A rivalry from kickboxing has found its way to MMA, and into the main event of one of UFC’s top events of the year. UFC Middleweight Champion Israel Adesanya will look to defend his belt for his sixth time when facing familiar foe Alex Pereira in the main event of Saturday night.
Few can say they have beaten Adesanya, but Pereira can say he has twice. They faced off under kickboxing in recent years, with Pereira earning a knockout victory in one instance and winning on points in the other. Adesanya has the opportunity to avenge those losses this weekend, meeting Pereira in a title fight after the former GLORY Kickboxing Champion quickly climbed up the promotion’s rankings.
Their fight is the main event for UFC 281, which is scheduled to take place at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York, USA. The card also includes a strawweight title fight, the potential retirement bout of Frankie Edgar, and much more.
Here’s a full preview of the evening.
Click here to skip to a preview of the main card.
Early Prelims (6:00PM EST) (ESPN+ / UFC Fight Pass)
Bout 1: Carlos Ulberg (6-1) vs. Nicolae Negumereanu (13-1) (Light Heavyweight)
Light heavyweights Carlos Ulberg and Nicolae Negumereanu will kick off the night.
Ulberg and Negumereanu have seen themselves go through somewhat similar UFC run thus far. They both lost their debut, but have since only won in their appearances that followed.
Negumereanu has quietly strung together four consecutive wins since 2021, appearing on the lower parts of cards and stacking up victories. He has earned two victories this year alone, beating Kennedy Nzechukwu on scorecards and stopping Ihor Potieria.
In Ulberg’s case, he has picked up two wins since joining the UFC roster in 2021. His last fight was a finish win, stopping Tafon Nchukwi in just over a minute with punches.
Ulberg is one of the many names on this card, including headliner Israel Adesanya, who will be representing City Kickboxing.
Bout 2: Julio Arce (18-5) vs. Montel Jackson (11-2) (Bantamweight)
Montel Jackson will return in the next bout against Julio Arce.
Jackson will be appearing for the first time in over a year. He brings with him some momentum from 2021, beating JP Buys and Jesse Strader in his last fights.
Arce returned to the win column in a fight earlier this year, prevailing in a unanimous decision over Daniel Santos.
Bout 3: Mike Trizano (9-3) vs. Choi Seung-woo (10-5) (Featherweight)
Both fighting to get back into the win column, featherweights Mike Trizano and Choi Seung-woo will meet on the prelims.
Trizano, a winner on Season 27 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” is currently on a two-fight losing streak. His losses have come against two respectable names in the division, dropping bouts to Hakeem Dawodu and Lucas Almeida.
Choi is also on a two-fight skid. His last appearance saw Joshua Culibao prevail over him via split decision.
Bout 4: Karolina Kowalkiewicz (13-7) vs. Silvana Gomez Juarez (11-4) (Strawweight)
After snapping a lengthy skid earlier this year, Karolina Kowalkiewicz will face Silvana Gomez Juarez at strawweight.
Kowalkiewicz snapped a five-fight losing streak and earned her first win since 2018 in June, submitting Felice Herrig in the second round with a rear naked choke. The former title challenger will aim to keep her newfound momentum rolling with this fight.
Gomez Juarez earned her first UFC victory in June, putting away Liang Na in the second minute with punches. She had two first-round submission losses via armbar prior to then.
Bout 5: Ottman Azaitar (13-0) vs. Matt Frevola (9-3-1) (Lightweight)
In a fight that was first set to happen nearly two years ago, undefeated Ottman Azaitar will fight Matt Frevola.
Azaitar was first scheduled to face Frevola in January 2021 at UFC 257. This bout was removed from the lineup the week of the fight due to Azaitar breaking COVID-19 protocols that were in place at the time. The lightweight prospect allegedly tried to sneak someone into the quarantined premises and tried to transfer a suspicious bag with him. This controversy removed him from UFC 257 and briefly caused UFC President Dana White to claim that he was off the promotion’s roster. White later reversed this decision.
Azaitar’s record is a flawless 13 wins thus far. He has earned two of those victories in the UFC cage, putting away both Teemu Packalen and Khama Worthy in the first round.
Frevola appeared earlier this year, handing Genaro Valdez his first pro loss with a quick finish. That result ended Frevola’s two-fight losing streak.
Preliminary Card (8:00PM EST) (ESPN+ / TSN 5)
Bout 6: Andre Petroski (8-1) vs. Wellington Turman (18-5) (Middleweight)
Before middleweights headline the card on Saturday, action from the division will take place during the prelims when Andre Petroski and Wellington Turman compete.
Petroski joined the UFC roster last year after being eliminated from Season 29 of “The Ultimate Fighter.” Despite taking a loss on the reality show, Petroski has yet to lose in the UFC through three fights. He became the first person to beat Nick Maximov in his last appearance, submitting him in 76 seconds with an anaconda choke.
Turman is currently on a two-fight winning streak for the first time since he joined the UFC roster in 2019. Those wins have come against somewhat low-level competition in the division, overcoming Sam Alvey and Misha Cirkunov.
Bout 7: Erin Blanchfield (9-1) vs. Molly McCann (13-4) (Flyweight)
Fighting to build off the hype that she has created for herself this year, Molly McCann will take on Erin Blanchfield.
McCann has been one of the more notable names to appear on UFC’s pair of London, England cards this year. She has earned a finish win in both of those fights recently, stopping both Luana Carolina and Hannah Goldy with flashy striking combinations.
On a three-fight winning streak, McCann will now meet a fellow rising name in the division. Blanchfield is currently on a six-fight winning streak, including three UFC wins.
Blanchfield beat JJ Aldrich in June, submitting her with a guillotine choke.
Bout 8: Dominick Reyes (12-3) vs. Ryan Spann (20-7) (Light Heavyweight)
Dominick Reyes will get a chance to end his losing streak this weekend when he fights Ryan Spann.
Reyes has yet to pick up a win since challenging for the UFC 205-pound belt against Jon Jones in early 2020. But the skill level of opponents have only high-level since then, fighting now-former champion Jan Blachowicz and now-current champion Jiri Prochazka. While Reyes has only faced the top of the division in recent years, it is arguably very important that he avoids suffering his fourth consecutive loss.
Spann has bounced between wins and losses in recent years. In his last five appearances, he has won three fights. He has some momentum this weekend, coming off a submission victory against Ion Cutelaba.
Bout 9: Renato Moicano (16-5-1) vs. Brad Riddell (10-3) (Lightweight)
Talented lightweights Renato Moicano and Brad Riddell will close out the prelim portion of the card.
Moicano last appeared in March as a short-notice opponent for Rafael dos Anjos. The result of this move was a one-sided defeat for Moicano, going five rounds and taking a large amount of damage along the way. Before then, he had a pair of submission wins in the UFC.
Riddell suffered a 45-second submission loss in July to Jalin Turner. Before then, contender Rafael Fiziev stopped him in the third round of a fight with strikes. This Saturday offers him a chance to return to his winning ways against a respected name in the promotion.
Main Card (10:00PM EST) (PPV)
Bout 10: Dan Hooker (21-12) vs. Claudio Puelles (12-2) (Lightweight)
Dan Hooker, another City Kickboxing talent, will meet Claudio Puelles in the first main card fight.
Hooker has won just one of his past five pro fights. However, he has faced the top of the division, including former title challengers Dustin Poirier and Michael Chandler, and current champion Islam Makhachev. His last fight was against rising contender Arnold Allen, who stopped him in the first round of a bout in March.
This fight is the biggest opportunity for Puelles thus far. He has earned five wins since 2018, including two via the rare kneebar submission. Veteran Clay Guida succumbed to this hold when he faced Puelles in April.
Bout 11: Frankie Edgar (24-10-1) vs. Chris Gutierrez (18-3-2) (Bantamweight)
Former UFC Lightweight Champion and veteran of the sport Frankie Edgar will make what is expected to be his final pro appearance this Saturday, fighting Chris Gutierrez at bantamweight.
Edgar’s career includes more than a decade-and-a-half of fights, with most of them taking place in the UFC cage. A testament to his experience in the promotion is that he currently holds the record for most combined time in the UFC cage, nearly surpassing eight hours in total.
Edgar is stepping away from the sport after suffering tough results in recent years. He has lost four of his last five and suffered a finish in three of those bouts.
Edgar is not getting an easy opponent for his final outing. Gutierrez has been on the rise since 2019. His current run includes six wins and one draw, with a victory over Danaa Batgerel from this year.
Bout 12: Dustin Poirier (28-7) vs. Michael Chandler (23-7) (Lightweight)
High-ranked lightweights Dustin Poirier and Michael Chandler will duke it out next.
Poirier is appearing for the first time since losing in his second title fight, getting finished by Charles Oliveira in late 2021. Before then he had the momentum of two high-profile finish victories against Conor McGregor.
Chandler, a former Bellator Champion, has been at the top of UFC’s lightweight division since he debuted in early 2021. Like Poirier, he came up short in a title fight against Oliveira last year. Since then he has lost a bout to Justin Gaethje and bounced back with a highlight-reel knockout over Tony Ferguson.
Bout 13: Carla Esparza (19-6) vs. Zhang Weili (22-3) (UFC Strawweight Championship)
Aiming to defend her belt for the first time since her second run as UFC Strawweight Champion, Carla Esparza will face former titleholder Zhang Weili in the co-main event.
Esparza, the first-ever UFC Strawweight Champion, kicked off her second reign in May with a split decision victory over Rose Namajunas. This title opportunity came after a multi-year climb in the division, beating five consecutive names, including Marina Rodriguez and Yan Xiaonan.
Zhang is getting the chance at becoming a two-time champion after a much shorter waiting time. Her initial reign came to an end in April 2021, as Namajunas stopped her with a sudden second-minute head kick. And Zhang lost in a subsequent rematch later that year via split decision.
But Zhang is now back in the title picture after beating Joanna Jedrzejczyk in June, stopping her with a rare spinning backfist knockout.
UFC will have a two-time 115-pound champion by the end of the night. The question is whether it will be incumbent Esparza or the returning Zhang.
Bout 14: Israel Adesanya (23-1) vs. Alex Pereira (6-1) (UFC Middleweight Championship)
UFC Middleweight Champion Israel Adesanya will meet rival Alex Pereira in Saturday’s main event.
Adesanya notably lost to Pereira twice while he was a kickboxer. Pereira first beat him in 2016, then again via knockout in 2017. Adesanya has heavily pursued MMA since then, ascending to the top of the 185-pound division in the sport. He defended his middleweight belt twice this year already, going the distance against Robert Whittaker and Jared Cannonier for decision wins.
Pereira has chased Adesanya down for a third fight, officially leaving kickboxing last year to join the UFC roster. It didn’t take long for him to become one of the top middleweights, scoring three consecutive wins since his promotional debut just a year ago.
Most important was Pereira’s July victory, which saw him end the winning streak of Sean Strickland with a brutal first-round knockout.
Adesanya and Pereira are familiar with each other, but so many things are different this time that they meet. They’re in a different sport. One is heavily regarded as one of the best active MMA fighters, while the other is still something of a new name for viewers who exclusively watch MMA. One fighter will be making his 25th MMA appearance, while the other will be doing just his eighth. Despite these differences, the odds for this fight are somewhat close, and many anticipate the bout. It will soon be seen how these factors play into the third chapter of his combat sports rivalry.