The UFC continues to close out 2022 in strong fashion by delivering two more title fights this Saturday. After one of the most exciting pay-per-view cards of the year went down only three weeks ago, the promotion heads to Madison Square Garden for UFC 281: Israel Adesanya vs. Alex Pereira. The co-main event features women's strawweight champion Carla Esparza taking on top contender Zhang Weili.
Adesanya, the middleweight champion, is a -210 favorite to defend his title successfully for the sixth straight time. His opponent, Alex Pereira, has skyrocketed up the rankings after debuting with the promotion only one year ago. Pereira's two previous kickboxing victories over Adesanya in 2016-17 make him an intriguing challenger for the middleweight crown. Does Pereira's previous success in a different combat sport make him a live dog against the UFC champion? Here's where the value lies in this fascinating matchup, plus a two-fighter parlay that you can grab at -125 odds.
Israel Adesanya (-210) vs. Alex Pereira (+165)
Israel Adesanya has taken on all types of contenders during his middleweight title reign. After cleaning out the division, he even moved up in class to unsuccessfully go after Jan Blachowicz's light heavyweight belt. Saturday night will mark Adesanya's 14th fight in the UFC while Pereira enters the Octagon for only the fourth time. That massive gap in experience and exposure to overcoming adversity against elite-level, UFC-caliber competition are significant edges for the champion.
Adesanya has solved every puzzle in the division that the UFC has put in front of him, and Pereira isn't a complicated fighter to figure out. He has devastating power and strong inside striking, but Izzy has shown the discipline to avoid danger while picking his opponent apart from range. Even in those two kickboxing losses to Pereira, Israel won most of the minutes.
A fighter with Pereira's striking is always live in any fight, but Adesanya is technically superior in most aspects. I expect Israel to land clean consistently and keep Pereira off balance. Adesanya is good at mixing in kicks from multiple angles, and I question if Pereira can make the proper adjustments when Izzy is sequencing solid combinations. That's where the champion's experience will start to separate the two fighters. Pereira tends to shut down when under fire, and Adesanya's hand speed and ability to pour it on when he smells blood could end the night. Because Adesanya boxing him up from distance and avoiding danger for all five rounds is a viable path to victory, I need a stronger edge on how it ends to delve into the prop market. Pereira has a puncher's chance, but I don't see it as a likely enough outcome to move me off the moneyline.
The bet: Israel Adesanya (-210)
Parlay: Erin Blanchfield and Chris Gutierrez (-125)
We are getting two favorites with very advantageous matchups for different reasons. Blanchfield, a 23-year-old rising prospect, looks to break into the Top 10 with a dominant win over Molly McCann. She is 9-1 in her career and has won all three fights with the promotion. Blanchfield holds a huge grappling advantage, and she can leverage McCann's trademark aggression against her. McCann is a fireball coming off two TKO wins via spinning elbow, but that reckless style of striking leaves defensive holes a submission specialist can exploit. McCann's first mistake of the night will be her last.
Frankie Edgar is one of my favorite fighters, but even the all-time greats can't stuff father time's takedown attempts forever. Gutierrez hasn't lost in his last seven bouts, and his punishing leg kicks should compromise the footwork and bounce that made Edgar a champion. The higher output striker, Gutierrez, lands at a 58% clip versus Edgar's 40% accuracy. He also has an advantage in both power and durability. Edgar was knocked out in three of his last four fights and is now on the wrong side of 40. That makes Gutierrez the perfect complement to pair with Blanchfield to complete this parlay at a reasonable price.
Stats provided by ufcstats.com.