Betting Guide for UFC 281

With only three UFC fights under his belt, does Alex Pereira have a real shot to win on Saturday, or should we back middleweight champion Israel Adesanya to turn aside his latest test?

Without exaggeration, every single fight on this 14-bout card could have headlined a main event or two in 2022 on a different one. UFC's return to the Big Apple is packed to the gills, and we've got several key wagering spots to target as well.

UFC 281: Adesanya vs. Pereira will take place Saturday from Madison Square Garden in New York City. Which MMA bets stand out on FanDuel Sportsbook?

Erin Blanchfield and Dan Hooker to Both Win
(-110; 1.5 Units)

The two-legger is back this week from its week off, holding a 20-10 record YTD. We'll look to rebound from an unsightly decision that represents the 10th loss.

We're in good hands this week -- though they're quite a bit larger on lightweight Dan Hooker (-178) than women's flyweight Erin Blanchfield (-440).

Blanchfield is the largest favorite on the card, and that should speak volumes against fan favorite Molly McCann. McCann's fortunate run of matchmaking -- where her last three opponents have combined to average just 0.56 takedowns per 15 minutes -- is over.

McCann's 46% takedown defense is atrocious, and Blanchfield has historically landed 3.99 takedowns per 15 minutes on 66% accuracy. Don't count out "Cold Blooded" on the feet, either. She's got a +3.19 striking success rate compared to McCann's +1.00. I can't see a domain where Molly wins this fight.

As for Hooker, he's finally stepping down from a murderer's row of opponents. He's fought three former title challengers in his last five fights -- and Arnold Allen, his last foe, will battle for a featherweight title soon. Hooker is kicking off the main card against Claudio Puelles, who will battle his first ranked foe.

Puelles' 46% striking defense is awful. He's used three kneebars in five fights to get here, and other than a fourth on the likely-prepared Hooker, he'll have a tough time holding off Hooker's three-inch reach edge and solid offensive pace (4.79 significant strikes landed per minute).

These two ranked combatants are moderate-to-heavy favorites on Saturday, and we'll pair them together at nearly even money.

Carlos Ulberg to Win (-130; 3.0 Units)

I'm 0-1 on three-unit plays this year after Misha Cirkunov took 8 punches in 88 seconds and fell over. Some might say we're due.

It's hard to ignore such a massive gulf in my chart between Carlos Ulberg (-130) and Nicolae Negumereanu given the tight odds on their moneylines.

Ulberg's +4.96 striking success rate is second-best on this card, and his only UFC loss came in a fight he was dominating. He had a +64 striking differential before losing to a seminal blow by Kennedy Nzechukwu in his debut. Since then, he's rattled off dominant wins over Fabio Cherant and multi-time UFC winner Tafon Nchukwi.

Negumereanu's four-fight winning streak almost defies comprehension. He's amassed identical -31 striking differentials in two fortunate wins by decision, and Negumereanu's two wins via stoppage have come against foes a combined 1-6 in UFC. He's proven basically nothing, and his 39% striking defense is horrendous.

To summarize, Ulberg outperformed Negumereanu by 95 significant strikes against their mutual opponent, Nzechuwku. Negumereanu's historical durability aside, Ulberg should cruise on the scorecards in this one if his 100% takedown defense holds through another fight.

Renato Moicano to Win (-132; 1.0 Units)

In the featured prelim, I can't see Renato Moicano (-132) not finding a way.

Moicano's last fight with Rafael Dos Anjos came on four days' notice, and I think he's being unfairly punished for the circumstances. He did have a -61 striking differential and ceded 5 takedowns. It was ugly, but it also wasn't a fair representation of his ability.

Even with that 25-minute fight baked into Moicano's UFC sample, he's been the better fighter than Brad Riddell. Moicano's posted more significant strikes per minute (4.80) than Riddell (4.73), and Renato's 61% striking defense dwarfs that of Riddell (52%).

However, that's the one domain that's close. Moicano's 48% takedown efficiency could make quick work of "Quake" and his average 62% takedown defense. Plus, Moicano is a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and Riddell was submitted last fight.

With minuscule power behind a 0.29% knockdown rate, Riddell's upside in this fight -- given the damage Moicano absorbed without wilting to RDA -- seems to be a narrow win by decision. Moicano could finish this one on the feet or the mat.

Alex Pereira to Win (+146; 0.75 Units)

I've said it before, and I'll say it again -- analytically, Israel Adesanya isn't special.

Former champions have even acknowledged Adesanya's lack of wrestling and grappling. At the very least, we haven't seen it. In that event, as a one-dimensional striker, Adesanya isn't even top-five on this card in striking success rate (+1.29) or striking defense (61%). In fact, he's 12th from the bottom in significant strikes landed per minute (3.93).

In that event, an old foe could steal his belt this weekend. Alex Pereira (+146) beat Adesanya in the two's previous kickboxing matchups. The second was via knockout with thicker gloves. There's a reason why Pereira was fast-tracked to this spot with just three UFC fights under his belt.

Pereira's arguably beaten the strongest pure striker of either of these two. He defeated Sean Strickland by knockout earlier this year. Pereira's +2.93 striking success rate (third-best on this card) and 6.29 significant strikes per minute landed (also third-best) -- unlike Adesanya's marks -- are special.

Izzy has only faced one fighter in UFC that had less than a two-inch reach disadvantage, and he lost to Jan Blachowicz. Many played that off as Jan's weight, but it could just be Adesanya's inability to sit and poke from reach against a longer fighter. Pereira is only ceding one inch of reach here, so this fight might just favor "Poatan" to sweep the trilogy.

Dart Throw of the Week:
Carla Esparza by Decision (+500; 0.25 Units)

I'm not sure if it's resentment toward Carla Esparza (+280) or what, but her odds to win Saturday are wildly low.

Esparza reclaimed this strawweight title with a snoozer of a win over Rose Namajunas, but the lack of activity was Rose's fault. She was afraid of a repeat of their first match where Esparza bullied her to five takedowns. Esparza's shown historical willingness to impose her wrestling, landing multiple takedowns in 11 of her last 13 fights.

It's also bananas the credit Zhang Weili is getting for blasting Joanna Jedrzejczyk out of her last fight. Not only did Jedrzejczyk immediately retire after that one, but she also wasn't going to pose a threat to what cost Weili her last title opportunity.

Zhang had her fight with Namajunas won, but she ceded a takedown in both the fourth and fifth rounds and couldn't get up. Rose piled on exactly seven minutes of control time to retain the belt.

This fight is a top-control wrestler (Esparza) taking on someone who, when last facing wrestling adversity, completely failed. Zhang is powerful, but Esparza hasn't been knocked out at distance since March 2015.

Every prognostication of seemingly every Esparza fight is a battering on the feet, yet she slows the pace, works her wrestling, and has ground out six straight wins. Five were by decision. These are absurd odds she can't do it again given Weili's historical weakness off her back.