(All stats according to UFC’s Record Book and Fight Metric as of November 9, 2022, and only include active athletes in their respective division unless noted otherwise)
Main Event: Israel Adesanya vs Alex Pereira
Key Stats: 18:09 average fight time (4th longest all-time), 12 knockdowns landed (tied-2nd all-time among MW), 62% significant strike defense (4th)
What It Means: Adesanya is well-known at this point as one of the trickiest strikers in the sport. His long, 6-foot-4 frame, coupled with his algorithmic fight IQ, makes for an often-frustrating puzzle for his opponents to attack. He is keenly aware of where he is in the Octagon and seems to always make the right moves to stay on the front foot. He likes to measure with jabs and leg kicks before working through his progressions and into more combinations. When he has someone in front of him who brings the fight, he can often find his range when sliding back or laterally to land an impactful counter.
Key Stats: 7:38 average fight time, 6.29 strikes landed per minute, 60% striking accuracy
What It Means: Pereira is physically daunting at 6-foot-4 with limbs that seem spring-loaded with fight-ending power. His signature strike is his left hook, which he can lead and counter with impactfully. He likes to sit on strikes early, but he is perhaps most effective when he is stringing together shots in threes and fours. His kicking game is solid, and he is quick when he decides to spin. In clinches, he likes to frame and strike, but he is patient in all positions as he has full belief in his ability to end the contest in a blink.
What to Look For in the Fight: Famously, these two have history dating back to their kickboxing days. Also famously, Pereira won twice, once via knockout. In both fights, however, Adesanya was more of the pacesetter and he kept Pereira guessing. That said, Pereira’s power is an equalizer. In MMA, the two have a slightly different approach. Watch for Adesanya to establish low kicks and body kicks early while staying smart on Pereira’s left side. Pereira will likely feel like he can walk Adesanya down, so the footwork is something to watch as the fight develops.
Co-Main Event: Carla Esparza vs Zhang Weili
Key Stats: 44 takedowns landed (1st all-time among WSW), 27.2% top position percentage (3rd all-time among WSW), 2.59 strikes landed per minute (6th al-time among WSW)
What It Means: Esparza is a grinder’s grinder. The wrestling-based two-time champion is a strong counter grappler, often dipping below an opponent’s overcommitted strike and landing a takedown. When she does get a hold of her opponent, she hustles to the next position, and even if she doesn’t get the fight to the mat on her first shot, she is exhaustive in her attempts. On top, she exhibits patient control and devastating ground-and-pound with elbows and punches.
Key Stats: 5.78 strikes landed per minute (3rd all-time among WSW), 60% takedown defense, 2.09 takedowns per 15 minutes
What It Means: “Magnum” is arguably the most explosive fighter in the strawweight division and one of the most powerful athletes on the roster full-stop. Light on her feet when on the outside, Zhang almost always throws a heavy flurry when she enters the pocket. If she has a counter in her game plan, she sticks to it furiously as she did when she consistently caught Joanna Jędrzejczyk’s kicks and fired a straight punch to the former champion’s forehead in their epic first fight. Zhang is also a strong wrestler displaying a variety of takedowns, as well as some good defensive grappling and dangerous jiu jitsu off her back.
What to Look For in the Fight: Esparza’s game plan is a patient one, and she is more than OK with having her opponent pressure her forward as she waits for a window to shoot for a takedown. Zhang, who often strongly commits to her strikes, will need to be mindful of her space when she throws or displays deep trust in her defensive wrestling. Zhang also has the ability to scramble and reverse some positions, so Esparza has to watch out for that, in addition to any anti-grappling strikes Zhang might have planned if and when Esparza shoots.
Other Fights to Watch (Dustin Poirier vs Michael Chandler, Brad Riddell vs Renato Moicano)
Key Stats: 10 knockouts (tied-6th all-time), 6.39 strikes landed per minute (5th all-time among LW), 9 knockdowns landed (5th all-time among LW)
What It Means: Poirier’s standout trait is his striking and particularly his boxing. “The Diamond” is especially sharp at close range, where he can really sit on his hooks and uppercuts, which he can throw in bunches and on shifty footwork. From the southpaw stance, Poirier will often switch in the middle of combinations, extending his range and catching a fleeing opponent. Defensively, he likes to use a modified shoulder-roll defense, which can confuse some opponents. He has pretty heavy low kicks, as well as a good jiu jitsu game off his back. He particularly likes to look for a guillotine.
Key Stats: 7:16 average fight time, 5.17 strikes landed per minute, 1.83 takedowns per 15 minutes
What It Means: “Iron” Chandler is a darting, heavy-handed striker who is best when he can find his range and rhythm to bounce in and out of range. Although he is on the shorter side for lightweight, his explosiveness allows him to close the range quite effectively. From distance, he likes to throw teep kicks to the body and legs before leaping in with a combination. Chandler’s explosion translates to his wrestling, which is his safety net when he needs to break his opponent’s rhythm.
What to Look For in the Fight: These all-action lightweights are bound for thrilling exchanges on the feet. Chandler is probably a bit faster than Poirier, but Chandler will have to play a little risk management when he jumps into the pocket against Poirier, who perhaps has the most thudding hooks in the division outside of Justin Gaethje. Poirier might find some success attacking Chandler’s legs, but that goes both ways, as well. Durability-wise, Poirier has a more concrete history of lasting in the most explosive of firefights, but Chandler swings heavy and hits particularly hard.
Key Stats: 53.6% significant strike accuracy (10th), 4.73 strikes landed per minute, 12:11 average fight time
What It Means: Riddell is a technically sharp, methodical and durable Muay Thai specialist with great defensive grappling. He is keen on making reads early and finding ways to string together several strikes against his opponent. Other than when he gets hit with a spectacular kick, Riddell is extremely hard to rock and put away. He fights smart, understands distance and sticks to the gameplan set out for him.
Key Stats: 4.8 strikes landed per minute, 4.07 strikes absorbed per minute, 5 submissions
What It Means: Moicano is a feisty competitor with a particularly slick back-take on the ground. He’s not the most suffocating wrestler, but he is crafty in the ways he gets a fight to the ground and sweeps his opponent at will. On the feet, Moicano is game and durable, but his best avenue to victory is on the mat.
What to Look For in the Fight: This profiles as a relatively straight-forward striker-vs-grappler matchup, but Moicano has shown in the past his willingness to stay on the feet if he can’t wrangle his opponent down to the ground. Riddell is always mindful of the submission attacks coming his way when his opponents get a hold of him, so his footwork and pressure is key to thwarting that. On the feet, Riddell might be able to find some success early and Moicano has shown a tendency to stand in the pocket, even if he is overmatched technically.
UFC 281: Adesanya vs Pereira took place live from Madison Square Garden in New York City on November 12, 2022. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards, and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!