Oftentimes, I don’t like PPV cards for betting – but I think there are some good wagering opportunities on UFC 281. Here are my main card picks from a betting perspective.
Dan Hooker vs. Claudio Puelles
While Claudio Puelles is on a five-fight winning streak, I haven’t been impressed with his performances.
The Peruvian will chase submissions aggressively and has a dangerous kneebar, but I wouldn’t say he’s a well-rounded MMA grappler. His offensive wrestling has looked awful in his career thus far, so I struggle to see him getting the fight to the mat on his terms (unless he’s made major strides while training at Kill Cliff FC).
Fighting from the southpaw stance, Puelles has some effective kicks from the left side – but his striking game is undoubtedly raw.
Furthermore, his cardio has looked questionable in the past and I wouldn’t be surprised if he fades in the second half of the fight.
Dan Hooker has been finished quickly in his last two bouts, but you can make excuses on his behalf. Getting submitted by Islam Makhachev is nothing to be ashamed of and he should’ve never dropped to featherweight to take on Arnold Allen in the first place.
He looked solid against Nasrat Haqparast a year ago and I think he has a great chance of winning if the same version of him shows up this weekend.
Hooker has some defensive vulnerabilities on the feet and likes to brawl more than he should, but the New Zealander is still a dangerous eight-limbed striker and should be light-years ahead of his opponent.
We’ve seen Hooker perform well against southpaws in the past and he has good takedown defense to keep the fight standing.
Going back a few years, we’ve also seen him defend himself successfully against a leg lock specialist in Ian Entwistle.
I think there is value on Dan Hooker at -145.
Frankie Edgar vs. Chris Gutierrez
If you’re a fan of MMA, you’re a fan of Frankie Edgar.
The New Jersey native has had a legendary career and is now on the doorstep of retirement, but can he put himself in the win column one more time? Stylistically, this is a very winnable fight for him.
Edgar is at his best when moving lightly on his feet, using strikes to set up his takedowns and faking takedowns to set up his strikes. Unfortunately, Edgar is looking worse for wear at 41-years-of-age and his reaction times and durability have diminished.
Chris Gutierrez can be taken down and controlled, so there is a clear path to victory for “The Answer”.
Gutierrez is a kick-centric striker – he isn’t particularly dangerous with his hands, so I don’t think Edgar is likely to get knocked out when blitzing forward. With the correct manipulation of distance, Edgar can be all the way out or all the way in to avoid having his leg kicked to smithereens.
I simply cannot bet Frankie Edgar considering the circumstances, but I don’t blame anyone for taking the shot at +185
Dustin Poirier vs. Michael Chandler
Dustin Poirier and Michael Chandler are both dangerous strikers, but with contrasting styles.
Poirier is more likely to win minutes. He is the superior technician, with better combinations and devastating low kicks (Chandler fights out of a wide stance, so I think inside low kicks will be effective here).
Chandler bounces on his feet and likes to step in when attacking (which could leave him vulnerable to a knee or uppercut). Chandler packs concussive power in both hands, so he doesn’t necessarily have to win rounds – his aim is to orchestrate a scenario where he can land a hammer on your chin and detach you from your consciousness.
He played Dan Hooker like a fiddle before knocking him out and it wouldn’t shock me if he added to his highlight reel this weekend.
Chandler is the superior wrestler and the threat of the takedown could help to even up the striking. We’ve seen Poirier taken down in numerous fights and he has a concerning history with hip injuries.
If Chandler doesn’t engage in the pocket and carefully times takedowns throughout the fight, I could see him stealing rounds and winning on the scorecards.
I understand why Dustin Poirier is the favorite, but -220 feels like a very wide line.
Carla Esparza vs. Weili Zhang
The main talking point for this fight is that Weili Zhang has looked weak off her back in the past and is now facing a smothering wrestler in Carla Esparza.
Zhang is the more complete mixed martial artist, but will Esparza’s one advantage be enough to win her the contest?
I wish I had a definitive answer.
Looking at the footage, you can make some assumptions as to how Esparza will score takedowns.
Zhang loves to attack with the lead leg, which could be caught and converted into a takedown. The Chinese fighter also enjoys bullying opponents in the clinch, which could also backfire here.
However, we know Zhang is a competent counter-puncher and if she decides to, she could hang back and make Esparza come to her – which I think would be a good idea.
We saw Michelle Waterson take this approach and refuse to give up easy takedown entries to Esparza – which resulted in a razor close fight.
Zhang is a much better striker than Waterson and if the fight stays vertical, it’s hard to see the Chinese fighter losing.
That said, I rarely bet against the fighter with grappling upside in a female fight and Esparza is like a rabid dog with how tenaciously she pursues the takedown.
I’m not confident in Carla Esparza whatsoever, but I think there is some value on her at +270.
Israel Adesanya vs. Alex Pereira
In my opinion, Israel Adesanya is the best striker in modern MMA. He fights brilliantly from both stances, has great slips and counters and understands how to quietly shut down aggressive opponents.
He is facing an adversary who defeated him twice in kickboxing, but I think the MMA ruleset is favorable to the reigning champion. Smaller gloves, a large octagon and five five-minute rounds all benefit Adesanya.
Alex Pereira is a freak athlete with one of the best left hooks in combat sports, but I think he will struggle to win minutes.
I’m sure Pereira will take the front foot and try to close off the octagon, but that’s nothing Adesanya hasn’t seen before. If Pereira is to find the kill shot, I believe he needs to catch Adesanya out of position with a huge counter.
It’s possible, but I don’t think the probability is high – particularly outside of the first two rounds.
We saw Pereira look labored against a basic striker in Bruno Silva. How is he going to look in the championship rounds against the best striker in the sport?
Pereira is absolutely enormous and I’m sure the only reason he is cutting to middleweight is because of this money fight.
I think Israel Adesanya was worth a bet around -175, although the value is starting to disappear at -205.