UFC 281 fight card: Michael Chandler vs. Dustin Poirier, Frankie Edgar’s retirement among fights to watch

There’s a lot to dig into UFC 281 Saturday. An intriguing grudge match between UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya and Alex Pereira will rekindle their glory days on the kickboxing circuit. Adesanya isn’t the only champion to put his belt on the line.

The women’s strawweight crown is also on the line 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 from Rose Namajunas. Zhang rebounded from her title loss to Namajunas with a thunderous knockout of Joanna Jedrzejczyk.

The UFC presents a loaded card at Madison Square Garden in New York. 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’s another well-curated fight card for the regular excursion of the promotion in the Big Apple.

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Let’s take a look at three fights, plus some honorable mentions, that deserve your attention at UFC 281.

Dustin Poirier vs. Michael Chandler

Poirier and Chandler are favorites for a Fight of the Night or Performance of the Night on any map they hold. Put the two together and you have surefire fireworks. Poirier chained eight consecutive performance bonuses between 2017 and 2021, excluding a no contest against Eddie Alvarez which was sorted in their rematch. His last two performances were non-award winning but nonetheless were memorable encounters with Charles Oliveira and Conor McGregor. Chandler has had an adrenaline rush since signing with the UFC in January 2021. He has earned bonuses in 75% of his fights, scored a greatest moment of all time KO against Tony Ferguson and was part of CBS Sports’ 2021 Fight of the Year. Add implications for a title shot or the No. 1 contender fight and you have a main card fight not to be missed.

Frankie Edgar vs. Chris Gutierrez

The UFC’s answer to Rocky Balboa is set to make its final march on Saturday. Celebrating a hero like Edgar is reason enough to give his retirement fight a spot on this list. The legacy of the former lightweight champion 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 didn’t materialize, but you really could insert anyone as a B-side here. This fight is about sending an all-time great to an iconic location just a short drive from his New Jersey home. Could things end badly Edgar? Certainly. The fighting game isn’t particularly kind to its veterans. But Edgar deserves the spotlight, no matter the outcome.

Dan Hooker vs. Claudio Puelles

A main map swipe for this collection of fights to watch. You can trade this fight for a series of other deserving fights on the card: the long-awaited return of Reyes or the continued rise of McCann to highlight a few. But we’ll settle for the straightforward madness that Hooker and Puelles should bring. Hooker has certainly been on the downslope after a five-round decision over Poirier in June 2020. It’s worth noting, however, that his four losses on this career-worst skid are against three top-five ranked fighters and a defending champion from the UFC. Hooker is great fun – a demon who finishes the fight with 17 saves in 21 career wins. He will have to keep a close eye on Puelles, a submission specialist who has a bad habit of tearing off knee pads. UFC 281 is a huge platform for Puelles to elevate. He will have to work diligently to avoid all eight members of Hooker’s violence and rip one out of Hooker’s body.

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

Who wins Adesanya against Pereira? And how exactly does each fight end? Visit SportsLine now for detailed picks on every fight at UFC 281, all from the unrivaled expert who has earned over $13,000 on MMA over the past three years, and find out.

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