After two pitched battles as kickboxers, UFC Middleweight champion, Israel Adesanya, and Brazilian power-puncher, Alex Pereira, will look to finally settle their score inside the Octagon when they headline UFC 281, which takes place inside Madison Square Garden in New York, N.Y., this weekend (Sat., Nov. 12, 2022). One fight prior, Strawweight queenpin, Carla Esparza, will attempt to turn aside Zhang Weili for her first successful title defense, while Dustin Poirier battles Michael Chandler in what’s sure to be an epic Lightweight barnburner.
155 lbs.: Matt Frevola vs. Ottman Azaitar
Upsets of Jalin Turner and Luis Pena gave way to a lengthy layoff for Matt Frevola (9-3-1), followed by losses to Arman Tsarukyan and Terrance McKinney. “The Steamrolla” ultimately righted the ship in Jan. 2022, pounding out fellow Contender Series graduate, Genaro Valdez, in a three-minute slugfest.
He’s submitted three professional foes and knocked out two others.
Ottman Azaitar (13-0) entered the Octagon on a three-fight knockout streak, then made it four with a vicious one-punch wipeout of Teemu Packalen. He did much the same to Khama Worthy just one year later, overpowering him just 93 seconds into the fight for his second consecutive “Performance of the Night” bonus.
He fights for the first time in 27 months.
This boils down to whether Frevola can keep his cool. The man loves to slug it out, and while he’ll definitely want to get Azaitar’s respect, he can’t rush things. “Bulldozer” hits hard enough to spark him the way Polo Reyes and the aforementioned McKinney did, but he’s coming off a long layoff and has faded down the stretch before. In other words, Frevola has to push a hard pace without leaving himself open to a one-hitter quitter.
I think he’s got what it takes. He’s a considerable step up from Azaitar’s previous opponents and it’s hard to overlook the rust, drug test and other out-of-cage issues dogging Azaitar. If he can avoid the instantaneous wipeout, “Steamrolla” runs over “Bulldozer” with a late finish.
Prediction: Frevola via third round technical knockout
115 lbs.: Karolina Kowalkiewicz vs. Silvana Gomez Juarez
Karolina Kowalkiewicz (13-7) went from opening her UFC career 5-2, those losses coming to Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Claudia Gadelha, to losing five straight. She finally snapped a nearly four-year winless streak in June 2022, finishing Felice Herrig via rear-naked choke.
She surrenders one inch of reach to “La Malvada.”
Grappling issues cost Silvana Gomez Juarez (11-4) in her first two UFC appearances, resulting in armbar defeats to Lupita Godinez and Vanessa Demopoulos. The trend wasn’t to last, as she subsequently crushed armbar special Liang Na in just 82 seconds.
That victory marked her seventh by knockout and ninth finish overall.
Kowalkiewicz looked a lot like her old self against Herrig, overwhelming “Lil’ Bulldog” with constant combination punching and tearing her up with knees inside. She also showed off her old tendencies to stand bolt upright with her chin exposed, which you may recall from the time Jessica Andrade knocked her block off. Gomez Juarez is a sufficiently powerful puncher to recreate that disaster and more than fast enough to catch Kowalkiewicz when she leaves herself exposed.
I’m not saying Kowalkiewicz can’t overwhelm her with volume or bully her into an ill-advised grappling exchange, but the former’s willingness to engage and the amount of damage she’s accumulated over the years suggests that she’ll end up on the wrong end of Gomez Juarez’s right cross before she can get any real attrition going.
Prediction: Gomez Juarez via first round technical knockout
145 lbs.: Mike Trizano vs. Seung Woo Choi
Two years after suffering his first professional loss to Grant Dawson, The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 27 winner, Mike Trizano 10-3), returned in a big way by upsetting the highly touted Ludovit Klein. He’s yet to recapture that success, falling short in 2022 battles with Hakeem Dawodu and Lucas Almeida.
He faces a 3.5-inch reach disadvantage and a one-inch height disadvantage.
Seung Woo Choi (10-5) shook off a winless (0-2) UFC start to win his next three, most notably stopping Alex Caceres in just 97 seconds. A comeback submission loss to Alex Caceres followed, after which he dropped a split decision to Joshua Culibao.
“Sting” has scored six knockouts as a professional.
The real intrigue here lies in how their flaws will interact. Trizano is the better technician, but can be far too reluctant to let his hands go. Choi is the faster of the two and the heavier hitter, but extremely defensively porous and one-note with his combinations. It’s a question of whether Trizano can pull the trigger to exploit the openings Choi leaves while attacking.
I’ll bite the bullet and say, “Yes.” Choi isn’t nearly as versatile an eight-limb striker as Klein, Dawodu nor Almeida, which should make Trizano less hesitant to find a home for his counters. It wouldn’t be surprising at all to see Choi blitz him to death, but Trizano will land enough clean counters to earn the win.
Prediction: Trizano via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Julio Arce vs. Montel Jackson
Julio Arce (18-5) knocked out Peter Petties to earn a UFC berth, then made the most of it by dominating Dan Ige and Daniel Teymur. That would prove to be his last win streak to date because he has alternated losses and wins in his current 3-3 stretch.
The 10 professional finishes for Arce are split evenly between knockouts and submissions.
The Montel Jackson (11-2) knockout of Rico DiSciullo on Contender Series didn’t earn him a UFC contract, but he soon stepped up on short notice to meet Ricky Simon at UFC 227. Though he fell short in that fight, “Quik” has since won five of six, two of them inside the distance.
He stands three inches taller than Arce and will have a nearly half-foot reach advantage.
Arce is an absolute joy to watch. He’s a gatekeeper in a non-derogatory way; however, if you’ve neglected your technical striking in favor of raw aggression or an “unconventional” approach, he’ll make you look downright stupid. He can be overpowered by heavier hitters, though, and that’s a bad sign for his chances here. Jackson is one of the biggest Bantamweights on the roster and packs the punching power to match, so while his stand up may lack the depth of Arce’s, he’s got the physical abilities to make up for it.
The only real answer to Jackson seems to be taking him down, which Arce ostensibly lacks the means to do. Arce still has an outside chance of threading the needle and pot-shotting his way to victory, but odds are that Jackson levels him with a straight left down the pipe.
Prediction: Jackson via first round technical knockout
205 lbs.: Carlos Ulberg vs. Nicolae Negumereanu
Carlos Ulberg (7-1) crushed Bruno Oliveira on Contender Series to earn a UFC berth, only to fall to Kennedy Nzechukwu in their UFC 259 “Fight of the Night.” After cruising past Fabio Cherant to get back in the win column, he took just 65 seconds to knock out fellow Contender Series graduate, Tafon Nchukwi, in June 2022.
“Black Jag” stands four inches taller than Nicolae Negumereanu (13-1), but gives up one inch of reach.
“Nicu’s” UFC career started on the wrong foot, as he dropped a decision to Saparbeg Safarov before spending two years on the sidelines. He’s perfect (4-0) since, including knockouts of Ike Villanueva and Ihor Potieria.
His 11 stoppage wins include eight by form of knockout.
For as dangerous as he can be when he gets going, Negumereanu is often a test of composure more than anything else. He’s not that fast, not that technical a striker, and not that effective a wrestler, but he is absolutely relentless. Prior foes like Aleksa Camur have gotten caught up in teeing off on his unprotected face and allowed “Nicu” to steadily wear them down, and if Ulberg falls into the same trap he did against Nzechukwu, it’s not hard to envision him suffering a similar fate.
That said, Ulberg’s win over Fabio Cherant showed that he can stink out the joint with a keep-away approach if needed. There’s not much Negumereanu can do to him if Ulberg takes a conservative approach, constantly circling and picking away with jabs and check hooks. So long as Ulberg minds his P’s and Q’s and doesn’t try to force a finish, he’ll cruise to victory.
Prediction: Ulberg via unanimous decision
Four more UFC 281 “Prelims” undercard bouts remain to preview and predict, including the return of Dominick Reyes opposite reliable finisher Ryan Spann. Same time tomorrow, Maniacs.
Remember that 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 online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard (on ESPNEWS/ESPN+) at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC 281: “Adesanya vs. Pereira” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.