UFC 281 staff picks and predictions: Will the Diamond shine bright in MSG?

UFC 281 is almost here, with a PPV main card that is stacked with what should be thrilling fights. The main event is a…

By: Tim Bissell | 11 months ago
UFC 281 staff picks and predictions: Will the Diamond shine bright in MSG?
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

UFC 281 is almost here, with a PPV main card that is stacked with what should be thrilling fights. The main event is a salivating trilogy fight (of sorts) between UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya and challenger Alex Pereira. The co-main sees UFC strawweight champion Carla Esparza defend against former champ Zhang Weili.

Before those title fights though there’s Dustin Poirier vs. Michael Chandler in the all-violence division. This one should be good, real good. Also on the main card is the retirement fight of Frankie Edgar, who takes on Chris Gutierrez, and an intriguing match-up between Dan Hooker and Claudio Puelles. The prelims also has some interesting match-ups with Molly McCann facing Erin Blanchfield and Dominick Reyes dancing with Ryan Spann.

To see what the BE staffers think will happen, check out our picks below. We’re just going up to the Poirier vs. Chandler fight here. The two title fights will be getting their own dedicated posts (dropping shortly after this one).

*Reminder: I’m making my picks based solely on fighter’s past winning percentages as an experiment to see how effective that nugget of data is at predicting fight outcomes. More on that here. You can see the data here. This method of picking fights is currently 56-38. Once 1,000 fights have been logged like this, we’ll take a look at what it all might mean.

Dustin Poirier vs. Michael Chandler

Anton Tabuena: They’re both tough and they will trade shots, but Poirier should be the sharper, more technical striker here. I’m guessing this looks similar to the Alvarez rematch, with Poirier coming up on top after a couple of rounds. Dustin Poirier by TKO.

Tim Bissell: The metric selects Poirier here because Chandler has been so up and down in his short UFC tenure thus far. The former Bellator champ is 2-2. He looked great against Tony Ferguson (as most have lately) and Dan Hooker (who has struggled since graduating from the Al Iaquinta level of competition). Poirier is not those guys, though. It feels pretty obvious these two are going to throw down and both have the power to put the other to sleep. But I think Poirier is craftier in both offense and defense and that can be enough to have him win either a single pivotal exchange or a series of them throughout the fight. Dustin Poirier via TKO.

Zane Simon: The thing about this fight is, that the most likelly version of it seems to be one where both Poirier and Chandler get exactly the fight they want. For as dangerous and regularly aggressive a fighter as Poirier is, he’s always at his very best off his back foot, slipping away from danger and countering in combination. When Poirier presses forward is usually the point where he’s most likely to get caught by something big and forced to retreat. On the flip side, for as great an aggressive powerhouse as Chandler is, fighters that can force him to go backward will usually find him largely out of position. It’s just that pushing back a fighter as physical as he is, is a big challenge and comes with a lot of danger. Assuming Chandler gets to come forward, he’ll still find an intensely durable and patient Poirier in front of him, ready to counter. If Poirier can withstand Gaethje’s pressure, he can likely do the same here. Won’t be surprised if Chandler has a couple big moments early, but the longer the fight goes, the less likely it seems like he’ll be in control. Dustin Poirier via TKO, round 2.

Staff picking Poirier: Bissell, Kristen, Dayne, Anton, Zane, Stephie
Staff picking Chandler: Chris, Lewis

Frankie Edgar vs. Chris Gutierrez

Anton Tabuena: Why is this even the final match up for Edgar? I hate how UFC always has the need to use stars on their way out to build someone up, when they can simply just book retirement fights to be fun match ups against fellow veterans. Gutierrez isn’t an elite contender, but he’s unbeaten in his last seven fights, while Edgar has badly lost four of his last five bouts. I don’t think he snaps either streak at 41. Chris Gutierrez by sad TKO.

Tim Bissell: I’d pick against any fighter who is performing in a self-announced ‘retirement fight’. I firmly believe the time to declare you’re walking away is after a fight, not before. I suppose you could say that Edgar might go out there and lay it all on the line and fight like it’s his last night on earth (which is terrible, by the way, please no one ever do that — your family needs you for as long as you can give them) and that this could surprised or even surpass the opponent. But I just don’t see that outweighing the doubt someone must have in their ability to perform at this level if they know they are ready to stop. I think this will be a sad fight. I hope it’s merciful, too. Chris Gutierrez by submission.

Zane Simon: As is so often the case late in the career of an MMA legend, there’s a not too distant time where Edgar would have been a beyond easy pick to beat Chris Gutierrez. Gutierrez’s slow starts and lack of significant punching power should give Edgar easy access to his legs off kicks to hit that signature knee-tap takedown. Hell, I still expect him to start this fight well. He got Marlon Vera down with relative ease early in their bout last time out. It’s just, sustaining that success seems less and less possible. Edgar doesn’t really have the speed anymore to mix up his entries and get in on good shots as fights drag on. Add in that while Gutierrez isn’t a great powerhouse he is a fantastic low kicker with very good footwork and the ability to build combinations off his success and it’s just too hard for me to pick Edgar to pick his way to a decision. Chris Gutierrez by decision.

Staff picking Edgar: Chris, Dayne
Staff picking Gutierrez: Bissell, Kristen, Anton, Zane, Stephie

Dan Hooker vs. Claudio Puelles

Anton Tabuena: Hooker badly needs a win, and I think this is an appropriate match up after the murderer’s row he’s faced lately. (Seriously, Hooker had a tougher schedule than Makhachev and almost everyone else the last four years: Miller, Burns, Barboza, Vick, Iaquinta, Felder, Poirier, Chandler, Haqparast, Makhachev, Allen) Puelles has won five straight, but this is still a step up in competition for him. He’s taken a lot of damage lately, but I guess I’m still going with Dan Hooker by Decision.

Tim Bissell: As I said earlier, Hooker has struggled when given a step up in competition. The elites of the division have done pretty much whatever they wanted against him. The question here is whether ‘The Prince of Peru’ is on his way to being elite or if he is just another guy. He’s looked pretty good, so far, albeit against so-so competition (the record against them gets him the pick from the metric). If Puelles does win this it will be thanks to his smart grappling, which may or may not lead to his signature kneebar. Hooker, fighting out of desperation, may get a little sloppy in there and let that leg get stuck where it shouldn’t for too long. Claudio Puelles by submission.

Zane Simon: The thing about a highly polished leg lock game is that on the right night it can beat pretty much anyone at any level. The other thing about a leg lock game is, no matter how well polished it is, it often stops working at the higher levels of the sport, once opponents key in on it. Given that Puelles isn’t a deep striker or great wrestler, his game feels especially prone to getting shut down against better fighters. For as much a mess as Hooker’s career has seemed lately, I have to think he’ll be prepared for this. With his length and frame, he may not even have to defend leg locks, if he can just keep Puelles at the edge of range behind jabs and hard counters. Dan Hooker via TKO, Round 3.

Staff picking Hooker: Kristen, Chris, Dayne, Anton, Zane
Staff picking Puelles: Bissell, Stephie

Brad Riddell vs. Renato Moicano

Anton Tabuena: Riddell should be the more technical striker between the two. I just wonder if the edge in grappling and power plays more of a factor. This could probably go either way, but I’m going with Brad Riddell by decision.

Zane Simon: In just about every Moicano fight of the past few years he’s had a moment where he starts getting hit really hard, and he has to decide just how much he wants to get back in the fight and win it. To his credit, against opponents like Alex Hernandez and Jai Herbert, he’s been able to rally. But other big punchers have been able to storm his castle and take him out of the fight. Riddell has his limitations and it wouldn’t be a fight for him if he didn’t get caught by something clean himself early. Still, if I have to pick who is more apt to fight through adversity to make something happen, that’s Riddell’s whole game. Brad Riddell via KO, round 3.

Staff picking Riddell: Bissell, Anton, Zane
Staff picking Moicano: Kristen, Chris, Dayne, Stephie

Dominick Reyes vs. Ryan Spann

Zane Simon: The fighters that have (truly) beat Reyes were able to bring something to their bout that he didn’t have clear answers for. Jiri Prochazka poured on an unfathomable pace and pressure and shot selection to overwhelm the former title challenger. Jan Blachowicz had his excellent kick defense and counter-punching ability to stymie Reyes’ own range attacks. Spann is big, and athletic, and he can do a bit of everything, but most of what he does in his bouts is throw himself into the fray and see what shakes out. In that kind of fight, I just feel like Reyes is too calm and collected and hard to regularly out-box or out-grapple. Ion Cutelaba was mostly handling Spann before running himself headlong into a sub. If Reyes fights a calm and controlled bout, ‘Superman’ should give him a lot to work with. Dominick Reyes by decision.

Staff picking Reyes: Kristen, Chris, Dayne, Anton , Zane
Staff picking Spann: Bissell, Stephie

Erin Blanchfield vs. Molly McCann

Anton Tabuena: I kinda don’t get/believe the McCann hype. Erin Blanchfield by decision.

Tim Bissell: I know ‘Meatball’ is having a moment right now, but a lot of that has come about because two of the last three opponents she fought gave her exactly the fight she wanted. Blacnhfield isn’t going to do that. She’s going to take McCann down, get her in trouble in the ground and either smother her for a few rounds or get a submission. Erin Blanchfield by submission.

Zane Simon: McCann’s recent opponents have been exceptionally well suited for her desire to stay on the front foot and brawl. But that’s not really the best part of her game. If McCann could stay on her bike this fight, work her jab, and sit down on heavy counters, she’d have a serious chance to catch Blanchfield rushing in with her head on line over and over. When McCann is forcing the action on her frotn foot, she often gets over extended, and finds herself open to counters and takedowns. Blanchfield’s striking isn’t clean but she’s tough and she stays in the pocket to land hard. She marries that to a pretty strong clinch takedown game and a strong opportunistic sub game. Sooner or later I expect that will pay dividends. Erin Blanchfield by submission, round 2.

Staff picking Blanchfield: Bissell, Kristen, Dayne, Anton, Zane, Stephie
Staff picking McMann: Chris

Andre Petroski vs. Wellington Turman

Zane Simon: Here’s the thing, Wellington Turman has never been submitted. Andrei Petroski has. Petroski also gets super super tired, even if he still tends to fight hard while gassed, things get pretty sloppy after round 1 of his bouts. I expect round 1 will be Petroski completely hulking Turman around the cage. And hell, maybe it’ll be Turman’s first sub loss. But I’ll bank on Turman surviving, and gutting out a hard win over the remaining two rounds. Wellington Turman by decision.

Staff picking Petroski: Bissell, Kristen, Dayne, Stephie
Staff picking Turman: Chris, Zane

Matt Frevola vs. Ottman Azaitar

Zane Simon: A guy who only tends to KO people in the first minute against a guy who has been KO’d twice in the first minute? If this fight goes over a round, it feels nearly certain that Frevola will win it. Still, I’ll take the under. Ottman Azaitar by KO, round 1.

Tim Bissell: I think, thanks to his crisp striking, Azaitar will be able to chip away at Frevola, so long as he can avoid being mashed against the fence in the clinch exchanges. If all goes to plan for Azaitar I see this going a bit like Stipe Miocic’s win over Phil DeFries, a quick first round KO. I do think there is a chance Frevola can wedge himself into the fight if he can outlast Azaitar’s early pressure, but that’s easier said than done. Ottman Azaitar by potato power.

Staff picking Frevola: Kristen, Dayne
Staff picking Azaitar: Bissell, Chris, Anton, Zane, Stephie

Karolina Kowalkiewicz vs. Silvana Gomez Juarez

Zane Simon: Given the opportunity, Silvana Gomez Juarez hits really hard for a strawweight. And Kowalkiewicz will give her that opportunity. Even with a win last time out, it’s still clear that victory for the former title contender comes from walking through punches to get to the clinch. But, even with Kowalkiewicz’s obvious hangups over getting KO’d in the past, she has only been knocked out that one time. Beyond that she’s the better clinch fighter and much better grappler here, that will probably be enough. Karolina Kowalkiewicz via submission, round 2.

Staff picking Kowalkiewicz: Bissell, Chris Rini, Dayne, Anton, Zane, Stephie
Staff picking Gomez Juarez: Kristen

Mike Trizano vs. Choi Seung-woo

Zane Simon: Trizano is becoming a more technical striker over time, but he’s struggling hard to become a higher paced striker. And it’s really pace and pressure that causes problems with Choi. If this is going to be a turn-taking battle out at distance, Choi seems like the guy that hits harder and does more damage. Choi Seung-woo via TKO, round 1.

Staff picking Trizano: Bissell, Kristen, Chris
Staff picking Choi: Dayne, Anton, Zane, Stephie

Julio Arce vs. Montel Jackson

Zane Simon: I’ve probably missed something here, but I’m not sure what the clear advantage here for Montel Jackson is. He’s big and he’s a decent wrestler, but he’s never been the best scrambler out there and while he can crack standing, he often has trouble maintaining aggression. Fighters that can hang with him find surprising opportunities against him as fights go on. Arce may not be the most thrilling fighter out there, but opponents who beat him tend to be technical, big punching kickboxers who can hang with him for extended exchanges. If Arce has time and space to operate, he’s got a fantastically patient out-fighting game and marries that to some decent wrestling and grappling that rarely sees him out-positioned on the mats. Trouncing Buys and Strader is good and all, but neither man really compares here. Expect Jackson will have a couple big moments, but think Arce’s volume and consistency will win out. Julio Arce by decision.

Staff picking Arce: Zane, Stephie
Staff picking Jackson: Bissell, Kristen, Chris, Dayne, Anton

Carlos Ulberg vs. Nicolae Negumereanu

Zane Simon: If Ulberg hangs back like he did against Fabio Cherant, Negumereanu will likely pressure and clinch him and force a higher paced fight out of him. If Ulberg goes wild like he did against Nzechukwu and Nchukwi, Negumereanu seems to be the toughest, most durable man in the UFC right at this moment, and we’ve seen how bad Ulberg can gas. Either way, if Ulberg doesn’t get the KO, I have trouble seeing him win this. Nicolae Negumereanu via TKO, round 3.

Staff picking Ulberg: Kristen, Anton
Staff picking Negumereanu: Bissell, Chris, Dayne, Zane, Stephie

Shame on us for not picking Neil Magny! Though, Zane almost did. Anyways, we cursed Daniel Rodriguez to lose by submission. Steph had the best record last week going 8-3, behind her was Kristen, Dayne and myself who went 7-4. Zane went 6-5 but that was enough to keep his place atop the leader board (Dayne is gaining, though!).

Leader board (as of Sept 3):

1. Zane 64-30 .681

2. Dayne 61-30 .670

3. Kristen 54-29 .651

4. Anton 30-18 .625

5. Stephie 58-36 .617

6. Victor 18-12 .600

7. Bissell 56-38 .597

8. Lewis 3-3 .500


Who wins?

This poll is closed

  • 73%

    Dustin Poirier

    (361 votes)

  • 26%

    Michael Chandler

    (127 votes)

488 votes total

Vote Now

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About the author
Tim Bissell
Tim Bissell

Tim Bissell is a writer, editor and deputy site manager for Bloody Elbow. He has covered combat sports since 2015. Tim covers news and events and has also written longform and investigative pieces. Among Tim's specialties are the intersections between crime and combat sports. Tim has also covered head trauma, concussions and CTE in great detail.

Tim is also BE's lead (only) sumo reporter. He blogs about that sport here and on his own substack, Sumo Stomp!

Email me at tim@bloodyelbow.com. Nice messages will get a response.

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