UFC 281 is upon us. The cardboard, set for New York’s well-known Madison Sq. Backyard, will host two title fights. The principle occasion has the middleweight title on the road, however the co-main sees a conflict between UFC strawweight champion Carla Esparza and her challenger Zhang Weili.
Esparza was the UFC’s first ever strawweight champion, successful that title on the finish of her run on The Final Fighter season 20 (defeating Rose Namajunas within the finale) in 2014. Esparza rapidly misplaced the title, although, and struggled to search out her footing within the firm for the subsequent few years. In 2019 she discovered persistently and put collectively a six battle win streak that culminated in a cut up choice win over Namajunas, in Could, to win again the title.
Now she faces, Zhang — who received the constructed with an explosive TKO over Jessica Andrade in 2019. She heaps the title to Namajunas in 2021 after which misplaced a rematch, additionally in 2021. She clawed her approach again to the primary contender spot with a KO win over Joanna Jedrzejczyk in June.
So who will win on this recent match-up atop the 115 lb division? See what the BE staffers thought beneath (Spoiler alert, we’re placing the BE curse on ‘Magnum’ this weekend).
Carla Esparza vs. Zhang Weili
Anton Tabuena: I already thought this was a fairly tough match up for Esparza from the very begin, however after getting a glimpse of how Weili trains day in and day trip for a couple of month, it simply made me much more assured on this choose. I’m certain you’ve seen these explosive and scary coaching movies, but it surely’s far more intense in particular person and so they don’t even publish essentially the most gruelling components of her classes on social media. I can confidently say that Weili even exterior battle camps, persistently trains tougher than so many UFC fighters who’re in camp. Mix that insane work ethic along with her athleticism, lack of ego and willingness to be taught from anybody, and it kinda explains why she’s been continually bettering. Bangtao arguably has one of the best MMA wrestling program in Asia with the Hickman brothers (they assist Volkanovski and Adesanya there too), and Weili additionally introduced in BJJ world champ Josh Hinger to arrange for grappling exchanges with Esparza. I believe Weili is nice sufficient to defend takedowns and any floor exchanges, and I believe she simply brutalizes Esparza on the ft. Athleticism, physicality and hanging expertise are simply so huge, and I believe Zhang will probably be a two-time UFC champ after this. Zhang Weili by TKO.
Tim Bissell: We’ve seen Esparza wilt below strain earlier than and I really feel like Zhang goes to pour it on her in a approach that can remind the present champ of her first ever title defence. The metric additionally has Zhang, as a result of Esparza had numerous disappointing performances earlier than hitting her current purple patch. Esparza has thrived with an more and more danger averse stratagem, however I don’t know if she will be able to pull that off towards somebody who lands 5.78 vital strikes per minute with 47% accuracy. Zhang is keen to take some to land some, however we’ve not seen Esparza land on the charge, accuracy or energy up to now that will bother the previous champ. I believe Zhang will take a spherical or two to get snug with Esparza and concede these rounds because of ‘Cookie Monsters’ wrestling, however come the championship rounds I believe she’s going to discover her mark after which win again the belt. Zhang Weili by TKO.
Zane Simon: I received’t be stunned if Zhang throws away at the least one spherical of her battle towards Esparza early. Her insistance on mixing in wrestling to her hanging assault, and willingness to fill empty house with aggression might simply get her taken down, or out scrambled, or backpacked for a spherical. And if Esparza does very well with that point, like she did towards Yan Xiaonan, then who is aware of the place this bout might go? However at the same time as we noticed towards Namajunas the second time, measurement and energy are all the time a difficulty for Esparza, and most fighters who can stick along with her in grappling exchanges can come out on prime in the long term. As a result of she’s so small for the division, her wrestling heavy recreation has additionally tended to tire Esparza out each bit as a lot because it does her opponents. Over 5 rounds, and given the form of conditioning we all know Zhang to be in, it simply looks as if the late rounds might get actually brutal for the champ. Zhang Weili by way of TKO, spherical 4.
Employees selecting Esparza:
Employees selecting Zhang: Bissell, Kristen, Chris, Dayne, Zane, Anton, Lewis