UFC 281 Esparza vs Zhang Picks and Predictions: Cookie Monster Falls Short in Championship Bout

Carla Esparza and Zhang Weili are doing battle in one of two championship bouts on the UFC 281 betting card. While Esparza may be able to take it the distance, our UFC 281 betting picks expect Magnum to come away victorious.

Last Updated: Nov 12, 2022 8:12 PM ET Read Time: 4 min

Carla Esparza vs. Zhang Weili is one of two championship bouts on the main card of UFC 281 betting on November 12. 

Esparza will be defending her strawweight title after a controversial win earlier this year while Zhang will try to reclaim the belt she formerly held.

UFC odds for this bout have seen massive movement with the challenger Zhang opening as a -150 favorite and shifting all the way to -400 with Esparza now at +300.

Here are my best free Esparza vs Zhang picks and predictions for Saturday, November 12 from Madison Square Garden in New York.

Esparza vs Zhang fight odds

Esparza vs Zhang method of victory odds

Method of Victory Carla Esparza Zhang Weili
To win by KO/TKO +1,500 +125
To win by Points +500 +195
To win by Submission +1,500 +1,100
Draw +5,000 +5,000

Odds courtesy of FanDuel Sportsbook on November 9, 2022.

Esparza vs Zhang picks

Click on each prediction to jump to the full analysis.

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Esparza vs Zhang betting preview

Carla "The Cookie Monster" Esparza is on a six-fight winning streak and is coming off a victory against Rosa Namajunas where she reclaimed the Women's strawweight championship after winning the inaugural title all the way back in 2014.

However, that bout against Namajunas was a terrible fight that saw both fighters land a total of just 67 strikes over 25 minutes and drew jeers from the crowd. Esparza looked much better in her previous fight against Yan Xiaonan last year when had more than seven minutes of control time and finished Yan by ground and pound in the second round.  

With a background as an NAIA All-American wrestler and a brown belt in BJJ, the 35-year-old prefers to take things to the mat where she can rely on her wrestling and top pressure to grind out wins.

Zhang "Magnum" Weili is looking to become the next two-time strawweight champ after starching Joanna Jedrzejczyk with a spinning back-fist in June, literally sending her into retirement. 

Zhang originally won the 115-pound belt by knocking out Jessica Andrade in the first round in 2019. She then successfully defended her belt in her first showdown with Jedrzejczyk in 2020 in a 25-minute war that is widely considered the greatest women's fight of all time.

Zhang promptly lost the championship by getting knocked out by a head kick from Namajunas her next time out. She rematched against Namajunas last November and while it was a much closer fight she again lost, this time by split decision. 

Magnum combines powerful striking and relentless pressure with formidable wrestling ability and brutal ground-and-pound.

Esparza vs Zhang tale of the tape

Carla Esparza   Zhang Weili
35 Age 33
5-foot-1 Height 5-foot-4
115 lbs Weight 116 lbs
63 inches Reach 63 inches
20-6-0 (4 KO) Record 22-3-0 (11 KO)

Esparza vs Zhang UFC prediction and best bet

Our prediction is compiled from the analysis of the fighters and is an indication of who we are leaning with to win this bout.
Our best bet is the play that we like the most for this fight or where the most value lies, and is where we would put some of our bankroll behind.

Esparza is a very good offensive wrestler but — with the exception of her bout against Yan — she typically doesn't do much once the fight gets to the mat. That won't be able to get the job done against a stronger fighter in Zhang, who is pretty strong in the wrestling department herself. 

When it comes to the striking exchanges, Zhang will have a massive advantage with her volume, speed, pressure, and power.

We've seen Esparza outclassed on her feet before which usually results in her spamming desperation takedown attempts. That will put her in a bad spot against Zhang, who is very dangerous with her dirty boxing and clinch work. 

Zhang has too many tools offensively for Esparza to handle and while there was tons of value backing her on the moneyline when odds first hit the board, that value has dried up by now. Consider another play to get value on this one. 

Prediction: Zhang moneyline (-340 at DraftKings)

Zhang has crazy finishing power for this division which is why she's been installed at +120 to win by KO/TKO. That said, half of her eight UFC fights have gone the distance and Esparza is going to try to turn this into a grind with her grappling ability. 

Esparza isn't going to stand and bang with her for 25 minutes as Jedrzejczyk did in their first battle back in 2020. Instead, the Cookie Monster will try to slow this fight down, implement her wrestling, and lay and pray as much as possible to avoid those heavy hands. 

Ten of Esparza's previous 12 fights have gone the distance and even if she absorbs damage, she should be able to get this fight to the ground at times and drag out rounds.

That puts the betting value on backing Zhang to win by decision. 

Pick: Zhang by decision (+200 at bet365)

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