect on his way into the UFC, he was just really green, but the physical attributes are there. He started out extremely high pace vs Nzechukwu in his debut, and didn’t manage his pace well and he gassed, which ultimately spelled the beginning of the end. And in his subsequent fight vs Fabio Cherant that should’ve been a smash play, he was extremely timid, and edged out a decision. Then he follows that up with a first RD KO over Nchukwi. So what I’d hope is that he’s found a way to stay consistent enough to not gas himself but at the same time not be timid. His stats are insane, he’s landing 8.9 SS/m (absorbs 3.9 SS/m). In some matchups he’ll enjoy size/reach advantages, this is one of them. He’ll have 4” in height, which’ll help keep distance. For Negumereanu, he just has that grit in him that you love to see from a fighter. He’s got solid hands and looks to follow up with aggressive wrestling. However, he gets hit way too much on the feet. He’s landing 3.7 SS/m (but absorbing 5.6 SS/m in return). Given the right opponent, that will bite him. And it very well could here, because he won’t be able to bully Ulberg in the wrestling, Ulberg has 100% TDEF to this point, so something will give. Another fight where I’d have shared of both, but I favor Ulberg to get it done, Negumereanu’s aggressiveness will get him in trouble. Ulberg via 2nd RD KO.

PICK: Carlos Ulberg $17 FD ($8400 DK)

Nicolae Negumereanu $13 FD (7800 DK)

by Chris Joseph (cmj0009)

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