UFC tips: Our best bets for Saturday night’s stacked UFC 281 card in New York

Our MMA man Sean Taylor is here to grapple with the best bets.

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Sunday 5am: Israel Adesanya v Alex Pereira – Alex Pereira by Points
Sunday 3am: Carla Esparza v Weili Zhang – Under 4.5 Rounds
Sunday 4:15am: Dustin Poirier v Michael Chandler – Dustin Poirier by Points

UFC 281 goes down this weekend in the fabled Madison Square Garden and there’s a genuinely intriguing main event between two of the best kickboxers of this generation.

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Sunday 5am: Israel Adesanya v Alex Pereira – Alex Pereira by Points

This looks like a massive price to me. There’s a huge backstory to this fight and that’s the reason Pereira has been fast tracked to a UFC title shot. They fought twice in their kickboxing days and Pereira is 2-0 in those fights. However, that doesn’t quite tell the whole story. If you watch their first fight, you’d be hard pushed not to think Adesanya deserved the nod from the judges on the night. I certainly thought he did. In their second fight, Adesanya was again controlling the fight and got caught with a beautiful left hook. That could well be the shot that Pereira looks for again in the early hours of Sunday morning.

There are a couple of things to take into account now that they face off in the UFC cage. Firstly, only 4oz gloves compared to 10oz in kickboxing. Does that actually favour anyone? I’m not sure. This fight is a volume striker against a power striker and the smaller gloves have their advantages and disadvantages for both. The shots Pereira lands will be more impactful and we already knew he had knockout power, however, the smaller gloves don’t block as much of the target as the bigger so Adesanya will fancy his chances of sneaking shots both through, and around, the guard.

Secondly, the physical cage. In kickboxing, the ropes offer a lot of flexibility allowing a fighter to employ the ‘rope-a-dope’ tactic made famous by Muhammad Ali. If you watch Stylebender’s fights, there’s a backwards movement he uses quite a lot and he won’t have the give in the cage and could find himself on the end of something from Pereira. There is an unknown in his cardio over five rounds however the prices are big enough to reflect that.

Away from the more technical stuff, I think this price is too big because of the style we’ve seen Adesanya employ of late. He hasn’t sought out finishes and because he’s a volume striker, that can leave him open to fighters nicking close rounds on the scorecards with a few powerful shots that arguably do more damage than Adesanya’s volume. We know he is a more skilful and well-rounded fighter however Pereira will land big shots in what will be a kickboxing match taking place in an MMA cage. Damage greater than volume is the crux of the scoring criteria in MMA. With that in mind, I think this price offers a nice bit of value in a fight where we could see some close rounds and some interesting scorecards.

Sunday 3am: Carla Esparza v Weili Zhang – Under 4.5 Rounds

Thankfully this isn’t a trilogy bout with Rose Namajunas for Esparza. That fight in May was an abomination and made me question why I bother staying up until silly o’clock to watch these pay-per-views. However, one thing to take from that fight coming into this one is that Zhang will be much more proactive with her offense than Thug Rose was. In her UFC career, Esparza has absorbed more strikes per minute than she lands. Zhang throws and lands a lot so that’s not something that bodes well for Esparza here.

Both fighters will shoot for takedowns, however, wrestling is a more integral part of Esparza’s game than it is Zhang’s. She defends takedowns at a 60% clip and while Esparza probably will land takedowns, I’m not sure she lands enough over the course of 25 minutes to win the fight. Her style and volume isn’t always the most scoring-friendly when it comes to winning rounds and given Zhang’s volume, ‘The Cookie Monster’ will have to do a lot with the takedowns she does land.

Weili Zhang is the most heavy-handed woman in this division and I think there’s a discrepancy in her win price and the under 4.5 rounds here. We’ve seen Esparza finished in the past and I think that’s what Zhang will be looking for.

Sunday 4:15am: Dustin Poirier v Michael Chandler – Dustin Poirier by Points

This price stands out quite a bit to me. Justin Gaethje couldn’t manage to finish Chandler over the course of 15 minutes where they likely both left a piece of their soul in the octagon that night. Chandler showed himself to be durable to a fault that night. Chandler seems to have decided to put entertainment before victory in his last few fights and while that’s brilliant for fans, that’s not the case for him as a betting prospect.

While I have no doubts about his durability, I think Chandler can be quite Round 1 or bust in terms of his win upside. In terms of where Poirier is really at risk, submissions appear to be his kryptonite and I don’t expect Chandler to chase those, however he’s more than capable should the opportunity present itself.

Both are technically proficient on the feet and that’s where this fight will play out. I feel Poirier is the cleaner striker, albeit less powerful and that’s why I think his KO/TKO price is on the skinny side.

 I don’t think a Poirier points victory is as unlikely as the price would suggest. He’ll be the smarter fighter in there and look to utilise his boxing to avoid Chandler’s power shots. If he can avoid the inevitable first round onslaught, I think this will be Poirier’s fight to lose.

UFC 281 betting tips:

Sunday 5am: Israel Adesanya v Alex Pereira – Alex Pereira by Points
Sunday 3am: Carla Esparza v Weili Zhang – Under 4.5 Rounds
Sunday 4:15am: Dustin Poirier v Michael Chandler – Dustin Poirier by Points

*All prices are bang up to date with our snazzy widgets, while odds in copy are accurate at time of publishing but subject to change

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The latest UFC odds are on PaddyPower.com right now

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