This article is part of our UFC Picks series.
The UFC returns to Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York for its yearly November appearance for a stacked UFC 281. In the main event, the middleweight title is up for grabs as Israel Adesanya takes on Alex Pereira, and the strawweight belt is also on the line in the co-main event as Carla Esparza takes on Zhang Weili.
Below I'll share my favorite play, an underdog, a prop, and a two-fighter parlay. All odds are via the DraftKings Sportsbook and are accurate as of the post date of this article.
Weight Class: Light Heavyweight
Ulberg lost his UFC debut to Kennedy Nzechukwu, and after the loss, he showed some big improvements to not rush anything. It's helped him to pull off two straight wins. As for Negumereanu, he's on a four-fight winning streak since returning in 2021, but two of them are by split decision.
Nicolae Negumereanu is known for his durability as he can take a ton of shots, but he has a striking defense of just 39 percent, which is a massive concern against someone of Ulberg's skill. Ulberg comes from a kickboxing background, and in his UFC tenure, he's landing 8.91 significant strikes per minute while absorbing 3.95. Meanwhile, Negumereanu lands just 3.79 and absorbs 5.69.
This is a good stylistic matchup for Ulberg to piece up Negumereanu and likely win a decision.
UFC 281 Best Bet: Carlos Ulberg (-130)
Weight Class: Bantamweight
Frankie Edgar gets his retirement fight at UFC 281 in New York City and is facing Chris Gutierrez, who is a step down in competition from Marlon Vera and Cory Sandhagen -- Edgar's most recent opponents.
When I talked to Edgar before this fight, he wasn't shying away from disclosing the game plan, which is to wrestle Gutierrez early and often. Gutierrez was controlled by Cody Durden and fought to a draw, and although he does have a takedown defense of 73 percent, Edgar averages 2.3 takedowns per 15 minutes.
The chin is a concern for Edgar, as he has been knocked out in his past two fights. Yet, Gutierrez doesn't have as much power as Sandhagen or Vera, so I expect Edgar to use a similar game plan to Durden and control him for at least two rounds and get a win. I do think Gutierrez should be favored, but it shouldn't be this high, which is why I like Edgar.
UFC 281 Best Bet: Frankie Edgar (+185)
Weight Class: Strawweight
In the co-main event, Carla Esparza is looking to defend her strawweight title for the first time against Zhang Weili. Esparza is a very good wrestler, and while I do think she will be able to have success early, I expect Weili to eventually finish her.
Weili throws a ton of volume and has a ton of power, and we have seen Esparza get TKO'd before, which happened when she tried to defend her belt for the first time in 2015 against Joanna Jedrzejczyk.
Weili's 60 percent takedown defense is a concern, but on the feet, she has a ton of power. Given that we've seen both Jedrzjeczyk and Tatiana Suarez overwhelm Esparza and earn TKOs, Weili should also be able to do the same. To get plus-money on Weili inside the distance is a great spot.
UFC 281 Best Bet: Zhang Weili ITD (+100)
Weight Class: Middleweight & Women's Flyweight
Petroski is taking on Turman, who I have faded multiple times in his UFC career, as I don't see anything special with him. The Brazilian has a questionable chin, and his grappling is his best attribute, but Petroski might just be a better wrestler and grappler. If that holds true, he can keep it standing and piece up the Brazilian.
The Philly native lands 4.07 significant strikes per minute, while Turman only lands 2.96 and absorbs 4.04, so I expect Petroski to dominate this fight and help the first leg cash.
Right after Petroski is Blanchfield, who gets a very favorable fight in Molly McCann. There's no doubting "Meatball" is on a nice winning streak, but she hasn't fought anyone of Blanchfield's caliber. The American is a dominant wrestler and grappler, which is a style McCann has struggled badly against. She was dominated by Taila Santos and submitted by Gillian Robertson.
Blanchfield averages 3.99 takedowns per 15 minutes while McCann has a takedown defense of 46 percent, which is the difference here. I expect Blanchfield to just maul the Brit and likely get a finish to cash the parlay.
UFC 281 Best Bets:
Here is a recap of my best UFC picks for this weekend's UFC 281 event:
- Carlos Ulberg (-130)
- Frankie Edgar (+185)
- Zhang Weili ITD (+100)
- Andre Petroski-Erin Blanchfield parlay (-111)
For up-to-date information on the latest odds and props from multiple sportsbooks, check out the UFC odds page on RotoWire.