The UFC returns to the ‘Mecca’ of sports, Madison Square Garden in New York City for UFC 281 on Saturday, November 12. The headline fight on the card will be for the UFC middleweight championship when Israel Adesanya defends against longtime foe Alex Pereira. The co-feature is for the women’s strawweight title as champion Carla Esparza will be a big underdog against former champion Zhang Weili.
The main card will start at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV. Esparza-Weili is the fourth match on the card and will start around 11:30 p.m. ET.
Esparza (19-6), a champion for the second time, is walking into this title fight as a massive +275 underdog on DraftKings Sportsbook. Why? Well, she isn’t strong at standup in a division full of good standup fighters and she is an excellent wrestler that is going to be at a major strength disadvantage against Weili. But more than anything the fight that she won the title, against Rose Namajunas at UFC 274, was an absolute stinker.
“The Cookie Monster” had a previous win against Namajunas, but this time around “Thug Rose” was the top woman in strawweight. The plan was for Namajunas to stay outside of takedown range and catch Esparza with counters. What happened was two women circled the octagon for five rounds with very little contact. There were several opportunities for Namajunas to increase her output and be successful, but she didn’t do it.
Esparza didn’t do much, but the little she did landed and it was enough to win a disputed split decision in a shower of boos from the crowd in Phoenix, Arizona. The fight felt more like a draw because neither woman did anything to win.