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CPT - Zhang Weili
Weili’s opponent, Carla Esparza, is a strong wrestler and relies on her offensive wrestling. Esparza is landing only about two significant strikes per minute in her UFC fights, a rate nearly three times less than Weili, who is landing roughly six significant strikes per minute. Weili should have a significant edge in striking in this matchup, and Esparza needs to be successful with her offensive grappling to win this fight.
This could be a tough matchup for Esparza due to Weili’s physical strength. Weili is one of the strongest fighters in the women’s division. UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou recently posted a video of Weili snatching a single leg on Ngannou and lifting him off the ground, showcasing her incredible strength relative to her division.
If Esparza cannot consistently take Weili down, Weili will be in a good position to utilize her superior striking and beat Esparza on the feet. Esparza has absorbed more strikes than she has landed, which is a red flag in her striking metrics. Weili’s striking volume gives her good fantasy scoring upside, and she is also a safe play, which is reflected in her -340 moneyline on DraftKings Sportsbook. Since this fight is five rounds, there are also potentially 10 extra minutes to generate fantasy scoring.
Several factors make Dustin Poirier an appealing fantasy play at UFC 281. Poirier is landing about 5.6 significant strikes per minute, which is plus striking volume that will aid in fantasy scoring. Poirier also has pop, which could result in a quick finish against his opponent, Michael Chandler. Chandler has a shaky chin and has been officially knocked down three times in his last three UFC fights. Chandler also got dropped by an aging Tony Ferguson in his most recent fight, although Chandler was able to get back to his feet quickly enough to avoid it being officially classified as a knockdown in the official fight statistics.
Chandler is a skilled opponent, but Poirier has better cardio and has showcased a better chin recently, which could give him the edge in this fight. Poirier could very realistically win this fight by first-round knockout, which would result in over 100 DraftKings fantasy points (DKFP). Poirier has scored over 100 DKFP in 13 of his last 14 wins.
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Adesanya is a tall and lengthy kickboxer who has enjoyed a significant reach and range advantage over most of his opponents at middleweight. Adesanya uses his length to position himself just outside of his opponent’s striking range, which makes it difficult to land a clean shot on Adesanya. Adesanya then punishes his opponents with his superior striking from distance, and his takedown defense and defensive grappling have been good enough to fend off the grapplers he has faced at middleweight.
Adesanya carries more fantasy risk than normal because Alex Pereira presents a significant matchup problem for Adesanya. Pereira can match most of Adesanya’s advantages at middleweight. Pereira is an elite kickboxer who is huge for the division, and his height, reach and striking skill are very similar to Adesanya’s. Adesanya will not be able to position himself outside of Pereira’s striking range to the same degree that he has enjoyed in most of his middleweight fights, and this is dangerous against someone as explosive as Pereira.
However, Adesanya carries a significant advantage in UFC experience and UFC title fight experience. Adesanya has fought in eight five-round title fights in the UFC, something that Pereira has not experienced yet. Pereira only has seven total MMA fights. Title fight experience and five-round MMA fight experience could be the difference maker in this fight between two fighters who are very even in terms of skill.
If Adesanya can keep himself safe early, let Pereira slow down and then take over in the championship rounds, he could position himself to win late in the fight using precision striking.
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