The UFC returns to the mecca of combat sports for UFC 281 when Israel Adesanya will defend his middleweight crown against long-time rival Alex Pereira at Madison Square Garden.
The two kickboxing rivals will go toe-to-toe in the octagon to see who is MMA’s best middleweight in the headline fight of the card, but is supported by one of the most stacked cards of the year.
In the co-main event we have the strawweight title on the line as Carla Esparza makes her first defence against former champion Weili Zhang, while Dustin Poirier will meet Michael Chandler in a lightweight war and Frankie Edgar has his retirement bout among other things.
Last week at UFC Vegas 64 we had a rough time with our picks going 6/11 with zero perfect picks, moving us to 766/1188 (64.48%) with 319 perfect picks (41.64%). You can see our full pick history here.
We’ll look to improve on that here and after starting with the early prelims, we move on to the rest of the prelim section of the card.
Andre Petroski (8-2) vs Wellington Turman (18-5) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
Exciting middleweight scrap up next. Petroski is 3-0 in the UFC after competing on TUF, KO’ing Michael Gillmore before submission wins over Yaozong Hu (UFC 267) and Nick Maximov most recently back in May. Turman is on a two-fight win streak, defeating Sam Alvey and then submitting Misha Cirkunov most recently in February.
Petroski has proven to be an excellent wrestler in this division with some solid submission skills, but he’s also a more technical striker than many though and has good power too. Turman is a bit of a reckless striker with some nasty low kicks, that play perfectly into his world class Brazilian jiu-jitsu skills. The problem he has here is that he’s outmatched pretty much everywhere.
Turman’s best hope of winning is landing a big counter punch that Petroski doesn’t see coming during an exchange or tapping him from his back, and both are very unlikely. Petroski should be able to dominate this fight wherever it goes, and he should be able to claim another finish to keep his run going.
PICK – Andre Petroski via Knockout, Round 2
Erin Blanchfield (9-1) vs Molly McCann (13-4) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
Women’s flyweight bout up next between two ladies on a great run. Blanchfield is undefeated in the UFC with dominant wins over Sarah Alpar, Miranda Maverick (UFC 269) and most recently JJ Aldrich, while McCann has won her last three in a row, including her last two against Luana Carolina and Hannah Goldy via spinning elbow knockout.
Blanchfield is arguably the best wrestler in the division, maybe outside of Valentina Shevchenko and Taila Santos, and that is where this fight will end up if she has her way. She is decent on the feet too, but wrestling will always be her bread and butter. McCann on the other hand is a straight up brawler, with a good boxing background and incredible aggression and durability, but she’s very small for the division. This is a lopsided match up.
McCann has tried to step up her level of competition before and fallen flat on her face, and it’s likely to happen again here. Blanchfield has a six-inch reach advantage which should see her comfortable on the feet, but if it ever gets hairy she’ll get a takedown relatively easily and maul “Meatball” on the mat for a dominant decision win.
PICK – Erin Blanchfield via Decision
Dominick Reyes (12-3) vs Ryan Spann (20-7) – (Light Heavyweight/205lbs)
The return of “The Devastator” up next. Reyes arguably beat Jon Jones in their title fight back at UFC 247 but ultimately lost on the cards and was since KO’d by Jan Blachowicz (UFC 257) and Jiri Prochazka (UFC Vegas 25) in subsequent bouts. Spann got dominated by Anthony Smith in his first main event back in September 2021, but bounced back with a submission win of his own over Ion Cutelaba most recently back in May.
Reyes is a boxing specialist with a piston-like left hand and nasty body kicks to go with amazing durability and decent wrestling chops too. Spann is a decent wrestler himself but he has tremendous submission skills, earning 12 of his 17 finish wins via tap out. His striking however is bang average and with a lack of head movement to go with Reyes’ excellent takedown defence, this is his fight to lose.
Spann isn’t the most durable guy and he has a tendency to panic when faced with adversity. Reyes has the ability to put the pressure on early and has great accuracy with his left-hand that can put people out. He was able to keep up with Prochazka until his brains got scrambled, so if he can do that here he should be the one on the end of a big knockout win.
PICK – Dominick Reyes via Knockout, Round 2
Brad Riddell (10-3) vs Renato Moicano (16-5-1) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
Lightweight banger in the featured prelims slot up next. Riddell was on a great run before getting stopped by Rafael Fiziev at UFC Vegas 44, and was since submitted by Jalin Turner at UFC 276 in just 45 seconds. Moicano stopped Alexander Hernandez at UFC 271 with a rear-naked choke but stepped in on super short notice at UFC 272 to face Rafael Dos Anjos and got dominated for 25 minutes in his last bout.
Riddell is a stunning kickboxer, with unbelievable technique and decent power to go with a relentless volume, but his durability has taken a downward turn in recent bouts. Moicano is a superbly well-rounded fighter too with great striking and world class jiu-jitsu skills, with wrestling skills that help him implement that submission game. This is a mixed bag and could go one of two ways.
Moicano has the ability to get this fight to the ground quickly and work his submission game, which is relentless and almost certainly too much for Riddell to handle. But if he is able to survive the early round, his pressure and power is likely to overwhelm Moicano and he should be the one getting his hand raised. It’s a tough one to call, but momentum is on the Brazilian’s side and he’s also able to hold his own on the feet, so I think Moicano gets it done early by taking the back and getting a choke.
PICK – Renato Moicano via Submission, Round 1