clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

UFC 287 predictions, preview, and analysis

UFC 281: Adesanya v Pereira Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try (and try) again.

Israel Adesanya will face longtime Brazilian nemesis Alex Pereira for the fourth time this weekend in the “Sunshine State,” having already lost to “Poatan” twice on the kickboxing circuit and once inside the Octagon. They’ll headline the UFC 287 pay-per-view (PPV) card on Sat. night (April 8, 2023) from inside Miami-Dade Arena in Miami, Fla., not long after Gilbert Burns attempts to eliminate Jorge Masvidal from the 170-pound title chase in their three-round co-main event. Elsewhere on the card, Kevin Holland looks to rebound from consecutive losses by taking on Argentinian power puncher Santiago Ponzinibbio, while Christian Rodriguez hopes to derail the bantamweight hype train of 18 year-old Raul Rosas Jr. In addition, Rob Font returns to 135-pound action opposite red-hot bantamweight prospect Adrian Yanez.

Who wins and who loses?

LIVE! Watch UFC 288 PPV On ESPN+ Here!

BLOCKBUSTER BANTAMWEIGHT BATTLE! Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to Newark, N.J., for the first time in more than three years on Sat., May 6, 2023, with a blockbuster Bantamweight collision inside Prudential Center that will see Aljamain Sterling attempt another successful title defense against returning two-division titleholder and former gold medal-winning Olympic wrestler, Henry Cejudo. In UFC 288’s last-minute pay-per-view (PPV) co-main event, former Welterweight title challenger, Gilbert Burns, locks horns with No. 4-seeded contender, Belal Muhammad, in a five-round, 170-pound No. 1 contender eliminator match.

Don’t miss a single second of EPIC face-punching action!

Before we break down the five-fight PPV main card, be sure to take a closer look at our comprehensive preview and predictions for all the UFC 287 preliminary undercard action on ESPN and ESPN+ by clicking here and here. The latest UFC 287 odds and a complete betting guide for the entire “Pereira vs. Adesanya 2” PPV event can be located here. Remember, you’ll need a subscription to ESPN+ to order this weekend’s fight card (get one here), but it comes with complete access to all the subsequent UFC “Fight Night” events in 2023 and beyond (or until you cancel your subscription).

Let’s get down to business.

185 lbs.: UFC Middleweight Champion Alex “Poatan” Pereira (7-1) vs. Israel “The Last Stylebender” Adesanya (23-2)

Israel Adesanya has produced, on paper, a pretty spectacular career in the UFC middleweight division, to the point where he was in cruise control for most of his fights. To be fair, he’s had some help along the way. Yoel Romero, a murderous power puncher with Olympic-caliber wrestling, decided to study tape on Paulo Filho and recreate his bizarre non-performance from WEC 36, leading to one of the worst middleweight title fights since this Abu Dhabi disaster. There’s also fighters like Jared Cannonier and Marvin Vettori, who are good at being tough and throwing wild bombs ... and not much else. “The Last Stylebender” was (and is) levels above most MMA fighters when it comes to striking, thanks largely in part to his successful (but not very profitable) career as a kickboxer. Adesanya is also pretty good at stopping takedowns — but even better at getting back to his feet once his ass does hit the floor. Vettori and Robert Whittaker both landed four takedowns each in their respective title fights and still failed to capture the 185-pound title. Only Jan Blachowicz, a hulking Polish powerhouse who cuts to make 205 pounds, had demonstrable success against Adesanya in the grappling department.

Then came Alex Pereira, who shares most of the same traits as Adesanya across the board, but has far more power in his punches.

Like “The Last Stylebender,” the formula for defeating Pereira seems so simple it’s a wonder why no one has been able to pull it off. I guess that’s what happens when you leave the role of “spoiler” in the hands of a nutcase like Sean Strickland, who entered their UFC 276 showdown with something to prove and instead, joined the Brazilian’s ever-growing highlight reel. To call Pereira’s takedown defense embarrassing would be generous, based on what we saw against Adesanya at UFC 281. Fortunately for the newly-crowned champion, “The Last Stylebender” proved why he’s registered a whopping zero submission finishes in 23 wins after getting his towering nemesis to the floor. There’s not much to say about Pereira that we don’t already know. He was a terrifying kickboxer with great range, one-punch knockout power, and ruthless aggression from bell-to-bell. He also cuts around 742 pounds to make the middleweight limit, which makes him more susceptible to the knockout (it’s science, not speculation). That’s why “Poatan” was on Queer Street after taking one on the kisser in their UFC 281 title fight and honestly, it’s the kind of equalizer that Adesanya can capitalize on — assuming he doesn’t get his cranium cracked in the process.

I’m picking Adesanya in the rematch, which probably sounds idiotic when you consider Pereira defeated him twice in kickboxing and once in UFC, but every fights starts fresh and “The Last Stylebender” still has more ways to win. His conditioning is better and he can probably wear out the hulking Brazilian with a long-distance gameplan, coupled with a few timely takedowns. I also think Pereira’s chin will betray him as a result of the monstrous weight cut, coupled with the fact that he turns 36 in July. Again, this is predicated on Adesanya not getting backed against the fence and bludgeoned like a middleweight piñata, which is how he ended up losing at UFC 281 (and no, the stoppage was not early). 25 minutes is a long time to try to survive against a killer like Pereira and I think Adesanya has the chops to do it. I also think he finishes what he started in round one at UFC 281, capitalizing on a cocky, careless, and overconfident champion. When it’s all said and done, expect Team “Poatan” to blame the weight cut and send Pereira to 205 pounds.

As predicted.

Prediction: Adesanya def. Pereira by technical knockout

170 lbs.: Gilbert “Durinho” Burns (21-5) vs. Jorge “Gamebred” Masvidal (35-16)

Gilbert Burns has been hanging around the welterweight Top 5 for several years and even worked his way into a title fight against then-champion Kamaru Usman at UFC 258, only to fall by way of third-round technical knockout. What followed was a loss to Khamzat Chimaev sandwiched between wins over welterweight mainstays Stephen Thompson and Neil Magny, the latter of which ended by first-round submission. Despite his incessant whining about newly-crowned 170-pound champion Leon Edwards, who proved he was smarter than “Durinho” by passing on Jorge Masvidal for “Rocky,” Burns remains a credible threat to the welterweight throne because he’s skilled in all facets of mixed martial arts. That said, his gameplan for UFC 287 will have more to do with his chances of victory than his abilities. In fact, if the Burns who fought at UFC 283 earlier this year in Brazil shows up this weekend in “The Sunshine State,” I don’t expect this fight to be close.

Jorge Masvidal has done an admirable job of convincing everyone he belongs in the 170-pound title chase but I’m not sure his record provides any evidence to support that claim. When was the last time “Gamebred” defeated someone currently on the active UFC roster? We have to go back nearly a decade to his UFC on FOX 8 victory over Michael Chiesa. In addition, Masvidal has just three wins over the last six years and they came against Darren Till, who suffered a Marlon Moraes-like collapse before jumping ship, Ben Askren — which I don't even need to explain — and Nate Diaz, who lost their goofy “BMF” fight because of a gaping flesh wound. That doesn’t mean Masvidal is a bum or doesn’t have skills. On the contrary, the part-time boxing promoter is a gifted striker with sneaky submissions and has no problem going hard for three or five rounds. He just hasn’t proved that he belongs in the upper echelon at 170 pounds and I’m not expecting him to start at age 38, especially when he’s already talking about retirement.

Burns would be an idiot to stand and trade with Masvidal, who is the superior striker with knockout power. I know it looks great for the fans and everyone loves a $50,000 bonus check, but if “Durinho” truly wants to get another crack at the 170-pound crown, he’ll wrestle his way to a sweep on the judges’ scorecards. Masvidal has been taken down over 30 times in his UFC career and struggles to get anything going from his back. His guard is probably too stingy to be in any submission danger, even against an elite grappler like Burns, but this fight is only scheduled for three rounds and judges love takedowns. It’s not unreasonable to think the Brazilian neutralizes “Gamebred” with a smothering attack to capture at least two of the three frames.

Prediction: Burns def. Masvidal by decision

135 lbs.: Rob Font (19-6) vs. Adrian Yanez (16-3)

Rob Font has been with the promotion for nearly nine years, debuting with a knockout win over George Roop at UFC 175 back in summer 2014. To put that in perspective, Chris Weidman, Johny Hendricks, and Demetrious Johnson were still UFC champions. Font flew under the radar for the first half of his UFC career but turned up the heat in 2018, winning five in a row and six of seven to work his way into the No. 3 spot at 135 pounds. A victory over Jose Aldo at UFC Vegas 44 would have likely earned Font a crack at the division crown but he came up short on points, then followed up that performance with a unanimous decision loss to veteran banger Marlon Vera. That was enough to knock the former CES MMA standout from the Top 5 of the division and I’m sure some fans are starting to wonder why anyone was high on Font to begin with. Part of that is because his victories over Cody Garbrandt and Marlon Moraes — which seemed like a big deal when they happened — have not held up well over time.

We could probably say just the opposite for Adrian Yanez, who continues to look better with each successive outing. The fast-rising Texan blasted his way into UFC with a thunderous first-round finish over Brady Huang on the 2020 season of Dana White’s “Contender Series” and has since rattled off five straight wins with four finishes, including his opening round destruction of Tony Kelley at UFC Austin last June. You're likely to be unimpressed with the quality of opposition, outside of “Dangerous” Davey Grant, but Yanez has destroyed everyone else they’ve put in front of him. That’s what great fighters do and now we get to see a legitimate test against a Top 10 bantamweight (Yanez is currently ranked No. 12). Unless Font has completely shit the bed, I expect him to put up a fight this weekend in “The Sunshine State.” He turns 36 in June but still has some gas left in the tank and has yet to be knocked out in 25 professional fights. That said, I think this is a case of one fighter on his way up (Yanez) facing another fighter on his way down (Font). Regardless of the outcome, I would be surprised if this 135-pound banger didn't produce one or more performance bonuses. It’s just hard to pick against Yanez when you look at his current trajectory.

Prediction: Yanez def. Font by decision

170 lbs.: Kevin “Trailblazer” Holland (23-9, 1 NC) vs. Santiago “Argentine Dagger” Ponzinibbio (29-6)

Kevin Holland has done a great job of keeping himself at the top of the welterweight division despite being unranked at 170 pounds, an impressive feat for any fighter. “Trailblazer” understands his success (and profitability) in the fight game depends as much on drawing power as it does the ability to win fights, which is why Conor McGregor is still the richest cat in the game despite losing spectacularly in three of his last four outings. That said, there’s more to Holland than just his big mouth, evidenced by six performance bonuses over the last three years including “Fight of the Night” honors opposite Stephen Thompson at UFC Orlando; though to be fair, that was mostly “Trailblazer” getting his ass kicked for the better part of four rounds. Holland is a serviceable striker and has sneaky submissions. Cardio has never been an issue at either weight class ... he just can’t stop the takedown, which is not uncommon for high-level combatants on this card (see Pereira, Alex).

Like Holland, the power-punching Ponzinibbio has compiled six performance bonuses of his own, including his $50,000 check for cleaning the clock of Alex Morono at UFC 282 late last year. That was his second straight bonus-winning bout and the fifth in his last seven fights. If you don’t find the “Argentine Dagger” exciting, then you’re either blind or use his fights to make an ill-timed beer run. There was a point in the not-too-distant past when Ponzinibbio was ranked No. 7 at 170 pounds and on the fast-track to a division title shot, but then a variety of injuries, illnesses, and personal setbacks cost him three years of his fighting prime. A knockout loss to Li Jingliang upon his 2021 return made matters worse, and now the aging slugger is just 2-2 since getting salted by the “Leech.” The flip side to that is Ponzinibbio is coming off a win and both of those aforementioned losses were split decisions, so I would expect him to be as dangerous as he’s even been when the cage door closes on fight night.

The big question for this contest is how much Ponzinibbio is willing to use his wrestling. We haven’t seen much of it in recent fights because when you have the “Argentine Dagger’s” power it’s hard to keep that holstered. He was three-for-three on takedowns in a unanimous decision victory over the since-departed Mike Perry and I guess it all depends on whether or not Ponzinibbio is fighting smart to make a run at the title or planting his feet and swinging for that bonus check. I could very easily envision a scenario where Holland spends most of the fight talking smack, frustrating Ponzinibbio and making him play the cat-and-mouse game, which could result in hot pursuit and wild, sloppy punches. That’s a decision win for Holland because he only needs three rounds to get it done. He’s also got a strong enough chin to handle any incoming fire if run-and-gun is the gameplan. Ponzinibbio is an experienced fighter with knockout power, I just think he won’t be able to resist the bait.

Prediction: Holland def. Ponzinibbio by decision

135 lbs.: Christian “CeeRod” Rodriguez (8-1) vs. Raul “El Nino Problema” Rosas Jr. (7-0)

Raul Rosas Jr. is making headlines because he’s already undefeated at 7-0, which includes a bonus-winning submission victory over Jay Perrin at UFC 282, at the tender age of 18. I guess some people are just built different (or raised different) because my biggest accomplishment at 18 was mounting a set of Cragar S/S rims on my ‘78 Grand Prix. Rosas Jr. is representing the new breed of mixed martial arts; meaning, fighters are now getting closer to their competitive primes at a much younger age, thanks to advancements in training and recovery, as well as the increased opportunities to compete around the world. It was hard to find a quality MMA gym just as little as 10 years ago but now they’re fairly plentiful in major metropolitan markets. So what do we know about “El Niño Problema?” We know he can bulldoze fighters at his level of competition, much like we’ve seen from collegiate wrestling deity Bo Nickal at middleweight.

Christian Rodriguez is not a name that will be familiar to casual fans because like his younger counterpart, “CeeRod” is relatively new to the promotion. Rodriguez failed to impress on Dana White’s “Contender Series” back in 2021, scoring a decision win over Reyes Cortez Jr., but went and picked up a submission victory on the regional circuit to earn his spot on the promotion’s bantamweight roster. In two trips to the Octagon, Rodriguez is 1-1 and coming off a bonus-winning submission over Joshua Weems at UFC Vegas 63 last October. Whether or not that impresses you may depend on how you view “Wide Open” Weems as a competitive fighter and well, it should be noted he was knocked out during his “Contender Series” appearance in late 2021. I don’t think I’m blowing anyone’s mind by suggesting Rodriguez is being fed to Rosas Jr. to keep the bantamweight wunderkind in the win column until they can generate a long-enough highlight reel to feature him in something profitable. I don’t want to go crazy and anoint him the uncrowned king, but he’s certainly skilled enough to push around Rodriguez for a clearcut victory.

Prediction: Rosas Jr. def. Rodriguez by decision

Remember that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 287 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 ESPN/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 287: “Pereira vs. Adesanya 2” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here. For the updated and finalized UFC 287 fight card and PPV lineup click here.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the MMA Mania Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your fighting news from MMA Mania