What’s Next: UFC 281 Losers

UFC 281 Alex Pereira Israel Adesanya
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 12: Alex Pereira of Brazil battles Israel Adesanya of Nigeria during the UFC 281 event at Madison Square Garden on November 12, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC)

UFC 281 saw the unthinkable happen when Israel Adesanya once again fell to kickboxing rival Alex Pereira. Ahead in the fight after four rounds, “The Last Stylebender” was caught in the fifth and subsequently styled on, until the ref waved it off while Izzy was still standing.

In the co-headliner, Weili Zhang made short work of Carla Esparza. Neither former champ is done just yet, so where do they and the other UFC 281 losers go from here?

Israel Adesanya

On paper, the next step for now-former middleweight champion Israel Adesanya seems simple: rematch Alex Pereira. Despite losing all three fights in their series, he has generally acquitted himself well and won most of the individual rounds and minutes he has spent in the cage with ‘Poatan,’ plus he should have arguably won the first fight. Further, he was a long reigning champion and one of the UFC’s foremost stars of today. The fight generated massive interest in a division lacking clear-cut challengers, and the rematch — or quadrilogy depending on how you look at it — will surely generate even more.

The only possible issue is some ‘health issues’ that ‘Stylebender’ addressed in the post-fight press conference. Some have speculated that that is simply a staph infection that may have been visible on his left ankle, but if it is something more serious then perhaps the winner of Whittaker vs Costa will be next in line. Still, it would not be right to predict anything but an immediate match-up and a trilogy – or pentology — could be in store down the line if Izzy can finally defeat his personal boogeyman.

Adesanya’s Next Fight: Alex Pereira II (or IV)

Carla Esparza

Carla Esparza lost her title to Zhang Weili at UFC 281 on Saturday. The future for the two-time champion is not clear. The path back to the title is murky after the way she won it and how she was finished to lose it. Further, Esparza recently turned 35 years old, which is getting up there in years for a fighter in a lighter weight division, and strawweight is the lightest the UFC has to offer. Carla may start thinking about retirement.

For now however, let us work under the assumption that she wants to keep fighting and start pushing to become the first three-time champion in UFC women’s history. She has already fought many top contenders such as Rose Namajunas, Zhang Weili, Marina Rodriguez, and Yan Xiaonan. That leaves only two top seven contenders as options if we are to exclude rematches: Amanda Lemos and Mackenzie Dern. Lemos is in the immediate title picture after her TKO of Marina Rodriguez in a main event, so Dern makes more sense. Locking that up as a pretty clear choice for their next matchu-p is the wrestling vs. BJJ dynamic. Some pretty interesting scrambles and submission attempts could be had out of these two, creating an exciting fight in a battle of whose martial art is better like the early UFC days.

Esparza’s Next Fight: Mackenzie Dern

Michael Chandler

Despite becoming a fan favorite so soon in the UFC, ‘Iron’ Michael Chandler does now find himself with a losing record in the promotion at 2-3. He has had a run of being given the most fun match-ups out there in his last three fights when he faced Gaethje, Ferguson, and Poirier with the UFC seemingly ignoring rankings or records at times to make those fights happen.

Now however, there are younger up and coming fighters who demand to be heard from on the basis of what they have done in the octagon. Rafael Fiziev, Mateusz Gamrot, Arman Tsarukyan, Damir Ismagulov, and Jalin Turner are all looking to climb the ranks and Chandler should likely fight one of them unless he gets his dearest wish and fights Conor McGregor, who may be returning in 2023 at welterweight. For now though, one of those fighters should be given an opportunity to test themselves against the explosive and dangerous Michael Chandler.

Rafael Fiziev is probably one win from a title shot, is only one spot behind Chandler, and may even be ahead of him when the new rankings are out on Tuesday, so he is not the best choice. Gamrot just lost to Dariush, but that is still a possibility and an exciting stylistic match-up between wrestlers. Tsarukyan is facing Ismagulov in December and Turner is currently not booked to fight. Of these options the one closest in ranking to Chandler that makes the most sense and sets up the most exciting match-up is Mateusz Gamrot. The pacey chain wrestler has unique takedowns but struggled to hold down Dariush and leaves his chin open at times, having been knocked down twice in his six UFC fights. Contrast that with the wrestling pedigree and knockout power of Michael Chandler and you are left with an insane fight that will have fans on the edge of their seats. Neither man has had a boring fight in the promotion and they each have four performance bonuses in such a short time since joining, and this fight would surely be either a ‘Fight of the Night’ or ‘Performance of the Night’ as well.

Chandler’s Next Fight: Mateusz Gamrot

Claudio Puelles

Dan Hooker got back in the win column at UFC 281 after a rough run and honestly made his opponent look silly when he faced Claudio Puelles on Saturday. The Peruvian leglock specialist had nothing for Hooker on the feet and was largely unable to get it to the ground, or at least to get Hooker to follow him down when he fell over.

Renato Moicano beat Hooker’s teammate and recently ranked fighter Brad Riddell at UFC 281 as well and should be on the verge of a ranking. On the flip side, Riddell may need a fight, though he has hinted at taking some time off. Puelles could honestly use some time away after that lackluster performance, so maybe they can link up on down the line.

Puelles’s Next Fight: Brad Riddell

Frankie Edgar

The legend is gone from the sport but never forgotten and his legacy will live on. Frankie Edgar fought his last fight on Saturday at UFC 281 in the biggest combat sports arena in the world. Even in brutal defeat the fans screamed his name from their seats. The former lightweight champion defended his title as many times as any other lightweight champion and did what no other man has ever done by beating elite fighters that were two weight classes bigger than him. Then he moved down to fight and beat elite fighters in two more weight classes when he was in his late thirties and into his fortieth year of life, something that is simply unheard of. He is the owner of arguably the greatest trilogy of all time against Gray Maynard, was a supremely technically skilled wrestle-boxer which enabled him to beat bigger foes consistently, and was just a great human being by all accounts. Frankie Edgar was and is loved like no other man in this sport and he deserves to retire in peace and spend time with his family.

Frankie Edgar Is Retired