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We are back for another exciting weekend of combat sports for UFC 281 in New York! We have a fun 14-fight slate on DraftKings and another strong PPV lineup. It also helps that on DraftKings we have another $200,000 to first place in the main contest.

As always, I give my analysis and DraftKings strategy based on how I see each fight matchup playing out. Feel free to hit me up on Twitter  with any questions that you have leading up until fight night Saturday.

Carlos Ulberg vs Nicolae Negumereanu
Ulberg, -120; Negumereanu, +100

Carlos Ulberg is coming off a first-round knockout win over Tafon Nchukwi in June. He is currently on a two-fight winning streak since dropping his UFC debut back at UFC 259. Ulberg is a high volume striker with legitimate knockout power with four of his six career wins coming by knockout. He is mostly remembered for cardio dumping in his UFC debut, but I believe that to be overstated. I would argue the bigger concern is the lack of data we have with his defensive grappling which could be tested in this fight.

His opponent, Nicolae Negumereanu is coming off a second-round knockout over Ihor Poteira at UFC 277 in July. He is currently on a four-fight winning streak after dropping his UFC debut back in 2019. He is still a complete punching bag on the feet, but he has proven to be durable and have decent cardio and power. He comes from a Romanian wrestling background but only averages one takedown per 15 minutes.

I expect Ulberg to jump out to an early lead as he should have a clear striking advantage while this plays out on the feet. Where I have some concerns with Ulberg is if Negumereanu goes to the wrestling. However, he has proven not to urgently mix in the grappling so I expect him to primarily try to strike with Ulberg which is an uphill battle for him as long as Ulberg does not gas out. Ulberg by knockout is the official pick.

Montel Jackson vs Julio Arce
Jackson, -200; Arce, +170

Montel Jackson is coming off a decision victory over JP Buys last September. Jackson fights at a high pace and carries power on the feet with his long reach which makes him difficult to deal with for many opponents. Additionally, he mixes in takedowns at a high rate as he averages over four takedowns per 15 minutes. He is not necessarily a high IQ fighter but makes up for that with pure athleticism.

His opponent, Julio Arce is coming off a decision win over Daniel Santos in April at UFC 273. Arce is a technical striker that will throw in volume. He fights out of southpaw stance and historically has good takedown defense as well. Despite the good takedown defense numbers, much of it was matchup driven as he has yet to face any good wrestling threats.

I expect the striking to be competitive but the athleticism and pace of Jackson should be the difference here. Jackson by decision is the official pick and he is a good target on DraftKings as well.

Seung Woo Choi vs Mike Trizano
Choi, -165; Trizano, +140

Seung Woo Choi is coming off a split-decision loss to Josh Culibao at UFC 275 in June. He comes from a high level striking background and carries significant power in his hands with six of his 10 career wins coming by knockout. Historically, the way to beat him is to force him to grapple but he has improved his ground game over the years. However, he was dropped and hurt multiple times in his last fight which has me concerned about his durability as that was not the first time we have seen him compromised.

His opponent, Mike Trizano is coming off a third-round TKO loss to Lucas Almeida in June. He is currently on a two-fight losing streak and has lost three of his last four fights. He is a technical striker but does not push a high pace and despite being a capable wrestler, he rarely looks to proactively grapple.

I expect this to be a competitive kickboxing match which has me favoring the Choi side. I am still concerned with Choi’s durability but Trizano historically is not much of a power puncher so he should be able to withstand his power shots. Choi by decision is the official pick but there are better fights to target on Draftkings.

Karolina Kowalkiewicz vs Silvana Gomez Juarez
Kowalkiewicz, -120; Juarez, +100

Karolina Kowalkiewicz is coming off a second-round submission over Felice Herrig in June. That win snapped a five-fight losing streak for Kowalkiewicz so now her last two wins over the past four and a half years both came against Herrig. It is clear that she is no longer competitive against the top tier of this division but she still is a high volume striker and well-rounded fighter which is a good litmus test for the up and coming fighters in the division.

Her opponent, Silvana Gomez Juarez is coming off her first UFC victory against Na Liang at UFC 275 in June. Juarez is certainly not among the top tier of this division. However, she does carry some real power for this division with having scored knockdowns in back to back fights. Her glaring weakness is her defensive grappling as she can be taken down and cut through on the mat.

I expect this to be a competitive fight and lined appropriately as Kowalkiewicz should be landing more volume on the feet and should have the submission grappling upside as well if the fight were to hit the ground. Kowalkiewicz by decision is the official pick but this is not a great fight to target on DraftKings.

Ottman Azaitar vs Matt Frevola
Azaitar, -120; Frevola, +100

Ottman Azaitar had his last fight cancelled due to the infamous bag incident at Fight island last year. Now, he is coming off a two-year layoff since his last fight in 2020. He is an undefeated fighter at 13-0 with 10 of his wins coming by knockout. 10 of those victories came inside the first round and he is notoriously a fast starter. I have concerns with his cardio and defensively grappling, both of which make him tough to trust in matchups like these.

His opponent, Matt Frevola is coming off a first-round knockout victory over Genaro Valdez at UFC 270 in January. Frevola is a well-rounded fighter that is willing to slug it out on the feet but also mixes in the wrestling at a decent rate with nearly 2.5 takedowns per 15 minutes. He should have an advantage in the grappling at would be wise to take the fight there immediately as his durability is concerning as he has been knocked out twice inside the first round.

This is a great fight to target on DraftKings as Azaitar has round one knockout upside and Frevola has some finishing equity himself along with multiple takedowns in his range. I will have exposure to both sides across multiple lineups, but the official pick is Frevola by decision.

Andre Petroski vs Wellington Turman
Petroski, -195; Turman, +165

Andre Petroski is coming off a first-round submission victory over Nick Maximov in May. He is 8-1 professionally with his only loss coming against Aaron Jeffery in LFA. Of his eight career wins, all of them have come inside the distance. His boxing is stiff, but he does have clear knockout power and comes from a collegiate wrestling background. His biggest weakness is his cardio as he is notorious for slowing down outside of round one.

His opponent, Wellington Turman is coming off a second-round submission victory over Misha Cirkunov in February. He is currently on a two-fight winning streak and 12 of his 18 career wins have come inside the distance. Turman holds a black belt in BJJ and is primarily looking to grapple as he averages right around two takedowns per 15 minutes. His glaring issue is his durability as he has been knocked out twice in the UFC, both of which came inside the first round.

I favor the Petroski side in this matchup as he should be able to hang in the grappling and I expect him to be the better wrestler as well. Additionally, he has the knockout upside in the striking exchanges, particularly early in the fight. Petroski by knockout is the official pick.

Erin Blanchfield vs Molly McCann
Blanchfield, -400; McCann, +300

Erin Blanchfield is coming off a second-round submission victory over JJ Aldrich in June. She is a 9-1 prospect with four wins coming inside the distance and is currently on a six-fight winning streak. She is an impressive prospect with a well-rounded skillset and a black belt in BJJ. It is clear that she is best when she goes to the grappling and she averages 3.99 takedowns per 15 minutes and has good top control as well.

Her opponent, Molly McCann is coming off an electric spinning knockout victory over Hannah Goldy in July. Meatball Molly is currently on a three-fight winning streak and coming in with a lot of hype but the current is reflecting how much the market respects Blanchfield. In terms of the striking, I expect McCann to have the boxing advantage and be the more dangerous fighter on the feet. However, she only defends takedowns at 46% and Blanchfield should be able to control her on the ground.

Unfortunately, I cannot back my girl Meatball in this spot as the takedowns and grappling edges are too big for Blanchfield. Blanchfield by decision is the official pick.

Dominick Reyes vs Ryan Spann
Reyes, -205; Spann, +175

Dominick Reyes is coming off a sizable layoff as we last saw him get knocked out by Jiri Prozachka in May of last year. Reyes started his career 12-0 but is currently on a three-fight losing streak to all current and former champions in the division. He is a powerful southpaw striker with seven of his 12 wins coming by knockout. He has been in some wars and the durability has definitely become a concern with back-to-back knockout losses.

His opponent, Ryan Spann is coming off a first-round submission victory over Ion Cutelaba in May. He was a sizable underdog in that spot and proved many people wrong including myself. He is dangerous enough early in the fight as he does have power on the feet and some decent chokes in his arsenal as well with 12 submission wins. The biggest issue with Spann is that he is hittable on the feet and his durability is a major concern as he has been finished in five of his seven professional losses.

Neither of these fighters are very trustworthy and both are dangerous which makes this is a good fight to target on DraftKings. I favor Reyes in terms of durability and cardio which has me siding with him in this fight. Reyes by knockout is the official pick.

Renato Moicano vs Brad Riddell
Moicano, -120; Riddell, +100

We last saw Renato Moicano when he stepped up on short notice to face Rafael Dos Anjos and got beat to a pulp. Moicano is still a very dangerous fighter with good striking and a high pace to go along with his crafty submission grappling. Nine of his 16 career wins have come by submission and he averages 1.7 takedowns per 15 minutes. His biggest issue has always been his durability with three knockout losses and being hurt multiple times.

His opponent, Brad Riddell is coming off a first-round submission loss to Jalin Turner in June at UFC 276. Riddell is currently on a two-fight losing streak and was finished in both of those fights. However, he is a very technical striker and with powerful counterstriking that should play perfectly into this matchup. He will need to keep the fight standing as he will be in trouble if Moicano takes his back at any point.

This should be a competitive fight and one that I think we need exposure to in the mid-range. Both guys have finishing upside but I slightly lean towards Riddell to land a big shot and put Moicano away. Riddell by knockout is the official pick but I will have exposure to both sides on DraftKings.

Dan Hooker vs Claudio Puelles
Hooker, -145; Puelles, +125

Dan Hooker is coming off a first-round knockout loss to Arnold Allen in March. He has now been finished inside the first round in back-to-back fights. However, this is clearly a step down in competition considering all of his recent opponents. Hooker is a high-volume striker with many tools that can give grapplers issues with trying to take him down. That should be the dynamic in this matchup as Hooker will have a clear advantage while the fight plays out on the feet.

His opponent, Claudio Puelles is coming off a first-round submission victory over Clay Guida in April. Puelles is a dangerous submission grappler with seven of his 12 wins coming by submission. His wrestling is not great but has been effective against the fighters he has faced so far as he averages 2.7 takedowns per 15 minutes. My issue with Puelles is that his striking is not much of a threat and he is too willing to play off his back which has him more of a finish reliant fighter.

I expect Hooker to be able to keep this fight standing for the most part where he can piece up Puelles on the feet. Hooker will also have a clear cardio advantage as Puelles tends to gas out in fights in the past. Hooker by knockout is the official pick.

Chris Gutierrez vs Frankie Edgar
Gutierrez, -215; Edgar, +185

Chris Gutierrez is coming off a second-round finish over Batgerel Danaa in March. He is currently on a three-fight winning streak and has yet to taste defeat over his last seven bouts. We know what we are getting from Gutierrez each time out as he is a technical kickboxer with devastating leg kicks that he will throw repeatedly. While his kicking attack is very difficult to deal with, he still has some noticeable holes in his defensive grappling which he has paid the price for multiple times.

His opponent, Frankie Edgar is coming off a third-round knockout loss to Marlon Vera at UFC 268 last November. Edgar is now 41 years old and has been knocked out in each of his last three losses. The red flags are certainly there for a legend of the fight game. However, he still possesses some solid tools that can give Gutierrez fits in this matchup. He averages 2.3 takedowns per 15 minutes and should be able to control Gutierrez on the mat if he can get him down early.

This fight really comes down to the durability of Edgar at this stage in his career. While I certainly do not trust him to stay conscious, it helps that Gutierrez is primarily a leg kicker and not necessarily a power puncher. Gutierrez is still likely to hurt him at some point but it is hard not to see value in the underdog here at this number. I’ll be riding with Edgar in his retirement fight and hopefully the crowd can will him to victory. Edgar by decision is the official pick.

Dustin Poirier vs Michael Chandler
Poirier, -210; Chandler, +180

Dustin Poirier is coming off a third-round submission loss last December at the hands of Charles Oliveira at UFC 269. Poirier is still among the top tier of the Lightweight division and a win here would put him right back in title conversation. He fights out of the southpaw stance and is a high-volume striker by nature as he averages 5.61 significant strikes per minute. He occasionally mixes in takedowns as well but I doubt that will be the game plan in this fight and we have seen him dominated on the mat by better grapplers.

His opponent, Michael Chandler is coming off the infamous knockout victory over Tony Ferguson at UFC 274 in May. Chandler is an explosive fighter with 18 of his 23 career wins coming inside the distance. Since coming over to the UFC from Bellator in January of 2021, he has had just one fight go the distance and it came against Justin Gaethje where he withstood a beating for 15 minutes. He is going to be very dangerous early in the fight and has a chance to hurt Poirier on the feet. However, his durability is a concern as he has been in many wars and knocked out four times in his career.

This is the fight that I am most excited for on the entire card. I think Poirier is more likely to win but I have this fight being closer to a 50/50 than the current odds suggest which has me taking the value on the underdog in Chandler. In terms of DraftKings, I will have exposure to both sides across multiple lineups but will definitely have more Chandler for the cheap price. Chandler by TKO is the official pick.

Weili Zhang vs Carla Esparza
Zhang, -330; Esparza, +275

Weili Zhang is coming off a dominant performance at UFC 275 in June with a knockout victory over Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Zhang is a big favorite to get the title back in this fight and it makes sense to me given the matchup. Zhang is going to have a massive advantage in the striking and will likely cruise to victory if she can keep the fight standing. Up to this point, she has yet to face a true wrestling threat like Carla Esparza. She was taken down twice by Rose Namajunas but Esparza is a much better wrestler.

Esparza is coming off the most boring title fight in UFC history when she beat Namajunas to a split-decision at UFC 274. It is clear what the gameplan will be from Esparza as she desperately needs to get this fight to the ground where she will have an advantage in the grappling department. She averages 3.25 takedowns per 15 minutes and will be looking to implement that gameplan against Zhang in this fight.

I understand the sentiment in wanting to back Esparza at a big underdog price as she has been an ATM in recent fights. However, I think the power and athleticism discrepancy is too wide here and doubt she will be able to repeatedly land takedowns and control Zhang. Zhang by TKO is the official pick.

Israel Adesanya vs Alex Pereira
Adesanya, -205; Pereira, +175

Israel Adesanya looks to defend his championship belt this weekend as the highly anticipated challenger, Alex Pereira is chomping at the bit for UFC gold. Adesanya is coming off a title defense against Jared Cannonier in July at UFC 276 with a decision victory. Adesanya is a high level striker with an array of tools and excellent distance management. His ground game is improving over the years as well which is relevant considering this matchup.

Pereira has a ton of hype behind him coming into this fight. The former Glory kickboxing champion has won all three of his UFC fights, two of which coming by knockout. He is clearly a dangerous striker with legitimate power and five of his six career victories have come by knockout. These two have fought twice in kickboxing in years past and it was actually Pereira who won both fights. But I say it time and time again, pure kickboxing matches and fighting in the UFC are two entirely different things.

This should be competitive early as Adesanya is willing to fight patiently over five rounds. I expect both guys to have moments in the striking but I trust Adesanya defense and cardio much more than Pereira. Adesanya is levels more proven in MMA and Pereira is going to have to prove it to me that he deserves this much hype off of a few low level wins outside of his last fight. Adesanya by decision is the official pick.