Two belts will be on the line when the UFC heads to the Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona this Saturday night for UFC 274.
In the main event, UFC lightweight champion Charles Oliveira will be looking to win his 11th consecutive bout when he takes on the challenge of Justin Gaethje. This will mark Oliveria’s second title defense and the second crack at the world title for Gaethje.
Meanwhile, UFC women’s strawweight champion Rose Namajunas will defend her belt against former champion Carla Esparza in the co-headliner. Namajunas and Esparza fought at the finals of TUF 20 where Esparza won and became the UFC’s inaugural women’s strawweight belt. Namajunas will not only be looking to get her revenge here but also to become the first fighter to defeat all previous champions in her division.
Let’s take a look at the UFC 274 main card bouts and make our predictions.
Charles Oliveira is the current UFC lightweight champion. Do Bronx won the belt by knocking out Michael Chandler at UFC 262 in May 2021. The 32-year-old Oliveira heads to this bout having won 10 straight bouts including nine via stoppage. He holds the UFC record for most finishes with 18 and most submission wins at 15. Oliveira submitted Justin Gaethje at UFC 269 last December during his first title defense.
The Brazilian has a record of 32-8 with 9 knockouts and 20 wins via submission. He is 5-10 tall with a reach of 74 inches and fights out of the orthodox stance.
Justin Gaethje is a former interim UFC lightweight champion. The 33-year-old from Safford, Arizona is a former NCAA Division I All-American at the University of North Colorado. Gaethje began fighting in amateur MMA when he was in college. He joined the WSOF in 2013 and became its lightweight champion, defending the belt five times before joining the UFC. The Highlight defeated Tony Ferguson at UFC 249 to become the interim lightweight champion. However, Gaethje would lose to Khabib Nurmagomedov in his next fight for the undisputed world title.
Gaethje has a record of 23-3 with 19 knockouts and one submission win. He is 5-11 tall with a reach of 70 inches and is an orthodox fighter.
As a former NCAA Divison I All-American, Gaethje has a strong wrestling background but he has not utilized that skill in the UFC. In fact, Gaethje has not landed a single takedown inside the Octagon while only attempting only one takedown ever. Instead, Gaethje has leaned on his otherworldly punching power to get him victories inside the MMA cage.
Oliveira meanwhile is known as a submission expert although, over the years, he’s developed his striking and even used it to stop Michael Chandler in his title-winning performance. Oliveira holds the record for most finishes in the UFC 18. He has gone the decision only three times in 29 MMA fights and has finished 90% of his UFC wins. Do Bronx also holds the record for most submission wins in the UFC with 15 as he is aggressive in looking for the submissions.
There’s no doubt that Gaethje would rather test Oliveira’s striking skills rather than test his wrestling on the mat. Gaethje has a tendency to let his opponents tee off on him and just absorb the punishment while looking for his own opportunity to unleash his punches. Given Oliveira’s improved striking, there’s a chance that he catches Gaethje napping and wins by stoppage. Conversely, Gaethje’s best chance of beating Oliveira is by stopping the Brazilian early.
But Oliveira is a patient and smart predator. He will try to engage Gaethje on the feet but once he feels compromised, he’s going to take this fight to the ground. Once there, he is too good not to find his way to Gaethje’s back and ride him like a backpack. We saw Gaethje rather easily giving up his back against Khabi and I see the same thing happening here. In the end, I see Oliveira finding the neck and getting another submission win.
Prediction: Charles Oliveira
Rose Namajunas is the current and two-time UFC women’s strawweight champion. Thug Rose began her career at Invicta FC before joining the TUF 20 women’s strawweight tournament where she lost to Carla Esparza in the finale. Namajunas went on to sign with the UFC and at UFC 217, she defeated Joanna Jedrzejczyk to win the women’s strawweight title. Two fights later, she lost the belt when she was knocked out by a body slam courtesy of Jessica Andrade. At UFC 261, she regained the belt by stopping Zhang Weili. In her last bout, Namajunas defeated Zhang in an immediate rematch at UFC 268.
Thug Rose has a record of 11-4 with two knockouts and five submission wins. She is an orthodox fighter who is 5-5 tall and has a reach of 65 inches.
Carla Esparza was the inaugural UFC women’s featherweight champion. She won that belt by defeating Namajunas at the TUF 20 tournament. The 34-year-old from Torrance, California then lost the belt to Joanna Jedrzejczyk in her first title defense. She would struggle with a 3-3 record in her next six bouts before going on her current five-fight winning streak which has put her to no. 2 in the latest strawweight rankings. Esparza is coming off a TKO win over Yan Xiaonan in May 2021 in a bout where she won Performance of the Night honors.
Esparza is 18-6 with four knockouts and four submission wins. She is 5-1 tall with a reach of 63 inches and fights out of the orthodox stance.
Namajunas is one of the most popular champions in the UFC and she’s also proven herself to be one of the most resilient fighters on the roster, coming back from a KO where she lost the belt to producing a KO to reclaim the title. Her game has also evolved as she’s become a very technical striker who also possesses that stopping power. Thug Rose’s power, however, doesn’t just come from her fists. It’s a result of great timing and accurate punching.
Meanwhile, Esparza isn’t as popular as Namajunas but during her current run, she has been nothing short of impressive. Esparza leads all strawweight with 42 takedowns and you can be guaranteed that takedowns will be a big part of her attack against Thug Rose. She may be the underdog here, but Esparza definitely has what it takes to drag Rose down or pin her on the mat.
I think that this is going to be one of the closest fights at the event. Both fighters know each other well and I think that knowledge is going to turn this into a five-round back and forth contest. If Esparza can control Namajunas on the ground, she’s got this. If Rose can stay on her feet, she’s going to land more than enough punches to beat Esparza on points.
Prediction: Rose Namajunas
Michael Chandler is a three-time Bellator lightweight champion who was a former NCAA Division I All-American wrestler from the University of Missouri. After spending most of his prime years as Bellator’s top lightweight, Chandler joined the UFC in 2021 and knocked out lightweight contender Dan Hooker in his UFC debut at UFC 257. The win earned him a crack at the vacant belt at UFC 262 but he lost to Charles Oliveira via knockout. In his last bout, Chandler dropped a unanimous decision against Gaethje at UFC 268 in one of the best fights of 2021.
Chandler has a record of 22-7 with 10 knockouts and seven submission victories. He is 5-8 tall with a reach of 71 inches and is an orthodox fighter.
Tony Ferguson was the winner of The Ultimate Fighter 13 tournament. El Cucuy began his career in the regional circuits of California and won the PureCombat welterweight championship. After winning in the TUF tournament, Ferguson signed with the UFC. El Cucuy won his first two UFC assignments before losing to Michael Johnson at UFC on Fox 3 in 2021. After that loss, he won 12 consecutive bouts to rise to the top of the UFC rankings. He was booked to fight Khabib Nurmagomedov several times but the bout never materialized. Ultimately, he lost to Justin Gaethje at UFC 249 and followed that up with losses to Charles Oliveira and Beneil Dariush.
El Cucuy has a record of 25-6 with 12 knockouts and 8 submission wins. Ferguson is 5-11 tall with a 76-inch reach and fights out of the orthodox stance.
After going through so many wars, Tony Ferguson has aged very fast. Since losing to Gaethje, it’s been downhill for Ferguson who has looked like a terribly old man during this stretch. Not only has he been winless but his defeats have looked concerning. Ferguson has taken plenty of beating in his last three bouts. I’m not sure how much if there’s still anything at all, left in the tank. But make no mistake, he’s a tough SOB and maybe too tough for his own good. He won’t back down from any fight and he will try to keep his career going. No worries for him though, neither he nor Chandler is losing his roster spot with a loss here, according to Dana White.
Chandler is also on a losing skid but his losses have come against the fighters involved in the main event of UFC 274. That’s right. While Chandler lost to Oliveira and Gaethje, he was in the thick of both bouts. There’s no question that Chandler is the fresher fighter between the two and he looks to be stronger at this stage of their careers.
I would really love to see Tony Ferguson win again but I don’t think it’s happening here. Chandler may be the third-best lightweight behind Oliveira and Gaethje. He has the experience, the skills, and the knockout power. I think Michael Chandler overwhelms Tony Ferguson here. El Cucuy takes the punishment and tries to mount his offense. Unfortunately, Chandler will be all over him until he gets thе Finish.
Prediction: Michael Chandler
Mauricio Rua is a former UFC light heavyweight champion and the 2005 PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix champion. The 40-year-old from Curitiba, Brazil is one of the longest-tenured fighters in the UFC, having been in the promotion since 2007. Rua has struggled to find success in the UFC but he is 5-2 with one draw in his last eight bouts. Shogun is coming off a TKO loss to Paul Craig at UFC 255 back in November 2020.
Rua is 27-12 with 21 knockouts and one submission win. He is 6-1 tall with a reach of 76 inches and fights out of the orthodox stance.
Ovince Saint Preux is a veteran who has been fighting since 2008. OSP fought under promotions like Strikeforce, XFC, and Shark Fights before joining the UFC in 2013. A former KOTC light heavyweight tournament champion, Saint Preux once challenged for the light heavyweight title against Jon Jones at UFC 197 but he lost the fight via unanimous decision. Saint Preux is just 3-6 in his last nine bouts and has moved up and down 205 pounds and heavyweight in recent years.
He has a record of 25-16 with 12 knockouts and 8 submission wins. He is 6-3 tall with a reach of 80 inches and is a southpaw fighter.
I’m a huge Shogun fan going back to his days in Japan where he was a killer. However, I’m saddened to see him continue fighting in his 40 trying to squeeze every ounce of what is left of that killer. Since 2018, Rua’s wins have come against an immobilized Tyson Pedro and a split decision against a 44-year-old Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. Of course, punching power doesn’t get old so there’s always a chance he flattens Saint Preux.
While OSP is a limited fighter whom Rua would have beaten if Shogun was in his prime, he is the younger fighter between the two and also possesses knockout power. OSP also has a significant four-inch reach and two-inch height advantage against Rua, which should come in handy against an aggressive foe. However, OSP has been finished in five out of his last six bouts and he is coming off his longest layoff in the UFC at 11 months.
This is a tough call as it could go either way. Shogun is way past his prime but Saint Preux is an opponent who is easily knocked out. I don’t like where both fighters are at right now. In picking the winner of this fight, I’m going at who may have more left in the tank. I’m going with OSP here.
Prediction: Ovince Saint Preux
Donald Cerrone is one of the most popular fighters in the history of the UFC. Known as Cowboy, Cerrone has saved too many UFC events to mention by stepping up on short notice to accept a fight. The 39-year-old from Denver Colorado holds a tie for the UFC record for the most win with 23. Cerrone is also tied with Charles Oliveira for most Post Fight Bonuses in the UFC with 18. Cowboy was once challenged for the lightweight title but lost to Rafael Dos Anjos at UFC on Fox 17. He is winless in his last six bouts with one no-contest during that stretch.
Cerrone is 36-16 with 10 knockouts and 17 submission wins. He stands 6-1 tall with a reach of 73 inches and is an orthodox fighter.
Joe Lauzon is a former USKBA welterweight champion in kickboxing and World Fight League Grand Prix winner. The 37-year-old from Brockton, Massachusetts is tied with Nate Diaz for the second-most post-fight bonuses in the UFC with 15 and holds the record for most Submission of the Night bonuses with six. Like Cerrone, Lauzon has struggled in recent years and just 4-6 in his last 10 bouts. He has not fought since scoring a TKO win over Jonathan Pearce at UFC on ESPN 6 last October 18, 2019.
Lauzon has a record of 28-15 with 9 knockouts and 17 submission wins. He is 5-10 tall with a reach of 71 inches and is an orthodox fighter.
If this bout was booked when these two were in their prime, there is no way this won’t be the main event bout. But now these two exciting finishers are at the tail end of their careers and as per Dana White, the loser of this bout will get the pink slip too. It’s sad to see one of these two fighters go but that’s life in the UFC.
Look for Cowboy to utilize his Muay Thai and keep this fight on the feet where he has the clear edge against Lauzon. I’m thinking head kick finish here for Cerrone which is always a possibility against a very hittable opponent like Lauzon. Meanwhile, Lauzon will try to fight at close range, where he can try to take Cerrone down. On the ground, Cerrone is still dangerous but with those long limbs, Lauzon should get the submission first. This isn’t how we wanted them to meet in the UFC but at least, this should be better than the Shogun vs OSP bout. I’ll pick the fighter who has been more active as of late and that is Cowboy.
Prediction: Donald Cerrone
Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.