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UFC 281 Predictions

The big one is in The Big Apple. Israel Adesanya meets Alex Pereira for the first time in MMA. Carla Esparza looks to make right her first Strawweight title reign by defending her title against Weili Zhang and Dustin Poirier faces Michael Chandler in what should be an out-and-out war. Let’s get into the predictions.

Dan Hooker vs Claudio Puelles – Lightweight Division

Great fight to start the card. Dan Hooker is a seasoned striker. Part of the City Kickboxing team he’ll definitely have the advantage on the feet. The big dilemma for him is Puelles’ ground game. Puelles has some of the slickest jiu-jitsu I’ve seen. He has three kneebar finishes in his UFC career so far and I honestly wouldn’t be shocked if he’s able to grab a leg in this fight. This is a massive step up in competition for the “Prince of Peru” but I think he’ll rise to the challenge. Hooker’s wrestling defence has got to be at its best to prevent the takedown but I’m not fully convinced by it. I’m going with the youngster by decision.

Prediction: Claudio Puelles by decision

Frankie Edgar vs Chris Gutierrez – Bantamweight Division

One last dance for Frankie. UFC Legend, Champion and a man that will definitely have his place in the Hall of Fame. I think this fight gives him a great opportunity to go out on a high. Gutierrez is a great striker but has previously struggled against high-level wrestlers. Despite Frankie’s brutal KO loss to Chito Vera, he was winning the fight until then. Constantly getting takedowns and frustrating Chito in the first round. I think if he can reciprocate that and be smart when coming in to avoid any spinning attacks, knees or uppercuts, he could take a decision win. However,, this is easier said than done and I have a sneaky suspicion we could see a Chito 2.0 tonight. I’m taking Gutierrez by TKO.

Prediction: Chris Gutierrez by TKO in round 2

Dustin Poirier vs Michael Chandler – Lightweight Division

Expect fireworks. I expect Dustin to be Dustin. Brilliant boxing, head movement on point, inside leg kicks used as well. I think that will be key in this fight. Chandler tends to carry such a wide stance to help him cover distance faster and that could be to his detriment. I think Chandler will wrestle when he needs to. He likes to mix the striking and the wrestling and if he’s able to get the “Diamond” down he could steal a round or two. I like Dustin’s chances more, I think he’s the more skilled martial artist but with “Iron Mike” anything can happen.

Prediction: Dustin Poirier by TKO in round 3

Carla Esparza (c) vs Weili Zhang – Strawweight Championship

Stylistically, the champion’s plan must be to outwrestle Zhang. Despite showing great improvement on the feet, Esparza’s striking doesn’t compare to Zhang’s who has shown time and time again, she can compete with the best strikers in the division.

Zhang tends to switch stances constantly throughout her fights, giving her opponents different angles to read and calculate if Esparza doesn’t register them. Despite this, Zhang tends to get caught up in exchanges which is something she cannot do against a seasoned wrestler like Carla. If she finds herself in the pocket of Carla, I’d expect a takedown attempt.

Zhang has shown she’s one of the most well-rounded fighters in the world. Ever since moving to train with Henry Cejudo, we’ve seen the Chinese fighter shoot for takedowns more than ever, especially in her second fight with Rose Namajunas, where she landed six takedowns throughout their five-round war.

Most would expect Zhang to have a defensive wrestling-based camp to prevent Carla from getting takedowns despite her vast improvement in her ground game. If Zhang is able to stop Carla from taking her down, her significant advantage in striking should give her a great chance of scoring a TKO/KO victory.

Zhang’s wrestling and jiu-jitsu should be good enough to prevent a submission loss, so Carla’s camp may be looking to simply outpoint Zhang to a decision victory if she can’t pick up on any defensive mistakes.

I think this fight will be interesting to watch. Might not be the high-paced action we saw between Zhang and Joanna but will be a great technical aspect to watch and intriguing to see who has the greater advantage in their favoured disciplines. That being said, I think Zhang finally regains her belt on Saturday night and does it in style.

Prediction: Zhang Weili by TKO in round 3

Israel Adesanya (c) vs Alex Pereira – Middleweight Championship

Yes. Pereira is 2-0 in kickboxing. Yes, he has the psychological advantage over the champion. But this is MMA and despite the champion not showing much of his offensive wrestling and jiu-jits, he has said that he’ll look for a submission win soon.

Looking at Pereira, I don’t think he’s as formidable as people make him out to be. He’s new to the MMA game and we saw some holes in his game against Bruno Silva despite the win.

He tends to freeze when getting hit. I guess he trusts his chin but against the top-level guys, you cannot do that. I also don’t think he’s active enough. With a left hand like his, I understand but you can’t knock everyone out. I think he has to be more active in this fight than he has been.

I think it’s obvious that Izzy is faster and I think in an MMA sense the smarter kickboxer. However, the power of “Poatan” is what he needs to worry about again. Going back to watch their kickboxing fights, the only left hook Alex Pereira landed was the left hook that put Izzy to sleep. Every other attempt was dodged or blocked.

I’ve had a load of possibilities of how this fight plays out but I think the most likely ways are that Izzy outclasses Alex on the feet for five rounds or Izzy wins the fight until he makes a mistake and Pereira catches him.

My head is torn between an Izzy five-round masterclass or an Alex left hook from hell. Even though I mentioned Izzy being the smarter kickboxer, Pereira’s timing is also brilliant and I wouldn’t be surprised if he won a couple of rounds simply due to his kickboxing wits.

It’s so tough to call but I’m going with Adesanya. I just think there are more possibilities for him to win.

Prediction: Israel Adesanya by Decision

By TheWrestlingFallacy

I talk and rant about Wrestling and MMA
(All image rights go to their respective companies)

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