MMA

UFC 281: Weili Zhang vs Carla Esparza Picks, Predictions, Odds

Carla Esparza vs Weili Zhang
November 12, 2022 11:25 pm EDT
The Line: Weili Zhang -325 / Carla Esparza +275
(Click here for latest betting odds)

Carla Esparza and Weili Zhang fight Saturday in UFC 281 at the Madison Square Garden. Esparza enters this fight with a 19-6 record and has won 58 percent of her fights by decision. Zhang enters this fight with a 22-3 record and has won 50 percent of her fights by knockout.

Esparza has won each of her last 6 fights and is coming off a May win over Rose Namajunas. Esparza is averaging 2.20 significant strikes per minute, with an accuracy percentage of 40 percent. Esparza is averaging 3.25 takedowns with an accuracy percentage of 35 percent. Esparza is coming off a decision win at UFC 274 where she landed 30 total strikes and produced 2 takedowns. Esparza won the UFC Women’s Strawweight Championship in the victory and has now seen 5 of her last 6 fights go the distance. Esparza is enjoying her best stretch of her career and now looks for 7 straight wins for the first time. Esparza has a background in wrestling and is a brown belt in BJJ, so she’s often looking for the takedown where she can unleash effective ground and pound on the canvas or throw elbows and knees in the clinch. Esparza lands a good portion of her significant strikes on the ground, where she’s most comfortable. When Esparza is able to get her hands on her opponent, she likes her chances to control the fight, and she’s produced 4 submissions. Esparza’s work rate can come and go, but she’s still managed to win 11 of her 14 career decisions, so she controls the fight well. This will be Esparza’s first career fight in New York.

Zhang has won 11 of her last 13 fights, and she’s coming off a June win over Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Zhang is averaging 5.78 significant strikes per minute, with an accuracy percentage of 47 percent. Zhang is averaging 2.09 takedowns with an accuracy percentage of 34 percent. Zhang is coming off a knockout win at UFC 275 where she landed 94 total strikes and produced 3 takedowns. The bout earned performance of the night honors, and Zhang has now produced 11 career knockouts. Zhang has a complete fighting style, as she has a background in kickboxing and is a purple belt in BJJ. Zhang’s constant pressure, aggressive approach in her stand-up is where she unleashes combinations and a relentless gas tank. Zhang has a killer instinct that you don’t see all the time on the woman’s side, and 18 of her 22 victories have been finishes. This will be Zhang’s second career fight in New York.

Esparza has a chance here if she can get this fight in the clinch or on the ground, slowing down Zhang and taking her out of her comfort zone a bit. The difference here however is Zhang’s work rate against a more disciplined, a slower worker in Esparza. Zhang only knows one way, and that’s to push the pace, and it’s sure going to make Esparza uncomfortable. I’m not sure Esparza is going to be able to keep up with the relentless attack of her opponent.

I like Zhang, and I’m going to side with her in a finish to shave down the price.

Randy Chambers's Free Pick:
Weili Zhang By Finish
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