Battle of kickboxing rivals fuels UFC 281

When Dana White signed Alex Pereira to the UFC, he hoped the Brazilian kickboxer would be able to legitimately earn a title shot against middleweight champion Israel Adesanya. Adesanya and Pereira have history together. During two kickboxing bouts, Pereira picked a pair of victories over the now-UFC champion.

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What has people so excited about Adesanya and Pereira finally meeting in the octagon is what happened in their last kickboxing match. Pereira knocked “The Last Stylebender” out cold. But when the two men previously thought, many kickboxing experts have said Adesanya was robbed in the first first with a poor decision and the KO followed a fight Adesanya had largely dominated.

Here’s a look at the UFC 281 card, including a pick on the main event and a few other fights.

Chandler, Poirier set for fireworks

Michael Chandler has never failed to entertain since he made the jump from Bellator to the UFC. Anyone making MMA bets would see that Chandler is 2-2 in his career with the UFC, but three of his four fights have featured entertaining finishes. In Chandler’s last fight, he knocked out Tony Ferguson with a viscous front kick KO that improved his record to 23-7 and gave him his 11th career knockout.

Chandler enters his fight with former interim champion Dustin Poirier as a +175 underdog. Poirier is 28-7 in his career with 14 knockouts. Last December, Poirier was submitted by Charles Oliveira in his second attempt at winning the undisputed lightweight crown.

With both men in their 30s, they are running out of time to grab the lightweight crown. Chandler is a fighter that expends a lot of energy in the first round going for the knockout. In Chandler’s fight with Oliviera for the title, he clipped the champion in the first round before running out of gas in the second round.

Poirier, however, is an opportunistic striker. He is no stranger to five-round wars, but he will work to stay out of Chandler’s path in the first round.

Picks: Poirier by KO (+150), Poirier live after Round 1.

Esparza wants to regain reputation

Carla Esparza regaining the UFC Strawweight belt after a seven-year climb back to the top happened in the worst fashion for her marketability. Esparza grinded out a boring decision over Rose Namajunas that left many fans and observers appalled at how passive both fighters were. Esparza has now won six straight fights.

Zhang Weili is back in the title picture after knocking out Joanna Jedrzejczyk last June. With Weili’s strong punching prowess, she appeared ready to rule the division for a long time before losing consecutive fights to Namajunas. Esparza is a terrific wrestler, who will try to avoid Weili’s power by dragging the fight to the mat.

Esparza won’t give up her newly-won crown easily, but she won’t impress as much on the feet as Weili will.

Picks: Over 4.5 (-118), Weili by decision +190

Stylebender ready for revenge

Adesanya is a victim of his own expectations. The Nigerian striker has five consecutive title defenses, but gets a lot of the backlash due to his pre-fight comments. Adesanya promises thrilling knockouts, but hasn’t delivered.

In five of Adesanya’s last six fights, the bout has gone to the scorecards. What the UFC is hoping is that a third fight with Pereira will create a fight that will leave a memory that burns into the memories of fight fans. When it comes to octagon experience, Pereira is short on it.

He is 6-1 in his MMA career, including five wins via knockout.  Pereira’s UFC opposition hasn’t been exceptionally difficult, however. It also doesn’t inspire confidence that Pereira has struggled to handle Adesanya’s hands in kickboxing.

Picks: Under 4.5 (+108), Adesanya by KO (+360)