UFC 281 Odds, Picks & Model Predictions: Betting Analysis & Previews for All 14 Fights
Carmen Mandato/Getty Images. Pictured: UFC lightweight Dustin Poirier
- UFC 281 takes place Saturday in the Big Apple with 14 bouts.
- Two title fights, including champ Israel Adesanya vs. Alex Pereira, are on top of the card.
- Below, Sean Zerillo breaks down every matchup and offers betting angles for the entire event.
The UFC returns to Madison Square Garden in New York City on Saturday with a 14-fight card for UFC 281, highlighted by a pair of title bouts in the men's middleweight and women's strawweight divisions.
The preliminary card begins at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN+ before simulcasting on ESPNews at 8 p.m. ET. The five-fight main card will commence at 10 p.m. ET via ESPN+ pay-per-view.
After examining all betting options, a typical UFC card can offer a substantial amount of actionable value.
So, in addition to moneylines and over/unders, I'll break down how I plan to bet every fight on the card, including exact winning methods, winning round props, and whether or not the match will go to a decision or finish inside the distance.
Fight times are approximate and subject to change. All times ET.
UFC 281 Projected Odds
Below, you can find my fair odds moneyline projection for each of Saturday's 14 bouts. In the next section, you'll discover forecasts for those fights to finish inside the distance or for each fighter to win by decision, knockout, or submission.
Odds as of Saturday morning and via DraftKings.
UFC 281 Prop Projections
In addition to creating a crowdsourced projection for moneyline plays, I also collect data on each fighter to win by decision, knockout, or submission, enabling us to determine fair odds for each fight to go the distance or for each fighter to win inside of the distance.
UFC 281 Odds
Carlos Ulberg vs. Nicolae Negumereanu
|Light Heavyweight Bout||Odds|
|Carlos Ulberg Odds||-125|
|Nicolae Negumereanu Odds||+105|
|Over/under rounds||1.5 (-165 / +135)|
Crowdsourced Projections: Carlos Ulberg (54%)
Nicolae Negumereanu is 4-1 in the UFC but tends to get overlooked thanks to his professional, grinding style. He carries considerable power but often finds himself swinging at air (41% striking accuracy), and he's a punching bag on the defensive end (39%).
Still, Negumereanu is an effective cage pusher who can grind on opponents, wear them down, and make his fights ugly. He's proven highly durable throughout his career – and is reliable to plod forward and pressure opponents.
Ulberg is a far superior fighter when he's moving forward rather than trying to counter off the back foot, and I suspect Negumereanu may have success pushing him against the cage or dragging the fight to the mat.
Ulberg is an incredibly technical kickboxer (62% striking accuracy). I would expect him to piece up Negumereanu at range, but I also don't see Ulberg's opponent giving him ample opportunity to keep the distance and rack up the volume; Nicolae will continue to march forward.
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) November 5, 2020
And that pressure could eventually break the Kiwi, who has shown tentativeness and sketchy body language when pressured.
Technically, I don't project actionable value on this fight. Still, I'll take a small stab at the underdog moneyline at +120 or better – and I would increase my wager if the number crosses +130.
- Nicolae Negumereanu (+120, 0.25 units at Caesars)
Julio Arce vs. Montel Jackson
|Julio Arce Odds||+175|
|Montel Jackson Odds||-205|
|Over/under rounds||2.5 (-180 / +145)|
Crowdsourced Projections: Montel Jackson (59.3%)
Jackson is an explosive athlete and big for the bantamweight division. He's 3 inches taller and will carry a five-inch reach advantage against Arce, who isn't a small bantamweight by any measure.
Skill for skill, Arce is the superior technician. He's a former Golden Gloves champion and a legitimate black belt in jiu-jitsu. He's also an excellent counter-wrestler (94% takedown defense), which can stifle the better part of Jackson's game (4.1 takedowns per 15 minutes, 78% accuracy).
— Action Combat (@ActionFights) May 18, 2019
Still, I have concerns about Arce's durability, particularly against Jackson's power. His age (33) is past the prime for the division, and he's showing signs of wear and tear after 23 MMA bouts and a wealth of amateur boxing experience.
However, Arce likely has the cardio advantage; Jackson seemingly cuts a bunch of weight to make 135 and tends to slow down later in his fights.
As a result, Jackson may start fast – and potentially hurt Arce – but I expect the underdog to stick around long enough to flip the momentum in his favor and take over down the stretch.
I projected Julio Arce as a 40.7% underdog (+146 implied) and would bet his moneyline down to +150. You can also look to live bet him at a better price after Round 1.
I also see slight value in the fight to reach a decision (projected -150, listed -142 at FanDuel) and on Arce by submission (projected +1128, listed +1150 at BetRivers).
- Julio Arce (+170, 0.5u at DraftKings)
- Julio Arce Live after Round 1
Michael Trizano vs. Choi Seung-woo
|Michael Trizano Odds||+150|
|Choi Seung-woo Odds||-175|
|Over/under rounds||2.5 (-205 / +165)|
Crowdsourced Projections: Seung-whoo Choi (64.7%)
Trizano missed weight by 1.6 pounds on Friday, adding further concern to potential durability issues following a bad knockout loss in June to Lucas Almeida.
Trizano– The Ultimate Fighter 27 champion – is the more well-rounded competitor but seems to struggle to mix his skills. He likely has a grappling advantage in his fight but rarely shoots takedowns (0.57 attempts per 15 minutes). And he's seemingly regressed in his most recent outings.
Choi is both the taller and longer (three-inch reach advantage) in this fight and carries advantages in power, efficiency, and likely durability too.
— MMA mania (@mmamania) June 20, 2021
If Trizano proactively grapples, he may have some upside in this fight. But that would represent a change of style relative to previous appearances. I mostly expect to see a kickboxing match, making Choi a clear favorite.
I project slight value on Choi's moneyline (projected -183, listed -170) and his decision prop (projected +158, listed +175 at Caesars). However, I'm inclined to play the moneyline small (up to -170), given the chance that Trizano decides to start grappling after an ugly loss.
- Choi Seung-woo (-170, Risk 0.5u at DraftKings)
Karolina Kowalkiewicz vs. Silvana Gomez Juarez
|Women's Strawweight Bout||Odds|
|Karolina Kowalkiewicz Odds||-110|
|Silvana Gomez Juarez Odds||-110|
|Over/under rounds||2.5 (-130 / +100)|
Crowdsourced Projections: Silvana Gomez Juarez (56.2%)
I was all over Kowalkiewicz in June against Felice Herrig as she broke a five-fight losing skid, but I'll happily jump back off here against the power-punching Silvana Gomez Juarez.
The Argentinian fighter is a dynamite puncher with a severe grappling deficiency. Although Kowalkiewicz rarely attempts takedowns (1.0 takedown attempt per 15 minutes, 18% accuracy), she succeeded on the mat in her most recent fight before securing a submission. Perhaps she forces the grappling exchanges against Gomez Juarez, who generally looks uncomfortable when she isn't boxing.
Kowalkiewicz looked great in her recent outing against a retiring opponent. Still, I expect her to find the striking exchanges far more challenging against Gomez Juarez, who should be favored if this fight stays on the feet.
Silvana Gomez Juarez fights this weekend👀
— 🌴ᴛʜᴇᴀʀᴛᴏꜰᴡᴀʀ🌴 (@TheArtOfWar6) November 11, 2022
I projected Gomez Juarez as a -128 favorite (56.2% implied) in this matchup, and I would bet her moneyline up to -118 (54.2% implied).
I also show value in her KO/TKO prop (projected +256, listed +300 at FanDuel) and finish prop (projected +197, listed +220 at FanDuel).
However, there's a more substantial edge on the moneyline, and unless Kowalkiewicz banks takedowns and control time, the judges may prefer the power optics from Gomez Juarez.
- Silvana Gomez Juarez (-104, 0.5u at FanDuel)
Matt Frevola vs. Ottman Azaitar
|Matt Frevola Odds||+135|
|Ottman Azaitar Odds||-155|
|Over/under rounds||1.5 (-120 / -110)|
Crowdsourced Projections: Matt Frevola (54.9%)
Frevola has moved from an opening line around -150 (60% implied) to as high as +135 (42.5%) as of writing.
After all the movement, I must step in and back the Long Island native in his backyard. And "The Steamrolla" is my favorite underdog bet on Saturday's card.
Frevola has a significant cardio advantage in this matchup and a clear grappling upside. He's the superior wrestler and may look like a definite favorite if he wrestles from the outset; because Azaitar tends to finish his fights in the first round (10 of 13 wins) or slow down when he gets extended, and a two-year layoff won't help his gas tank.
If Frevola can drag Azaitar to deep waters – and use his wrestling to tire out his opponent – he should become an increasingly more prominent favorite in the second half of the fight.
One concern: Azaitar carries immense power, and Frevola has a questionable chin. If Frevola decides to start the fight brawling – as he often does – he could get clipped, and our bet may lose before it ever gets going.
Even in his last fight against Genaro Valdez, in which he secured as many as six knockdowns in Round 1, Frevola could have wrestled but chose to brawl and ate multiple big punches while his opponent was wobbled. If Azaitar finds those same openings, it could be lights out.
Matt Frevola’s last fight is an insane three minutes of action pic.twitter.com/uSgBnpjhVO
— Spinnin Backfist (@SpinninBackfist) November 10, 2022
It isn't easy to bet on Frevola, knowing he may not follow an optimal game plan.
Still, it's much easier to swallow that decision at +135 than lay juice on him at -150. Frevola may look like a favorite if he wrestles from the opening bell, but he'd still be a value bet in a slugfest; I'd prefer he not swing until somebody falls.
I projected Frevola as a 45.1% underdog (+122 implied) and would bet his moneyline down to around +120, which would technically be a -EV bet pre-fight.
However, I like the matchup if Frevola can avoid early trouble. Still, I will wait to see where the line goes before adding more to the Frevola side. The Azaitar steam has been consistent for two weeks.
Either way, I would look to bet Frevola live after Round 1.
In the winning method market, Frevola by decision (projected +393, listed +500 at FanDuel) and Azaitar by KO/TKO (projected +128, listed +140 at FanDuel) qualify as value wagers. Of the two, I'd prefer the latter; if Frevola wins, he eventually melts Azaitar with pace.
You could do worse than an SGP (+255) with Frevola and the Over 1.5 Rounds at DraftKings.
- Matt Frevola (+135, 0.75u at DraftKings)
- Matt Frevola Live after Round 1
Andre Petroski vs. Wellington Turman
|Andre Petroski Odds||-195|
|Wellington Turman Odds||+165|
|Over/under rounds||1.5 (-155 / +125)|
Crowdsourced Projections: Andre Petroski (58.9%)
The pricing on this fight seems like a substantial overcorrection after Petroski submitted Nick Maximov as a +300 underdog in May. I would personally favor Turman over Maximov straight up.
Turman hasn't competed since February when he secured a come-from-behind submission win over Misha Cirkunov.
I suspect that Petroski should be able to take down and control Turman in the early stages of the fight (8.7 takedown attempts per 15 minutes), and if he does get the fight to the mat, Turman is content to play guard, stay safe, and hunt for submissions from the bottom.
Turman has yet to tap in 23 professional fights. I trust his jiu-jitsu defense to survive Petroski's attacks.
First fight of the card: Andre Petroski choked out Maximov! Put him to sleep! pic.twitter.com/n2io2Ybf9h
— 𝗙𝗢𝗟𝗟𝗢𝗪 @𝗙𝗧𝗕𝗲𝗮𝗿𝗱𝟳 (@FTBeard7) May 14, 2022
That's not ideal for scoring purposes, but Petroski isn't particularly active with top position. I view Turman as the superior striker, so perhaps he can win rounds on damage before the fight hits the mat.
Petroski throws one punch at a time and loads up for power, but he's not particularly technical and tends to telegraph his straight punches the longer the fight goes.
Turman likely has the cardio advantage, too, though I don't necessarily trust his gas tank. Although Petroski has secured a pair of third-round finishes in the UFC, he tends to tire in the second half of his fights and shows poor body language the longer he goes.
Turman has the technical and physical tools to keep this fight competitive and to outshine Petroski in certain areas. He's also the younger fighter (five years) and has likely improved in the past six months while training alongside Glover Teixeira and Alex Periera in Bethel, Connecticut.
I projected Turman closer to 41.1% (+143 implied) in this matchup, and I would bet the underdog moneyline down to +156 (39.1% implied). You can also look to bet him Live after Round 1 at a superior price.
And I will consider adding more to my position, depending on where the price moves.
- Wellington Turman (+170, 0.75u at Caesars)
- Wellington Turman Live after Round 1
Molly McCann vs. Erin Blanchfield
|Women's Flyweight Bout||Odds|
|Molly McCann Odds||+320|
|Erin Blanchfield Odds||-390|
|Over/under rounds||2.5 (-210 / +170)|
Crowdsourced Projections: Erin Blanchfield (78.8%)
I expect McCann to be one of the more popular underdog selections this weekend, coming off of a pair of highlight-reel finishes in England. She's become a fan favorite in the women's Flyweight division.
Blanchfield, one of the more talented prospects in the UFC., is an odd selection as McCann's next opponent. The New Jersey native is relentless, shooting takedowns (6.04 per 15 minutes) and throwing strikes (10.2 attempts per minute) at high volume.
McCann's biggest weakness is her defensive grappling (46% takedown defense). Although Blanchfield struggled to land takedowns in her last fight against J.J. Aldrich (0-for-4), I suspect she may have a more accessible time wrestling or landing judo throws against McCann.
At this stage of her career, my one criticism is that Blanchfield doesn't blend her skillset all that well. She's either striking or grappling, but there's no in-between distance to her game yet in which she can threaten the takedowns to create openings for strikes or vice versa. And I'm not sure what her athletic ceiling is yet, either. She's incredibly well-rounded, especially for her age – but I'm not sure she can significantly improve her skill set.
If Molly can deny the takedowns and keep this matchup on the feet, she's undoubtedly a live underdog.
Still, I expect Blanchfield to get McCann to the mat in each round, which should be enough to sway the judges unless she finds a finish first.
I see slight value in the fight to reach a decision (projected -208, listed -175 at DraftKings). But most of that value is tied to Blanchfield by decision (projected -145, listed -108 at BetRivers), which is my preferred play. Bet her decision prop up to -133.
Alternatively, consider betting McCann by KO/TKO (projected +843, listed +1000 at FanDuel).
- Erin Blanchfield wins by Decision (-105, 0.25u at BetRivers)
Dominick Reyes vs. Ryan Spann
|Light Heavyweight Bout||Odds|
|Dominick Reyes Odds||-305|
|Ryan Spann Odds||+175|
|Over/under rounds||1.5 (-105 / -125)|
Crowdsourced Projections: Dominick Reyes (67.3%)
Reyes, who nearly won the light heavyweight strap against Jon Jones at UFC 247, enters Saturday after an extended 18-month layoff riding a three-fight losing skid.
After losing via finish to Jan Blachowicz and Jiri Prochazka in consecutive fights, perhaps we see a more tentative approach from "The Devastator."
It's difficult to envision any fight involving Ryan Spann starting slowly. "Superman" Spann has seen 19 of his 27 career fights end in Round 1, including a trio of finish losses under the UFC banner.
— UFC (@ufc) October 12, 2019
Spann should be the more prominent man in the cage (1 inch taller, two inches of reach), and perhaps he can catch Reyes early after that lengthy layoff.
Still, Spann's cardio is subpar, and his effectiveness tends to wane substantially after the opening frame. If Reyes can weather the early storm and get Spann to that second round, I expect him to take over the fight. And you can target a live bet on Reyes after Round 1 – hopefully, at plus money.
I considered betting the Under 1.5 rounds here blind. That bet would have cashed in 20 of Spann's 27 career fights (74%). Still, Reyes is more of a point-fighter at light heavyweight; his record would look less impressive without a pair of knockout wins against middleweights Chris Weidman and Jared Cannonier.
Reyes has the physical attributes to take over this fight late, but I don't project pre-flop betting value on this fight from any perspective.
However, an SGP (+195) at DraftKings with Reyes and the Over 1.5 Rounds, or props for Reyes in Round 2 (+550) and Round 3 (+1300), caught my attention.
Those bets encompass most of his win condition, but I wouldn't put it past Spann to fold on the first exchange, particularly after missing weight on Friday.
Spann wins in Round 1 (+600 at FanDuel) are intriguing too.
- Dominick Reyes Live after Round 1
Brad Riddell vs. Renato Moicano
|Brad Riddell Odds||+105|
|Renato Moicano Odds||-125|
|Over/under rounds||2.5 (+100 / -130)|
Crowdsourced Projections: Renato Moicano (54%)
Saturday's featured prelim should be one of the most exciting and competitive fights at UFC 281, but it's a brutal fight from a betting perspective.
Both fighters have shown durability concerns in recent outings. Riddell has been dropped in three consecutive bouts and finished in his two most recent fights. Moicano has three knockout losses in his past seven appearances and is coming off a potentially career-altering beating against Rafael dos Anjos at UFC 272.
Riddell is the superior striker. He offers better and more varied techniques and superior efficiency. Moicano can keep up with the volume, but Riddell should land the more impactful strikes.
Brad Riddell’s counters against Drew Dober were so sick😮💨 pic.twitter.com/0TUxriMp8s
— The Patrick McCorry Sports Show (@Patrick_McCorry) June 25, 2022
Moicano has the superior defensive metrics (+9%), while Riddell is the better offensive striker (+5% accuracy, +1.17 to +0.73 strike differential).
Conversely, Moicano has all of the grappling upside in the fight. He's the superior jiu-jitsu practitioner and capable of getting takedowns. And when Riddell gets hurt, he tends to reactively wrestle to recover. So if Moicano can stun Riddell on the feet, he may secure a club and sub within the same sequence.
I don't see value on either side of the moneyline or the total. However, Riddel by decision (projected +262, listed +330) and Moicano either by submission (projected +209, listed +290 at BetRivers) or inside the distance (projected +165, listed +200 at BetMGM) are value bets in the winning method market.
I'd take a slight poke at Riddell's decision prop down to +290.
Still, if you prefer the Moicano side of the fight, I don't feel any worse about his finish props.
- Brad Riddell wins by Decision (+330, 0.2u at DraftKings)
Dan Hooker vs. Claudio Puelles
|Dan Hooker Odds||-145|
|Claudio Puelles Odds||+125|
|Over/under rounds||2.5 (+120 / -150)|
Crowdsourced Projections: Dan Hooker (64.5%)
Aside from leg locks, it's difficult to see where Claudio Puelles has the advantage – or a path to victory – against Dan "The Hangman" Hooker.
Hooker is taller, longer (three-inch reach advantage), has faced far superior competition, and should have the takedown defense (78%) to keep this fight standing and piece up Puelles on the feet.
Hooker has seemed a bit shopworn in recent bouts, losing by quick knockout against Michael Chandler after two wars against Paul Felder and Dustin Poirier. And he made an ill-advised decision to drop down to featherweight in March against Arnold Allen, where he looked incredibly slow and seemed unable to take damage.
Returning to 155 should suit him well. And facing a fighter like Puelles, who offers minimal power and prefers to attack the body with kicks, seems an ideal matchup for Hooker's potentially declining durability.
Puelles has only a pair of knockouts on his career record, including a head kick and a cut stoppage; he is a submission specialist. And those submissions often come out of nowhere. Puelles is highly opportunistic and tends to lose minutes in his fights until seizing an opportunity to submit his opponents.
Puelles isn't great at securing takedowns (38% accuracy), but he does try to get his fights to the mat consistently (7.2 attempts per 15 minutes).
Hooker's knees up the middle should be highly effective if Puelles telegraphs his shots. Or he could look to lock in a guillotine.
And even if Puelles manages to take him down, I trust Hooker's jiu-jitsu to keep him safe on the mat.
Outside of a meme submission, Puelles may be drawing dead in this matchup.
I projected Hooker's moneyline closer to -180, and I'm comfortable betting him up to that price point, which I would consider a break-even transaction.
Still, Hooker is getting underrated based on a recent 1-4 run, with losses against four former or future title challengers (Islam Makhachev, Dustin Poirier, Chandler, Allen); Puelles represents a significant step down in competition relative to those fighters.
Hooker was a more substantial favorite against Michael Chandler (closed -165) than he is against Puelles.
And the one win in Hooker's recent run (against Nasrat Haqparast) came after a significant step down in competition. Hooker dominated that fight from pillar to post. If he fights back to that level from last September, Hooker should dominate Puelles too.
Hooker wins by decision (projected +245, listed +250 at DraftKings) is the one prop offering value; however, I'll stick with a moneyline wager at a far more significant edge.
- Dan Hooker (-150, 1u at DraftKings)
Frankie Edgar vs. Chris Gutierrez
|Frankie Edgar Odds||+200|
|Chris Gutierrez Odds||-240|
|Over/under rounds||2.5 (-165 / +135)|
Crowdsourced Projections: Chris Gutierrez (65.5%)
Saturday will mark the retirement fight for New Jersey native Frankie Edgar, the former lightweight champion who has moved down two divisions since his peak.
At 41 years old, Edgar's athleticism and durability have slipped. He's been finished in four of his past five losses and is returning from a one-year layoff following his knockout loss to Chito Vera at MSG last November.
Edgar will use his wrestling to consolidate position and maintain top control against Gutierrez (73% takedown defense), who has proven to be one of the most dangerous leg kickers in the UFC.
Gutierrez has been taken down by six of his eight UFC opponents. Still, he has made tremendous strides in his takedown defense and getup game in recent years.
While Edgar dances in and of the pocket and looks for openings to land combinations or shoot for legs, Gutierrez will look to chop him down, limit his mobility, and put Edgar away late.
Although he scored a beautiful spinning-back fist knockout in his last fight, Gutierrez generally isn't a headhunter; he typically focuses on the legs and body of his opponents, particularly early in fights.
Relative to Edgar's recent opponents, Gutierrez is significantly less dangerous, and he represents a severe step down in competition. In fact, Gutierrez has the most minor name recognition of Edgar's opponents, dating back to 2009 (Matt Veach). "The Answer" has been fighting only killers for more than a decade.
While I'm confident that Gutierrez is improving, Edgar still represents the most challenging test of his career – particularly in terms of wrestling – and Gutierrez lost a 10-8 round via grappling (4:24 of control time) against Cody Durden back in August 2020. He doesn't hold a single win over a ranked opponent.
Still, Edgar has always been susceptible to leg kicks. And clearly, he can't absorb as many head strikes as he used to. His movement has slowed, and his athleticism has waned.
Yet, I still think he has a path to victory on Saturday in his final trip to the octagon, mainly if he can catch kicks and turn those into takedowns.
I show slight value on Edgar at +200 or better (projected +190), but I prefer his decision prop (projected +286, listed +350 at DraftKings) for small stakes.
And I would prefer to bet the fight to go the distance (projected -124, listed -112 at FanDuel) at a substantial discount relative to Edgar's typical pricing (-160 vs. Marlon Vera; -180 vs. Cory Sandhagen).
- Fight goes to Decision (-112, 0.5u at Fanduel)
- Frankie Edgar wins by Decision (+350, 0.1u at DraftKings)
Dustin Poirier vs. Michael Chandler
|Dustin Poirier Odds||-225|
|Michael Chandler Odds||+190|
|Over/under rounds||1.5 (-145 / +115)|
Crowdsourced Projections: Dustin Poirier (66%)
Michael Chandler is as dangerous as any fighter on the roster in the first round. He could be competitive with Cthulhu in a five-minute scrap.
Chandler offers excellent wrestling and carries substantial power for the 155-pound division. His weaknesses are physical attributes: cardio and durability.
Chandler's chin is slipping in the latter part of his career. He's always been hittable, but getting dropped twice by Tony Ferguson was a bad look, despite his eventual highlight-reel finish.
Moreover, Chandler's output tends to fall off in the second half of his fights. He's likely due to move up to 170 pounds soon – which may help his gas tank – but Chandler has competed around 155 his entire life (wrestled at 157 in college), and those repeated weight cuts have taken a toll on his body.
He potentially sustained a career-altering beating against Justin Gaethje at MSG last November, when he walked forward with his hands down – while eating shots – in the second half of their fight of the year nominee.
Chandler loves to brawl and put on a show for the fans, but his best path to victory against Poirier lies in his wrestling. Chandler doesn't use his wrestling as proactively as he should; he relies on shooting takedowns when he's wobbled or in her to break pressure.
Still, he has a significant wrestling advantage over Poirier, whose takedown defense (64%) was exposed by Dan Hooker (4 of 7, 6:02 control time) following his loss to Khabib.
Poirier hasn't faced many grapplers, but when he has (Khabib Nurmagomedov, Charles Oliveira), he's found much less success – and tired out far more quickly.
I still feel that Poirier has severe advantages in cardio and durability against Chandler, though his opponent can crack any chin on the planet.
Still, Poirier is a bit of a slow starter – while Chandler typically starts hot – so I expect "The Diamond" to be trying to stage a comeback after the opening minutes.
If Chandler does decide to wrestle, he may be able to bank two rounds against Poirier before trying to survive the final frame. Or perhaps the threat of the takedown creates an opening for his booming overhand.
As a result, I expect to find a superior price on Poirier live after Round 1; and I'll keep a close eye on the live markets.
From a pre-fight perspective, I don't see value on either side of the moneyline or the total. And I only show slight value on Poirier to win by KO/TKO (projected +152, listed +163 at Rivers).
In terms of my read, Poier wins inside the distance (projected +117, listed +100 at Draftkings) was how I expected to play the fight, but there's no value in the number.
Instead, I'll bet on the cardio advantage – and back Poirier to win in Round 2 (+600 at Rivers) or Round 3 (+1200 at Wynn) while waiting for a live entry.
- Dustin Poirier wins in Round 2 (+600, 0.1u at BetRivers)
- Dustin Poirier wins in Round 3 (+1200, 0.1u at BetRivers)
- Dustin Poirier Live after Round 1
Carla Esparza vs. Zhang Weili
|Women's Strawweight Bout||Odds|
|Carla Esparza Odds||+275|
|Zhang Weili Odds||-330|
|Over/under rounds||4.5 (+105 / -135)|
Crowdsourced Projections: Zhang Weili (75.4%)
Make sure to check out the full fight preview from my colleague, Manpreet Jhass, for additional analysis of Saturday's strawweight title bout.
I generally agree with his assessment. The betting markets typically underrate Esparza (6-2 as an underdog). And she has a dominant skill (wrestling) that gives her a low-risk and relatively dominant path to victory when opponents cannot prevent takedowns.
Zhang's career takedown defense (60%) is subpar, but so is Esparza's (47%). And Zhang should have significant strength and physical advantage in the early rounds when both fighters are fresh.
As a result, I expect Zhang to deny the early takedowns from Esparza and either keep this fight on the feet, where she has a striking and power advantage, or look to get on top of her opponent and land ground and pound.
If Virna Jandiroba (3 of 9, 3:48 control time) and Claudia Gadelha (2 of 4, 5:02 control time) dragged Esparza to the mat, so can Zhang.
The former champion has made significant improvements to her offensive wrestling, landing three takedowns (2:50 control time) against Joanna Jedrzekczyk in June and five against Rose Namajunas last November.
And she has worked extensively with the Hickman brothers, who specialize in wrestling, for this training camp. Hopefully, she made some improvements to her takedown defense and getup game for her sake. Zhang likely lost that title rematch against Namajunas because she got stuck on her back for long stretches in the fourth and fifth rounds (6:27 combined).
In addition to a potential defensive wrestling deficiency, Zhang also has some cardio concerns. She's large for the weight class and loads power into all of her techniques. As a result, her effectiveness tends to wane in the championship rounds. And Esparza may find much more success later in the fight – against a tiring Zhang – if she can survive the early stages.
I'm not personally looking for a live bet on Esparza. But if you find her pre-fight moneyline price enticing, I suspect you can get a superior live number on the underdog after each of the first few rounds.
Suppose Zhang cannot secure the early finish. In that case, Esparza should work her way back into the matchup and potentially steal a decision or find a late finish from top position against a tiring opponent.
Overall, I feel this plays out similarly to the Esparza-Jedzrejczyk title bout from 2015, when Jedrzekczyk denied the takedowns (1 of 17) and finished Esparza in the second round.
If Esparza can't get this fight to the mat in a hurry, I think Zhang breaks her quickly with pace, pressure and power.
I don't project value on either side of the moneyline, but I do view this bout ending inside the distance 63% of the time (-168 implied), and I would bet that prop to around -157 (61% implied), instead of the Under 4.5 Rounds (-110 at FanDuel). Esparza's finish equity is certainly tied to those final two and a half minutes, and I wouldn't want to exclude that final half-round from my wager for a small discount.
However, in the winning method market, I see value both in Zhang by finish (projected -130, listed +100 at DraftKings) or alternatively on Esparza by decision (projected +442, listed +525 at BetRivers).
As a result, I show a slightly larger edge on Zhang's finish prop instead of the fight to end inside the distance prop. However, the determination between a decision victory and a late finish often comes down to the referee's mood. Given the cardio dynamics of the fight, I'd rather pay for the finish equity on both sides rather than just the substantial favorite.
- Fight Ends Inside the Distance (-135, 0.5u at BetMGM)
Israel Adesanya vs. Alex Pereira
|Israel Adesanya Odds||-215|
|Alex Pereira Odds||+185|
|Over/under rounds||4.5 (-125 / -105)|
Crowdsourced Projections: Israel Adesanya (65.5%)
Make sure to check out my full fight preview for additional analysis of Saturday's main event, including a statistical comparison.
In short, I projected Adesanya as a 65.5% favorite (-190 implied) in this matchup, and I don't see value on either side of the moneyline.
Adesanya opened closer to -170 (62.9% implied), and I would have bet him around those odds, but I cannot touch the line at current prices.
I expect the fight to end within the distance – or by finish – 56% of the time (-125 implied), slightly more often than the market suggests but below the divisional average (58.5%). I would bet that prop up to -117 (54% implied) at a 2% edge compared to my projection.
Moreover, I see slight value in Pereira by KO/TKO (projected +262, listed +275 at DraftKings), and I may prefer that prop to his moneyline.
However, I'm staying away from picking a side in this matchup. I expect Pereira to enter the pocket and potentially cause chaos. Both men have knocked down their opponents in more oversized gloves, and I expect ample opportunities for either to find a finish on Saturday if Pereira continually moves forward.
- Fight Ends Inside the Distance (-105, 0.5u at Caesars)
Zerillo's UFC 281 Bets
Distance or Decision Props and Overs
- Erin Blanchfield wins by Decision (-108, 0.25 units at BetRivers)
- Brad Riddell wins by Decision (+330, 0.2u at Draftkings)
- Edgar/Gutierrez, Fight goes to Decision (-112, 0.5u at Fanduel)
- Frankie Edgar wins by Decision (+350, 0.1u at Draftkings)
Inside the Distance Props and Unders
- Dustin Poirier wins in Round 2 (+600, 0.1u at Rivers)
- Dustin Poirier wins in Round 3 (+1200, 0.1u at Rivers)
- Esparza/Zhang, Fight Ends Inside the Distance (-135, 0.5u at MGM)
- Adesanya/Pereira, Fight Ends Inside the Distance (-105, 0.5u at Caesars)
- Nicolae Negumereanu (+120, 0.25u at Caesars)
- Julio Arce (+170, 0.5u at Draftkings)
- Seungwoo Choi (-170, Risk 0.5u at Draftkings)
- Silvana Gomez Juarez (-104, 0.5u at Fanduel)
- Matt Frevola (+135, 0.75u at Draftkings)
- Wellington Turman (+170, 0.75u at Caesars)
- Dan Hooker (-150, 1u at Draftkings)
Live Betting Notes
- Julio Arce Live after Round 1
- Matt Frevola Live after Round 1
- Wellington Turman Live after Round 1
- Domnick Reyes Live after Round 1
- Dustin Poirier Live after Round 1