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Esparza vs Zhang UFC 281 preview & best bets – November 12, 2022

UFC betting tips

Carla Esparza vs Zhang Weili

Latest Odds & Fight Info

Main Event odds Esparza +290 at Bovada | Zhang -384.62 at Bovada
When Saturday, November 12 – main card from 10pm EST
Where Madison Square Garden – New York, United States
Watch Live ESPN+ PPV (US), BT Sport (UK), Main Event (AU)

Saturday’s UFC 281 co-main event from Madison Square Garden pits women’s strawweight champ Carla Esparza against Zhang Weili, a former champion on a comeback.

Carla Esparza (20-6-0) is one of the original women’s strawweights and a future UFC Hall of Fame contender. The division was added by the UFC in 2014 and Esparza duly won the inaugural belt with a submission win over future champ Rose Namajunas. Prior her arrival to the top of the sport, Esparza found success in the Invicta promotion, which was acquired by the UFC as part of its push into women’s sport.

Esparza’s reign at the top of the new division was short-lived and she immediately lost her title to Polish powerhouse Joanna Jedrzejczyk in 2015. The California fighter then spent almost eight years in the championship wilderness, fighting on 11 occasions for eight wins and three losses, before reclaiming her belt in May 2022 when beating Namajunas for a second time.

The second fight against ‘Thug Rose’ is universally considered one of the worst MMA bouts ever staged. Neither fighter was willing to engage, successful striking was almost non-existent, and the judges awarded the belt to Esparza via split decision. Such a fight is almost impossible to score, so ringside adjudicators might as well have flipped a coin at the conclusion of five rounds of bizarre inactivity.

At her best, Esparza is a tough and gritty fighter who stands at a tiny 5’1″ and utilises her low centre of gravity by taking opponents to the mat. She is not particularly athletic but has a strong wrestling base and powerful ground game. Her most likely path to victory in this bout looks to rely on her ability to avoid the heavy standing strikes of Zhang and hold the challenger down for long and tiring periods. If Esparza’s takedown attempts fail to land, it is hard to imagine how she might find the victory.

READ: Adesanya vs Pereira preview & best bets – UFC 281 main event

Zhang Weili (22-3-0) is a Chinese combatant blessed with enormous power who formerly held the women’s strawweight title. She won the belt with a dominant win over Jessica Andrade in August 2019, before losing it to Namajunas via a head-kick KO. In a recent social media post Zhang casually hoisted men’s UFC heavyweight champ Francis Ngannou up over her head, much to the surprise of the huge man. Ngannou fights at around 265 pounds and must weigh over 300 pounds between fight camps, while Zhang probably tipped the scales at 120 pounds as she tapers toward her official UFC 281 weigh-in.

Zhang famously fought in one of the most torrid MMA battles ever staged when she went five brutal rounds with Joanna Jedrzejczyk in a slugfest that was crowned Fight of the Year for 2020. Zhang is primarily a stand-up fighter, but her physical strength also lends itself to a solid ground game, both offensively and defensively. In contrast to Esparza, Zhang is a naturally gifted athlete who played numerous sports before settling on martial arts at the age of 12. She stands 5’4″, so will have a nice height advantage here.

Zhang’s only UFC losses have both come at the hands of Namajunas, who was able to pick her shorter opponent apart from long range. The diminutive Esparza will not have no hope of repeating that proven strategy. Most betting sites have Zhang priced very short for this bout, and it is hard to disagree with that assessment.

Zhang appears to have Esparza covered in all aspects of the game. In fact, we are happy to declare her a near-certainty to win this bout. Zhang is younger, hungrier, tougher, and more physically gifted. Her power should be enough to finish Esparza and win via stoppage. Strange things are known to happen in contests that appear certain, but if you are looking for an anchor for other UFC 281 bets, we suggest including Zhang to get the win and reclaim the strawweight title.

If she does salute, Zhang will be looking to rematch her nemesis Namajunas and hold the strawweight belt for a decent stretch. UFC management are keen to expand into the Chinese market, and Zhang is the perfect vehicle for those ambitions.

Zhang is the confident tip at -384.62 with Bovada. If those odds are too short for your liking, bet under 4.5 rounds in the total rounds market at -111.11.

Zhang Weili to win


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