One of the most heavily anticipated fights of the year is just one sleep away, as Israel Adesanya looks to defend his Middleweight championship against Alex Pereira at UFC 281 tomorrow night at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
While that fight is almost guaranteed to deliver some fireworks, there are also 13 others currently scheduled for this card, including UFC Women’s Strawweight champion Carla Esparza looking to defend her title against Zhang Weili and Dustin Poirier vs Chandler in what could end being a UFC Fight of the Year contender.
I’m really looking forward to this event and feel like I have found some pretty solid spots to attack from a betting perspective as well, so be sure to check back on OddSmokerMMA later today for our full UFC 281 Betting Card.
Weigh-ins have been completed for UFC 281, and Mike Trizano and Ryan Spann were the only two fighters to miss weight. However, both of their fights will still proceed as planned with each being fined 20% of their fight purses for missing weight.
With that said, let’s jump into the picks and predictions for the card:
- Carlos Ulberg – This is one of the more high-quality matchups the UFC has given us to open a card in quite some time, with Ulberg and Nicolae Negumereanu combining for a 19-2 overall record. While Negumereanu has shown to be a very dangerous fighter in his career, he hasn’t faced the best level of competition. His opponents combined win percentage in his career is 48% (93-100-1). Ulberg might not have quite as much experience, but he has faced the better competition overall with his opponent win percentage at 80%. I think these two will exchange heavy and early, and I like Ulberg to get the better of those exchanges. Don’t be surprised if he ends up winning this one via KO or a comfortable decision.
- Montel Jackson – This is one of the fights that I don’t have the best read for and could see going either way to be honest. Jackson will have a sizeable 3″/ 5.5″ height/reach advantage over Julio Arce in this fight, and that’s one of the reasons I think he can have some success here. However, Arce is a local fighter who has faced the better overall competition in his career and has pretty solid takedown defense, which could prove to be the deciding factor here. I probably won’t be betting this fight, but I’m giving the slight lean towards Jackson by decision.
- Seung Woo Choi – This is another fight that I don’t have a particularly strong feeling about and will likely avoid betting. Both of these fighters are coming off rough stretches, with Choi dropping his last two fights and Mike Trizano losing three of his last four overall. Trizano’s losses have come against pretty solid competition with a combined record of 38-5 between them at the time they fought. Trizano was one of two fighters who missed weight for this card, but I’m not sure it will make a massive difference in this matchup unless it goes to the ground. Choi is going to have a slight height/reach advantage here, and I think he has the better chance of getting this one done either by decision or potentially a knockout in what might be my least confident pick on the entire card.
- Silvana Gomez Juarez – This matchup is likely going one of two ways: Either Gomez Juarez gets this one done via a fairly early knockout or Karolina Kowalkiewicz is probably going to find enough success with her takedowns to find a submission or decision win here. Kowalkiewicz is a pretty solid fighter but has been less than impressive over the past few years with her only two wins in her past seven fights coming over Felice Herrig, who promptly retired after her second loss. I think Juarez has the power to catch her opponent early and probably get this one done in the first or second round.
- Ottman Azaitor – I’m very excited for this fight and think it definitely has potential to end up earning a bonus when all of the dust settles at UFC 281. Azaitor and Matt Frevola both have fight-ending potential and I absolutely love this fight to end inside the distance. Frevola has the grappling skills to potentially find some success if this fight drags deep, but I think Azaitor will find his chin relatively quickly and turn out the lights. Azaitor is 13-0 with 12 stoppages and 10 of them via knockout. Frevola has been dropped five times in the UFC, and I would be surprised if that total doesn’t grow here.
- Andre Petroski – This is another fight on the card I could potentially see going either way. Turman Wellington is very dangerous on the feet and also on the ground, however, he has shown to have durability issues in the past. That could be an issue against an opponent in Petroski who has a 100% finish rate in his career. But Petroski has also been stopped in both of his losses and never gone the distance, so it’s hard to put too much faith in either side here for me. Petroski is the pick for this one, but I’m not sure I’ll be betting on it. I might place a bet on it ending inside the distance, however.
- Erin Blanchfield – One of the heavier betting favorites on this lineup, Blanchfield should have the tools to get this one done, but there is zero chance I’ll be betting on her with the lines where they currently are. Molly McCann is coming off two nasty spinning elbow knockouts, and while Blanchfield should be able to land takedowns and avoid danger here, there’s still a decent chance McCann can catch her on the feet if she stays upright most of the fight. Blanchfield is my pick, but I’ll be sprinkling a small amount on McCann to add another knockout to her resume on the off chance Blanchfield gets caught in a striking exchange.
- Dominick Reyes – Despite the fact he is coming off an absolutely brutal three fight losing streak that’s included back-to-back knockout losses, I think Reyes has a very solid chance of bouncing back in this fight against Ryan Spann. All three of his losses came to fighters that have recently held the UFC Light Heavyweight championship, and while Spann is a great fighter in his own right, he is not quite on the level of the opponents who have beaten Reyes. Both of these guys have high finish rates, and I would be surprised to see this one get out of the first two rounds. Spann missed weight, so that could be something to keep an eye on, but don’t think it has much effect here. I’ll take Reyes to win this one via knockout in what could be a very exciting fight for however long it lasts.
- Renato Moicano – Like many of the fights on this card, both of these guys have pretty solid paths to victory and could end up getting this one done. Brad Riddell, another CBK fighter on the card, is a pretty solid fighter overall, but has shown to have a big concern when it comes to durability, with him being stopped in all three of his career losses. Moicano has nine of his sixteen career wins via submission and will undoubtedly be looking to add another one to make it an even ten. I like Moicano to find a late sub in this fight or to squeeze out what will likely be a close decision if not.
- Claudio Puelles – The winner of this fight will secure a spot in the bottom of the UFC Lightweight rankings, and while Dan Hooker is the one currently holding onto the ranking, I think Puelles has a very solid chance to pull the betting upset in this fight. Most believe that Puelles is a sub or bust fighter, and while he does have seven submission wins in his career, he has also been able to pick up a couple of knockouts and a few decisions with them. Hooker has solid takedown defense and if he can keep this one standing, he’ll have a solid chance to find a knockout or decision win. However, I think Puelles will be able to eventually get ahold of his opponent long enough to get another submission or at least grind out a decision here and jump into the rankings for the first time in his career.
- Chris Gutierrez – The UFC granted Frankie Edgar one final fight in front of his home fans in the New York area, but they definitely didn’t do him any favors matching him up against Chris Gutierrez in what will likely be Edgar’s final UFC fight. Gutierrez has won seven straight fights and has devastating fight-ending power in his strikes, which will likely be a big problem for Edgar, who has been knocked out in four of his previous five losses. While Edgar could potentially squeeze this one out via a very close decision, I have to go with Gutierrez in this one to take advantage of a 10-year age gap and probably find the knockout somewhere in the middle or latter portion of the fight.
- Dustin Poirier – I expect this fight to provide some highlight reel striking exchanges and be one of the most entertaining matchups on the entire UFC 281 lineup. Both of these guys love to fight and are not afraid to stand and bang to entertain the fans, despite it not always being the best decision. Michael Chandler is definitely live to win this fight, particularly if he chooses to come with a grapple-heavy gameplan. However, I think Poirier will be able to pick and choose his spots and likely end up luring Chandler into a brawl. I’ll take Poirier to get this one done via knockout in the second half of this one or to pick up the win on the scorecards.
- Zhang Weili – Weili will be looking to become a two-time UFC Women’s Strawweight champion when she takes on current titleholder Carla Esparza in the co-main event of the card. Esparza is riding a six-fight winning streak, and while she did enough to earn the win and the title in her last fight against Rose Namajunas, I’m not sure she’s going to have that same success here. Weili will almost certainly be on the attack here early and should have a noticeable power difference both on the feet and in the grappling exchanges. While Esparza is likely the better overall grappler, I think the power difference here will allow Weili to find enough success to stay out of trouble and likely stop Esparza inside the distance to become a two-time champion in the division.
- Israel Adesanya – I cannot wait for this fight to get underway, as Alex Pereira will likely provide one of the biggest and toughest challenges to Adesanya’s reign of terror over the UFC Middleweight division. While Pereira has two victories over Izzy from their Glory Kickboxing days in the past, Adesanya has never tasted defeat at 185 pounds in MMA and will have a sizeable experience advantage here under this format. While it’s entirely possible Pereira could catch Adesanya and put him to sleep in this fight, I think the chances of it happening will significantly fall as this fight goes further along. Adesanya has a wealth of 25-minute experience inside the octagon, while Pereira will be tested for the first time if he can’t find a stoppage sometime in the first three rounds. I like Adesanya to get the win and to retain his title and there’s a very real possibility he does it via a knockout of his own. Both of these fighters have been incredibly durable throughout their respective careers, so a knockout win from either side would definitely be a statement making victory.
Be sure to check back later for the full OddSmokerMMA UFC 281 Betting Card, which is currently up to eight plays with more likely to be added now that weigh-ins have been completed. In the meantime, you can check out our first six bets for the weekend.
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