The UFC returns to the ‘Mecca’ of sports, Madison Square Garden in New York City for UFC 281 on Saturday, November 12. The headline fight on the card will be for the UFC middleweight championship when Israel Adesanya defends against longtime foe Alex Pereira. The co-feature is for the women’s strawweight title as champion Carla Esparza will be a big underdog against former champion Zhang Weili.
The main card will start at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV. Esparza-Weili is the fourth match on the card and will start around 11:30 p.m. ET.
Weili (22-3) faced Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 275 in a rematch of their 2020 Fight of the Year. Jedrzejczyk hadn’t fought since that battle 27 months prior and Zhang was coming off of back-to-back losses to Rose Namajunas. She is a massive -330 favorite at DraftKings Sportsbook to regain the title.
It was clear from the outset that Jedrzejczyk was affected by the ring rust. Her movements weren’t as sharp as normal and Zhang was easily beating her to the punch. Jedrzejczyk warmed up quickly and dropped Zhang with back leg kick. Zhang answered back with a nasty kick to the ribs and a big right that put Jedrzejczyk down. She kept Jedrzejczyk on the defensive and pinned against the cage. Another takedown from Zhang led to some ground and pound.
The strength advantage for Zhang was clear as the fight went to the ground. Zhang was throw Jedrzejczyk around and hit her with massive elbows from the top position. The back got back to the feet and Jedrzejczyk loaded up and connected on huge right hands to end the first round.
In the second round Zhang went back to the kicks to the midsection. The body kicks were sitting up head strikes for Zhang and slowing down Jedrzejczyk. Zhang forced Jedrzejczyk back into the cage but Jedrzejczyk began swinging widly to fight out of it. Jedrzejczyk continued to move forward with aggression and Zhang hit her with a spinning back elbow that knocked Jedrzejczyk out cold.