There is plenty to dig into at UFC 281 on Saturday. An intriguing grudge match between UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya and Alex Pereira will rekindle their Glory days in the kickboxing circuit.Adesanya is not the only champion putting their belt on the line. 

The women’s strawweight crown is also at stake when Carla Esparza looks to make her first defense of the 115-pound strap against former titleholder Weili Zhang. Esparza is in her second reign with the title after winning the inaugural title in 2014 over Rose Namajunas. Zhang bounced back from her title loss to Namajunas with a thunderous knockout of Joanna Jedrzejczyk.

UFC presents a loaded card at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Scan the schedule and a number of familiar names will jump off the page. Dustin Poirier, Michael Chandler, former UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar, Dan Hooker, Dominick Reyes and Molly McCann all have a home at UFC 281. It is another well-curated fight card for the promotion’s regular excursion to the Big Apple.

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Let’s examine three fights, plus a few honorable mentions, that deserve your attention at UFC 281.

Dustin Poirier vs. Michael Chandler

Poirier and Chandler are frontrunners for a Fight of the Night or Performance of the Night on any card they occupy. Put the two together and you have surefire fireworks. Poirier strung together eight consecutive performance bonuses between 2017 and 2021, excluding a no-contest against Eddie Alvarez that was sorted in their rematch. His last two performances fell short of award-worthy but were nonetheless memorable encounters with Charles Oliveira and Conor McGregor. Chandler has been a shot of adrenaline since signing with UFC in January 2021. He earned bonuses in 75% of his fights, scored an all-time highlight reel KO against Tony Ferguson and was part of CBS Sports’ 2021 Fight of the Year. Add in implications for a title shot or No. 1 contender’s fight and you have a can’t-miss main card fight.

Frankie Edgar vs. Chris Gutierrez

UFC’s answer to Rocky Balboa is expected to make his final walk on Saturday. Celebrating a hero like Edgar is reason enough to give his retirement fight a spot on this list. The former lightweight champion’s legacy is bulletproof. A three-division threat, Edgar won the UFC lightweight title, fought for the featherweight crown and was ranked at bantamweight. His 1-1-1 split with Gray Maynard is among the greatest trilogies in MMA history and he swept the legendary BJ Penn in their three-fight saga. It’s a shame that a dream match against Dominick Cruz did not materialize, but you could really insert anyone as the B-side here. This fight is about sending off an all-time great inside an iconic venue, just a drive away from his New Jersey home. Could things end poorly Edgar? Certainly. The fight game is not particularly kind to its veterans. But Edgar deserves the spotlight no matter the outcome.

Dan Hooker vs. Claudio Puelles

A main card sweep for this collection of fights to watch. You could swap this fight for a swathe of other deserving ones on the card: Reyes’ long-awaited return or McCann’s continued ascension just to highlight a few. But we will settle for the straight-up insanity that Hooker and Puelles should bring. Hooker has certainly been on the downslide following a five-round decision against Poirier in June 2020. It’s worth considering, however, that his four losses on this career-worse skid are to three actively ranked top-five fighters and one reigning UFC champion. Hooker is loads of fun — a fight-finishing fiend with 17 stoppages in 21 career wins. He will have to keep a close eye on Puelles, a submission specialist with a nasty habit of snatching kneebars. UFC 281 is a huge platform for Puelles to elevate himself. He’ll have to work diligently to avoid Hooker’s eight limbs of violence and tear one off Hooker’s body.

Honorable mentions: Dominick Reyes vs. Ryan Spann, Brad Riddell vs. Renato Moicano, Molly McCann vs. Erin Blanchfield and Carlos Ulberg vs. Nicolae Negumereanu

Who wins Adesanya vs. Pereira? And how exactly does each fight end? Visit SportsLine now to get detailed picks on every fight at UFC 281, all from the incomparable expert who’s up more than $13,000 on MMA in the past three years, and find out. 

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