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Adam Catterall and Laura Sanko preview UFC 281

UFC 281 sees Israel Adesanya and Carla Esparza defend their titles against Alex Pereira and Zhang Weili respectively, and Adam Catterall and Laura Sanko have shared their thoughts ahead of Saturday night.

The former kickboxers met in Glory of Heroes with Pereira winning on both occasions, and former UFC fighter Din Thomas, speaking to One On One's Sanko, believes that may have an effect at Madison Square Garden.

"It does play a big factor from the mental aspect," said Thomas. "It's a factor physically because they know what it's like to stare each other down in a fighting environment and they have a familiarity with punching power. 

"But from a mental standpoint, knowing you've been beaten by a guy twice - that has to weigh on you somewhere deep down on the inside that maybe this guy has your number."

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While Adesanya hasn't won many style points in recent fights, he's scarcely been troubled throughout his reign as UFC middleweight champion, and Sanko is expecting the champion to go back to a familiar weapon on Saturday.

"One thing he did to [Paulo] Costa that could be really effective in this fight, was that he was destroying that lead leg, and we all talk about the left hook of Pereira - that's one of his moneymakers that we've seen time and time again - and if you can take away the power of that hook, I can see Izzy looking to target that lead leg." 

While Pereira may not be the household name in the MMA world that Adesanya is, with only three UFC fights to his name, the Last Stylebender is taking on an elite kickboxer and a former two-weight world champion, but Catterall thinks the champion will have enough to retain the title.

"I'm fully anticipating the very best version of Israel Adesanya this week: razor-sharp, switched on to the max, seeing everything like The Matrix, seeing everything before it's been thrown and remind the world just how good he is," said Catterall."

"He knows how to win and has done 25 minutes for fun. Pereira's going to come forward, but Izzy wants you to do that, he wants to land at range, and as you tire, his gas tank goes up a touch and looks to finish."

The co-main event sees Carla Esparza defend her women's straw-weight title against former champion Zhang Weili. 

Esparza upset Rose Namajunas with a narrow split decision win at UFC 274, while Zhang is out to prove she remains the best in the division after losing her title to Namajunas at UFC 261, and Catterall expects the challenger to come out on top.

"If she can keep the fight on the feet, she wins this all day long," said Catterall. "As a striker, she's technically better and hits a lot harder, and I expect Zhang to be able to do that and get the finish."

Further down the card we'll see two leading lightweight contenders in Dustin Poirier and Michael Chandler face off in a potential fight of the year. 

Watch Laura Sanko and Din Thomas on Poirier vs Chandler

After beating Conor McGregor twice, Poirier fell short against Charles Oliveira, while Chandler also fell short against Oliveira before losing to Justin Gaethje and beating to Tony Ferguson, and if either man wants a shot at Islam Makhachev in the next 12 months, a win on Saturday feels imperative.

Poirier has plenty of five-round experience in recent years, and Thomas thinks that experience means Chandler's best chance of winning is an earlier stoppage.

"If he's going to beat Dustin, it'll be early. He's not going to take Dustin into deep waters and drag him. His best chance is to jump on Dustin while he's still trying to get his motor going."

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