UFC 281 is set to go down later TONIGHT (Sat., Nov. 12, 2022) inside Madison Square Garden in New York City, featuring an exciting championship doubleheader on ESPN+ pay-per-view (PPV). Headlining the event will be a highly-anticipated Middleweight fight as division champion, Israel Adesanya, takes on his old kickboxing nemesis, Alex Pereira. In the co-headlining act, Carla Esparza will defend her women’s Strawweight belt against ex-division champion, Zhang Weili.
It didn’t take long for Pereira to earn his shot at the UFC Middleweight title, doing so after earning just three wins inside the Octagon, two via knockout, including flattening the always-talkative, Sean Strickland (recap here). But, this was simply the fight to make because Pereria’s history with Israel Adesanya is well-documented. “Poatan” has two wins over “The Last Stylebender” while they both had their combat starts in the kickboxing arena. Pereira first defeated Adesanya in 2016 via unanimous decision before knocking him out with a mean left hook one year later. That was Adesanya’s last kickboxing match because he made his UFC debut one year later, and he has looked unstoppable since, at least in the 185-pound division. Meanwhile, other than this hiccup against former Light Heavyweight champion, Jan Blachowicz, Adesanya has been undefeated inside the Octagon, winning all 12 of his fights at 185 pounds. But, it’s safe to say that getting a win over Pereira would probably be the sweetest because those losses to him are still firmly in his head and he has been reminded of them ever since Pereira joined UFC’s ranks.
It’s obvious that Pereira has the power advantage, but, as we all know, kickboxing striking and mixed martial arts (MMA) striking are two different beasts. Pereira has been able to transition his expertise into the MMA arena, but Adesanya has more cage time than the Brazilian sniper. We haven’t seen much of either man’s ground game, and I highly doubt we will see it here. They both want to prove that they have the better striking, which means we are all in for a treat.
This is a huge fight for Adesanya because he has the chance to get some much-desired revenge on the only man to have a pair of victories over him, and getting to do it on one of the biggest stages — inside one of the most iconic arenas in the world — would add that much more to his story once it’s all said and done. But, “The Last Stylebender” has to be careful not to go out there and let emotion get the best of him because Pereira has shown — in such a short time in MMA — that he is an absolute beast and, to be honest, he has nothing to lose here.
Frankie Edgar has gone on record to say that he will be retiring from the sport win, lose or draw when he battles Chris Gutierrez in a Bantamweight bout. “The Answer” has been knocked out in his last two fights and is a lowly 1-4 over his last five since 2019. Edgar is an MMA legend and one of the most respected fighters in the game. He has left his mark on the sport, but he would love nothing more than to go out with a win. But, that will be a tough task to complete because he is facing a man who is scorching hot at the moment, going 6-1-1 in his first eight fights under the UFC banner. I just have a small problem with matchmaking. I would have loved to see Edgar be paired up with another long-time veteran, not a young buck who is on a roll. It seems as if “The Answer” is being used as a stepping stone for the 31-year-old on his way out of town.
Original Card Vs. Actual Card:
No major changes since the card was announced.
No injuries were reported for this event, thankfully.
No newcomers at this event.
How The ‘Prelims’ Look:
In the featured fight on the undercard, Brad Riddell and Renato Moicano will collide in a Lightweight fight pitting two fighters who are in desperate need of a win against each other. Riddell is currently on a two-fight losing streak, while Moicano is trying to bounce back from the beatdown he suffered at the hands of Rafael dos Anjos. While Riddell may need a win a bit more, Moicano definitely doesn’t want to suffer his second two-fight skid in his UFC career.
Molly McCann will make her return to action and look to increase her win streak to four in a row when she battles Erin Blanchfield. McCann has become a fan-favorite thanks to her amazing fighting style and outlandish personality, which when paired up with her good friend, Paddy Pimblett, is downright comical. Laughs aside, McCann has been on a tear and is making huge strides in the women’s Flyweight division. One more win could break her into the Top 10, while for Blanchfield, it’s a chance to steal “Meatballs” sauce.
In the Middleweight division, Andrei Petroski will battle Wellington Thurman. Petroski is undefeated (3-0) inside the Octagon and is coming off a submission victory over Nick Maximov. Thurman, on the other hand, has won two in a row and was last seen twisting Misha Cirkunov’s arm up this past February.
Former women’s Strawweight title contender, Karolina Kowalkiewcz, will look to build on the momentum of her big submission victory over Felice Herrig (see it here). That victory snapped her five-fight losing streak, so she really is in no mood to go back into the loser’s column. Her opponent, Silvana Gomez Juarez, is trying to avoid a two-fight skid of her own.
Mike Trizano’s UFC journey has not proven to be very fruitful. The former Bellator fighter is just 2-3 so far during his time with the promotion and has lost his last two fights inside the Octagon. A third straight loss could cut his time with the promotion short. His opponent, Seun Whoo Choi, though, hasn’t fared all that much better as of late, losing his last two.
In further Lightweight action, Ottman Azaitar will return after a two-year hiatus from the promotion to put his undefeated (13-0, 2-0 UFC) streak on the line against Matt Frevola, who snapped his two-fight skid by knocking out Genaro Valdez in the first round at UFC 270 at the beginning of 2022.
In a battle of up-and-coming Light Heavyweight contenders, Carlos Ulberg and Nicolae Negumereanu will collide in what is sure to be a hard-hitting affair. After making a splash on Contender Series, Ulberg stumbled out of the gates by getting knocked out by Kennedy Nzechukwu. He has since turned it around to win two straight and is looking to add to his run with a win over a very tough Negumereanu, who has won four straight fights of his own after coming up short in his UFC debut.
Who Needs A Win Badly:
Former Light Heavyweight title contender, Dominick Reyes will make his long-awaited return to action after 18 months on the sidelines to battle Ryan Spann, who is coming off a big submission win over Ion Cutelaba. As for Reyes, he is trying to end this three-fight skid and was last seen losing to Jiri Prochazka in May 2021. Reyes has not had a win inside the Octagon since knocking out Chris Weidman three years ago (see it here), so if he suffers his fourth straight defeat there is no telling what will happen to his UFC career.
Interest Level: 9.5/10
Esparza hasn’t tasted defeat in four years, last losing to Tatiana Suarez (remember her?) at UFC 228 in Sept. 2018. Since then, “Cookie Monster” has been on a tear, winning six straight fights, which includes recapturing the women’s Strawweight title by edging out Rose Namajunas at UFC 274 via split decision in a forgettable title fight. Esparza will look to put that dreadful performance behind her when she takes on one of the toughest and grittiest fighters in all of women’s MMA. Speaking of which, “Magnum” picked up a much-needed win at UFC 275 by knocking out the former long-time champion, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, via spinning back fist knockout, her second win over “Joanna Champion.” That victory snapped her two-fight skid, both losses coming against Namajunas. Now, the Chinese-born combatant eyes a win back to the champion’s circle as she faces off against one of the best wrestlers in the division. Weili will obviously try to keep the fight at a distance and standing because she has a clear-cut advantage when it comes to the striking department. If she manages to keep it there, we should be hearing, “And new!”
The other intriguing PPV main card bout that could very well wind up stealing the show is a Lightweight showdown between former 155-pound interim champion, Dustin Poirier, taking on Michael Chandler, who has proven to be must-see TV ever since he first stepped foot inside the Octagon in Jan. 2021. With an even 2-2 record under the UFC banner, “Iron” came up short in his bid to win the title early on in his UFC career after he was stopped via strikes by ex-champion, Charles Oliveira. After losing to Justin Gaethje, Chandler bounced back with one of the best knockouts of the year, flattening Tony Ferguson with a front kick for the ages (see it again here). So, when you put him in the cage against Poirier — who has 12 post-fight bonus awards to his credit — you know fireworks are bound to happen.
Poirier also came up short in his attempt to dethrone “Do Bronx,” who submitted “The Diamond” at UFC 269, snapping his three-fight win streak in the process. Poirier has been hungry for the chance to get back to a title fight, and taking out Chandler is all he needs to get him there. While there is no telling if newly-crowned champion, Islam Makhachev, will in fact defend his title against Featherweight champion, Alexander Volkanovski, both Poirier and Chandler are still out to do their part to prove their status as the legit No. 1 contender.
Dan Hooker has always been as game as they come inside the Octagon, but wins have been hard to come by over the last few years for “The Hangman,” who is currently riding a two-fight losing streak, and has lost four of his last five fights since mid-2020. Hooker will now move back up to 155 pounds to face Claudio Puelles, who is currently on a five-fight win streak. This is another one of those fights that make me scratch my head. While intriguing, the fact that one (Puelles) is soaring his way up and the other (Hooker) going in the opposite direction, makes me wonder how Puelles was swayed into taking this fight. It’s a high-risk, low-reward type of situation because if he wins, he beat a struggling fighter who hasn’t looked good in awhile. For Hooker, however, it’s a chance to get back on track against a streaking fighter. On the flip side, if he suffers his third straight loss, there is no telling how UFC officials handle his career moving forward.
This is truly one of the best cards of the year because we get to see if Adesanya gets his revenge against a man who has defeated him twice in kickboxing, or if Pereira proves that he is simply a better overall fighter than “The Last Stylebender.” Plus, we get Chandler vs. Poirier in what should be an early favorite to win “Fight of the Night.”
Enjoy the fights!
UFC 281 Main Event On ESPN+ PPV:
185 lbs.: UFC Middleweight Champion Israel Adesanya vs. Alex Pereira
UFC 281 Main Card On ESPN+ PPV:
115 lbs.: UFC Strawweight Champion Carla Esparza vs. Zhang Weili
155 lbs.: Dustin Poirier vs. Michael Chandler
135 lbs.: Frankie Edgar vs. Chris Gutierrez
155 lbs.: Dan Hooker vs. Claudio Puelles
UFC 281 Prelims Card On ESPNEWS/ESPN+:
155 lbs.: Brad Riddell vs. Renato Moicano
205 lbs.: Dominick Reyes vs. Ryan Spann
125 lbs.: Erin Blanchfield vs. Molly McCann
185 lbs.: Andre Petroski vs. Wellington Turman
UFC 281 Early Prelims Card On Fight Pass/ESPN+:
155 lbs.: Matt Frevola vs. Ottman Azaitar
115 lbs.: Karolina Kowalkiewicz vs. Silvana Gomez
145 lbs.: Michael Trizano vs. Seungwoo Choi
135 lbs.: Julio Arce vs. Montel Jackson
205 lbs.: Carlos Ulberg vs. Nicolae Negumereanu
*Fight card, bout order and number of fights remain subject to change.*
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 281 fight card RIGHT HERE, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches at 6 p.m. ET, followed by the remaining undercard balance on ESPN+/ESPNews at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+.
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