Middleweight champion Israel Adesanya and title challenger Alex Pereira face off at Wednesday’s Pre-fight press conference. Mandatory Credit: MMAFighting/MMAjunkie/USAtoday.
UFC 281 takes place this Saturday at Madison Square Garden Arena and features two highly intriguing title fights. Middleweight Champion and #2 P4P fighter in the world Israel Adesanya is set to defend his title. His opponent will be a familiar foe in devastating striker Alex Pereira, who holds two victories over the champion in the sport of kickboxing. The second championship fight on the UFC 281 Main card includes strawweight champion Carla Esparza and former champion Weili Zhang. Also on the card is a lightweight fight between top 5 ranked fighters Dustin Porier and Michael Chandler.
Israel Adesanya (23-1) vs Alex Pereira (6-1)
The main event will showcase two former kickboxing rivals who have turned into MMA superstars. Adesanya and Pereira have fought on two prior occasions in the GLORY kickboxing promotion, with challenger Pereira winning both matchups. Pereira is one of the best strikers in combat sports whose devastating power has transitioned well into mixed martial arts. In spite of Pereira’s past success against Adesanya, he is a slight underdog going into this fight. This would seem to be based on his lack of experience against high level competition. The champion Adesanya is unbeaten at 185 pounds, holding onto a 12-fight win streak in the division. On this win streak he has defeated many well-respected fighters, including former champions Robert Whittaker and Anderson Silva as well as high-level grapplers such as Olympic silver medalist Yoel Romero and Kelvin Gastelum.
Keys to matchup
MMA fans will be interested to see if either of these fighters will showcase their abilities on the ground. For Adesanya, he will have to show that he is the more well-rounded fighter whose cage experience has helped him grow since his kickboxing days. Pereira will look to be the aggressor in this fight and will likely try to finish Adesanya early. The champion Adesanya has been the five round distance seven times and will be difficult to beat if the fight goes to the scorecards.
Pereira is going into this fight with a high level of confidence from his knockout win in their last bout. Pereira’s confidence should be elevated even more by the change to smaller gloves. In Kickboxing gloves are normally 12 Ounces, while in MMA the gloves are traditionally 4 ounces. This will favor the punching power of Pereira.
This fight is a dream matchup for hardcore combat sports fans and should be both a highly entertaining and technical contest.
Carla Esparza (19-6) vs Weili Zhang (22-3)
The Co-Main event is a strawweight title fight title fight between champion Carla Esparza and former champion Weili Zhang. Esparza recently dethroned longtime champion Rose Namajunas in May of this year. Esparza is riding a six-fight win streak into this matchup and has had a historic career resurgence since her last loss in 2018. Zhang is looking to regain the title that she once held. The powerful Chinese striker is coming off the most impressive win of her career, knocking out perennial contender Joanna Jedrzejczyk via spinning backfist. The challenger Zhang is a heavy betting favorite in this fight at -380. Esparza will look to use her effective wrestling in this matchup, she desperately needs this fight to take place on the ground. Zhang will be looking to put tremendous pressure on the champion and land powerful shots while standing.
Dustin Porier (28-7) vs Michael Chandler (23-7)
A fun matchup between ranked lightweights Dustin Porier and Michael Chandler has the potential to be fight of the night. Both are coming off recent losses to former champion Charles Olivera and will look to bounce back with a win in this contest. With the lightweight championship recently changing hands both of these fighters have a new opportunity to climb back up the rankings. An impressive performance from either fighter could lead to a title shot. This fight has massive implications for the careers of Chandler and Porier, with both fighters getting older and seeking a potential run at a championship.
Porier holds two notable victories over Conor Mcgregor and has won 3 of his last 4 fights. Chandler is a former Bellator lightweight champion and has gone 2-2 in his UFC run. Chandler’s two victories were impressive knockouts over respected veterans Dan Hooker and Tony Ferguson.
Porier has some of the best boxing skills in the UFC and will look to keep the fight standing. Chandler is a Division I All-American wrestler from Missouri and is a freak athlete for 155 pounds. Chandler poses a threat to Porier on the ground and will look to showcase his world class wrestling skills in this fight. Although Chandler is known as a wrestler, he does possess power in his hands as well. This striker vs. wrestler matchup looks to be very compelling for MMA fans around the world.
Frankie Edgar (24-10) vs Chris Gutierrez (18-3)
Future Hall of Famer Frankie Edgar will make his final walk to the octagon Saturday night. The New York native and former lightweight champion will be looking for a positive ending to his illustrious career. Edgar holds wins over some of the best names in the sports history such as B.J. Penn, Charles Olivera and Urijah Faber. Guitierrez is riding a seven-fight unbeaten streak and is favored to extend the streak against Edgar (-220). Gutierrez will present a formidable challenge to Edgar, who has lost 4 of his last 5 fights. Edgar will need to be in peak form to upset the younger Guiterrez.
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