The eyes of the MMA world will be on the iconic Madison Square Garden this Saturday as the UFC makes a stop in New York City for UFC 281. 

UFC Betting Odds

The home of many a memorable sporting moment, ‘The Garden’ may be about to play host to yet more thanks to a mouth-watering line-up that features not one, but two title fights. 

Take a bit of middleweight champion Israel Adesanya facing off against old foe Alex Peirera, add former women’s bantamweight title holder Weili Zhang getting a chance at redemption against Carla Esparza, sprinkle in a potential banger between Dustin Poirier and Michael Chandler – and you’re cooking up some fabulous entertainment. 

Those are just the headlines, on a stacked card in ‘The Big Apple,’ on a night that has the potential to go down as one of the best in recent memory.  

Let’s get straight to taking a look at the big ones … 

Israel Adesanya(23-1) vs. Alex Pereira(6-1) – Middleweight Title 

 Israel Adesanya (above) has swept all before him in the UFC middleweight division since joining the UFC in 2018.  

Only an ill-fated tilt at becoming double champ up at light-heavyweight against Jan Błachowicz blemishes his record in MMA’s premier promotion and the sport as whole. 

 The Nigerian-born New Zealander has been left in a position in which he has very few credible opponents left at the weight class, that he hasn’t already dispatched at least once. Enter the Brazilian elephant in the room – Alex Pereira. 

Rewind 11 months from Adesanya’s UFC debut in February of 2018 back to March of 2017, and our main event fighters are facing off in the kickboxing promotion ‘Glory of Heroes’ main event in Sao Paulo. 

 The result? Izzy flat on his back after a third-round knockout by Saturday’s challenger. Pereira didn’t just beat him on that occasion, he did it a year earlier via decision in China, too. 

Still, this is MMA, not kickboxing, the landscape is far from the same, but there is a palpable sense of intrigue thanks to those two defeats for the champion. 

That intrigue was only heightened by Pereira coming to the UFC and winning three on the bounce, including two performance of the night awards, which has seen him fast-tracked to a title shot. 

Adesanya is the clear betting favourite here, which considering their previous clashes and the fact neither fighter pursues a strategy that includes wrestling, meaning this is almost certainly going to be a striking matchup, may surprise. 

But it’s worth mentioning that in that KO loss, ‘The Last Stylebender’ was well in control of the fight before Pereira’s, although skillfully executed, left hook from the gods. 

Izzy has matured since, refining his game to the point of, at times, almost sterile domination in the UFC middleweight division. 

Thus the bet here has to be Israel Adesanya on points at 5/4, but if the champion’s closest thing to a bogeyman were to win by KO/TKO(5/2), would anyone be surprised? 

Adesanya 8/15, Pereira 6/4 


Carla Esparza(19-6) vs. Weili Zhang(22-3) – Women’s Strawweight Title 

Carla Esparza picked up the strawweight title back in May after a decision victory over Rose Namajunas in what, unfortunately for her, will probably go down as one of the worst fights in UFC history. 

 So you’re looking for a dance partner that’s going to bring excitement. Who do you call? Weili Zhang. 

China’s biggest MMA export got back on track with a memorable spinning backfist KO of legend Joanna Jędrzejczyk after suffering back-to-back defeats to former champion Namajunas, the first of which saw her lose the title she’s trying to regain on Saturday. 

Do some calculations using MMA maths and you’ll come to the conclusion that Esparza must win, but as we all know, styles make fights, and this one will be no different. 

Here we have your typical striker vs. wrestler contest in which the key will be whether Zhang can defend the takedown, and stay off the mat. 

If Esparza can take her down early it will spell trouble for Zhang as she’s shown she isn’t great at scrambling and making her way back to the feet, when needed. 

With that said the challenger will surely look to bring the heat early with a varied attack of strikes with both hands and feet. 

Two possible outcomes stand out here; Esparza on points at 5/1, and Zhang by KO/TKO at 5/4, and as you can probably guess by those odds, we’re going with the latter. Zhang gets her title back. 

Esparza 11/4, Zhang 1/4 


Dustin Poirier(28-7) vs. Michael Chandler(23-7) – Lightweight 

 Check the forecast for this bout and you’ll find it reads ‘violence’. 

Here we have two of the best offensive fighters at lightweight facing off in what is almost certainly set to be a show stealer. Dustin Poirier is a long term fixture of the division and his only losses in the last five years have come in title fights to Khabib Nurmagomedov and Charles Oliveira respectively. 

In between, as we’re sure you all know, he twice conquered the biggest face in the sport in Conor McGregor, both times via stoppage. 

Michael Chandler meanwhile is coming off a brutal front kick KO of Tony Ferguson back in May, where such was the ferocity, space and time was warped and Ferguson’s ancestors likely felt the impact of the strike rippling through the ages. 

With that said, Chandler showed in that fight something he’s shown in others during his time in the UFC – he most certainly can be hit. One thing Poirier also definitely has over Chandler is big fight experience, rising to the occasion, which ‘Iron Mike’ has yet to do in his tougher tests, mostly beating who he was supposed to beat. 

That’s reflected in the odds here as Poirier comes in favourite, and that’s where we also have to fall. A win for ‘The Diamond’ at 4/9 would be our choice here, but taking him to end it before the final horn by KO/TKO at 6/4 is also tempting. 

Poirier 4/9, Chandler 7/4 

In the two remaining fights on the main card, we’re going Chris Gutierrez to beat Frankie Edgar by KO/TKO at 2/1, and Dan Hooker to get back to winning ways against Claudio Puelles with a fight winner bet at 8/13. 

Elsewhere on the card, Liverpool’s own Molly McCann is back in the octagon on the prelims against Erin Blanchfield, and is the biggest underdog of the night at, currently, 3/1.  

 It will be a big story in itself to see whether she can continue her recent run in which she’s captivated the MMA world, especially on these shores, albeit against a very tough opponent. 

Bet on UFC 281 with Betfred here


Chris Coates