The UFC returns to Madison Square Garden in New York City this weekend for a fourteen-bout fight card.
The card is headlined by the Middleweight championship between Israel Adesanya and longtime kickboxing rival Alex Pereira. Weili Zhang looks to reclaim her Strawweight title against Carla Esparza in the co-main event, while a pure firefight is billed in the featured bout between “The Diamond” Dustin Poirier and “Iron” Michael Chandler.
Israel Adesanya vs. Alex Pereira (MW)
Following an ill-fated move to Light Heavyweight that saw him suffer his first professional MMA loss, Israel Adesanya (23-1, 12-1) has secured three more title defenses at Middleweight, extending his defense total to five. He was last seen claiming a unanimous decision over Jared Cannonier, picking his opponent apart from range. Adesanya is a slick and technical kickboxer with excellent strike diversity, constantly changing his attack. He utilizes his jab well and controls his opponent’s movement with constant leg kicks. “The Last Stylebender” is always defensively responsible, boasting a 59% strike absorption rate. Adesanya has fifteen stoppage victories on his record, all coming by knockout.
Alex Pereira (6-1, 3-0 UFC) has long been lauded by hardcore fans as the kryptonite to Adesanya, holding two victories over him under the GLORY Kickboxing banner, including one by knockout. After returning to MMA in late 2020, “Poatan” secured a highlight reel first-round knockout in the LFA to earn a UFC contract. Since then, he has picked up three straight wins, last seen knocking out Sean Strickland just over the halfway mark in the first round of their July contest. Pereira has a long frame that he uses expertly, keeping range with long kicks and his jab. He has immense power in both hands, with his left hook constantly showing itself as a finisher.
A quick rewatch of their fights in kickboxing does show much more competitive fights than the results indicate, as the pair evenly match each other’s impressive frames for the division. I do expect that we see a striking battle, though it may not be as wild as the promos and both fighters’ statements have made it out to be. For all of the fan critique on Adesanya’s output, he is always composed defensively, a factor that is essential when facing Periera. Adesanya keeps a higher volume, particularly from range, as he will look to wear out Poatan from a distance with strikes to the leg and body. While I do see this primarily as a kickboxing match, Adesanya also looks to hold a rare grappling advantage if he feels the need to use it, with solid jiu-jitsu skills in his back pocket. Ultimately, I expect Adesanya to avoid Pereira’s power early and chip away with volume over the distance for the judges’ nod.
My Pick: Israel Adesanya via Decision
Carla Esparza vs. Weili Zhang (SW)
After consecutive defeats to Claudia Gadelha and Tatiana Suarez, Carla Esparza (19-6, 10-4 UFC) rebounded by scoring five straight victories, including a TKO over Yan Xiaonan. In her rematch opposite Rose Namajunas, Esparza narrowly won a lackluster split decision win to secure gold for the second time in her UFC career. “The Cookie Monster” has been at the top of the division since its inception in the UFC, consistently proving herself a top contender. Her aggressive wrestling attack is always the highlight of her game, dominating opponents on the mat. Her striking defense can be porous, though she has controlled range well in recent fights. Esparza has nine stoppage victories to her name, with six coming by submission.
Weili Zhang (22-3, 6-2 UFC) scored three straight UFC wins including a first-round armbar to earn herself a title shot against Jessica Andrade, who she finished by TKO in under a minute. A Fight of the Year battle with former Strawweight queen Joanna Jedrzejczyk saw Zhang secure her first title defense, though she dropped consecutive losses to Rose Namajunas. Undeterred, Zhang scored the most impressive win of her career with a spinning backfist knockout of Joanna in their rematch. Zhang has a diverse striking attack populated by a high kicking volume and heavy inside elbows and knees. She keeps a fantastic work rate, and also holds stellar takedown defense.
We have a fairly binary stylistic clash here, as Esparza will assuredly be looking to get this fight to the mat when faced with the raw firepower of Zhang. On the feet, Zhang has superior volume, size, power, and technique, holding all the tools to capture another KO and regain her belt. Esparza will need to secure long stints of ground control to find success. However, both Zhang’s takedown defense and ability to reclaim her footing make this bout poised for a striking affair. I expect Zhang to pick apart Esparza on the feet before finishing the show around the midway point.
My Pick: Weili Zhang via Knockout
Dustin Poirier vs. Michael Chandler (LW)
My Pick: Dustin Poirier via Decision
Frankie Edgar vs. Chris Gutierrez (BW)
My Pick: Chris Gutierrez by Decision
Dan Hooker vs. Claudio Puelles (LW)
My Pick: Dan Hooker via Knockout
The card starts at 6 PM EST, with the main card live on PPV at 10 PM.
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