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UFC 281 Odds, Pick & Prediction for Carla Esparza vs. Zhang Weili: Back This Fighter Inside the Distance (November 12)

UFC 281 Odds, Pick & Prediction for Carla Esparza vs. Zhang Weili: Back This Fighter Inside the Distance (November 12) article feature image
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Yong Teck Lim/Getty Images. Pictured: UFC women’s strawweight Zhang Weili

  • Saturday's UFC 281 co-main event features strawweight champion Carla Esparza vs. Weili Zhang.
  • Two-time champ Esparza looks for her first successful title defense, but she's a substantial underdog to ex-champ Zhang.
  • Below, Manpreet Jhass shares breaks down the title fight and shares his best bet.

Carla Esparza vs. Zhang Weili Odds

Esparza Odds
+280
Weili Odds
-340
Over/Under
4.5 (+105 / -135)
Venue
Madison Square Garden in New York City
Time
Midnight ET
Channel
ESPN+ Pay-per-view
Odds as of Friday and via DraftKings.

BIG PAY-PER-VIEW VIBES! The UFC returns to the most prestigious sports arena in the world, Madison Square Garden, on Saturday for UFC 281.

Headlined by two title fights, the card has Israel Adesanya defending his title against familiar foe Alex Pereira. And in the co-headliner, we have the strawweight title on the line when Carla Esparza looks to defend her title for the first time when she meets Zhang Weili.

Esparza captured the title back in May with a split-decision victory over Rose Namajunas.

Zhang stamped another shot at the title when she finished former strawweight queen Joanna Jedrzejczyk emphatically back in June.

Will Esparza push her underdog record to 7-2 while successfully defending her title? Or will Zhang reclaim the belt that was once hers?

Read on to find out how these two size up and the best way to make some money from their fight.

Tale of the Tape

Esparza Weili
Record 20-6 22-3
Avg. Fight Time 14:31 11:39
Height 5’1″ 5’4″
Weight (pounds) 115 lbs. 115 lbs.
Reach (inches) 63″ 63″
Stance Orthodox Switch
Date of birth 10/10/1987 8/13/1989
Sig Strikes Per Min 2.20 5.78
SS Accuracy 40% 47%
SS Absorbed Per Min 2.59 4.26
SS Defense 55% 52%
Take Down Avg 3.25 2.09
TD Acc 35% 34%
TD Def 47% 60%
Submission Avg 0.3 0.3

Esparza has long been disrespected by the betting community. To this point, she has been an underdog in eight of her UFC bouts. She has come out victorious in six of those instances.

I believe the reason she is always disrespected is because of her lack of striking skill. It has improved since coming to the UFC back in 2014, but she is usually far out-skilled in that realm no matter the opponent. At times, she almost looks helpless when her opponents are firing on her.

The reason she’s been so successful is her grappling, particularly her wrestling. Esparza is so good at getting to the hips of her opponents and landing takedowns.

Her durability has helped her a ton throughout her run as she’s eaten some big shots from strikers such as Alexa Grasso and Marina Rodriguez. However, she still manages to drag them to the mat and control them for a significant amount of time to win decisions.

Zhang came into the UFC with a shiny 16-1 record. It took her three wins to get a title shot, and she took full advantage of it, especially with it taking place in her home country of China.

She starched Jessica Andrade in 42 seconds and captured the gold. Since then, she has gone 2-2. She beat Jedrzejczyk twice in that stretch and lost to Namajunas twice. Only the top of the division.

She has tremendous firepower on the feet, and she seems to be a sponge in the gym with how well she has improved her grappling game. She is fast, explosive and very technical, which makes her a hard out for anyone. She has worked with a couple of different camps over her last few fights, but they have all been high-level teams that have only benefited her growth.

The question is, has Zhang’s grappling improved enough to deal with the grind that Esparza can put on her?

Esparza vs. Weili Pick

From a moneyline perspective, I think this line is a tad out of whack. Most may scratch their heads at that statement, but it’s the lack of openmindedness that causes many people to rip up their parlay tickets on a weekly basis.

On paper, Zhang is supposed to eviscerate Esparza, and this fight won’t be close. However, what happens if Zhang can’t get the early finish? We’ve seen Namajunas hold down Zhang down for an entire round, and there was nothing Zhang could do about it. I hold Esparza as a much better wrestler than Namajunas too.

Rather than latching onto the heavy chalk that comes with the Zhang moneyline, I prefer to hone in on her best path to victory. We get much better odds on taking her specifically to win inside the distance, which is what I think the majority of her win equity lies with.

I think Zhang has made enough improvements to stop the initial takedown onslaught and then start letting go with her strikes to find the finish within the first two rounds. I would bet this prop up to -170.

The Pick: Zhang Weili to Win by Any Knockout, Submission or DQ (+100 at DraftKings)

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