UFC 274: Previewing Charles Oliveira vs. Justin Gaethje and the Rest of the Card

Tom Taylor@@TomTayMMAContributor IIApril 15, 2022

UFC 274: Previewing Charles Oliveira vs. Justin Gaethje and the Rest of the Card

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    UFC 273 is only a few days behind us, but fans are already looking ahead to UFC 274, the promotion's next pay-per-view event, scheduled for May 7 in Phoenix, Arizona.

    UFC 274 features two title fights, appearances from a host of ranked contenders and rising prospects, and possibly the final farewells of two MMA legends. In other words, it's stacked.

    Headlining honors will go to a lightweight title fight between champion Charles Oliveira of Brazil, and challenger Justin Gaethje, who has established himself as one of the scariest fighters in the division.

    In the co-main event, meanwhile, strawweight queen Rose Namajunas will look to the first loss of her UFC career against former champion Carla Esparza, who has asserted herself as the top contender in a division that's full of them.

    Before any gold is up for grabs, fans will be treated to a lightweight showdown that looks like guaranteed excitement, as former interim champion Tony Ferguson looks to bounce back from the worst skid of his career against former Bellator king Michael Chandler.

    As if all of that wasn't enough to get fans drooling in anticipation, the card also features appearances from MMA legends Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone, who could easily be fighting for the last time opposite Ovince Saint Preux and Joe Lauzon respectively.

    Throw in a main card appearance from rising flyweight contender Tracy Cortez, and we're got a pretty compelling night of fights on our hands.

    Keep scrolling for a full preview of the action to come.


    UFC 274 Fight Card

    Charles Oliveira vs. Justin Gaethje

    Rose Namajunas vs. Carla Esparza

    Michael Chandler vs. Tony Ferguson

    Mauricio Rua vs. Ovince Saint Preux

    Donald Cerrone vs. Joe Lauzon

    Blagoy Ivanov vs. Marcos Rogerio de Lima

    Macy Chiasson vs. Norma Dumont

    Randy Brown vs. Khaos Williams

    Danny Roberts vs. Francisco Trinaldo

    Tracy Cortez vs. Melissa Gatto

    Brandon Royval vs. Matt Schnell

    Ariane Carnelossi vs. Loopy Godinez

    Kleydson Rodrigues vs. C.J. Vergara

    Journey Newson vs. Fernie Garcia

    Michael Johnson vs. Alan Patrick

Charles Oliveira (32-8) vs. Justin Gaethje (23-3)

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    If you had suggested, at any point between 2012 and 2017, that Charles Oliveira would become the UFC lightweight champion, you probably would have been laughed out of town. Back then, the Brazilian couldn't seem to get a meaningful win-streak going to save his life, and he stumbled against every top-level opponent he faced.

    How things have changed. Today, Oliveira is not only the UFC lightweight champion, but a man who looks like he could be king for quite some time. 

    He has always been excellent at submitting people—he holds the record for most submission wins in UFC history—and has added some lethal striking to his armory. He has also patched up what were once gaping holes in his striking defense, and more importantly, answered all questions about his durability and toughness by surviving firefights with the likes of Charles Oliveira and Dustin Poirier—questions that used to dog him before every fight.

    He is the best lightweight in the world.

    Still, his getting by Justin Gaethje in the UFC 274 main event is no guarantee. Like many American mixed martial artists, Gaethje got his start as a wrestling, and has excellent takedowns, top control and positional awareness as a result. The thing that has made him truly dangerous in the Octagon, however, is his striking. It is not always pretty like Conor McGregor or Anderson Silva's striking, but there's nothing pretty about a wrecking ball crashing into a building either. And Gaethje can fairly be called a wrecking ball.

    While he failed to show the full extent of his power in his late 2021 decision victory over Chandler, he is perhaps the hardest puncher in his entire division, with a ridiculous 18 stoppage wins to his credit. And he bolsters that firepower with some the weight class's best leg kicks. Throw in his superhuman durability, and it's clear that Oliveira will have his hands full at UFC 274. 

    The odds reflect this. DraftKings has the champion listed as a -160 (bet $100 to win $160) favorite at the time of this writing, but Gaethje's status as a +140 underdog drives home the competitive and unpredictable nature of this fight.

    This fight could go end any number of ways—some of them very violent—and that's exactly what will make it so fun.

Rose Namajunas (11-4) vs. Carla Esparza II (18-6)

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    After watching UFC strawweight champion Rose Namajunas beat the likes of Michelle Waterson, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Jessica Andrade and Weili Zhang in recent years, most fans consider her one of the best female fighters on earth, regardless of weight class.  

    Yet it wasn't all that long ago that Namajunas was an unproven prospect with massive gaps in her skillset.

    That was perhaps never more obvious than it was in her 2014 fight with Carla Esparza, which happened to mark the UFC's first ever strawweight title fight.

    Even back then, with just three pro fights on her record, Namajunas had quite a bit of hype behind her. Yet Esparza absolutely dominated her en route to a third-round submission win—and the inaugural championship.

    It goes without saying that Namajunas has grown a lot since then. Her defensive grappling has become excellent, and her striking is as dangerous and beautiful to behold as ever. Yet she must not get complement against Esparza.

    Almost a decade after their first meeting, Esparza still possesses a style that could give Namajunas fits: one that is based on suffocating wrestling and dirty boxing, and has undone the likes of Alexa Grasso, Waterson, Marina Rodriguez and Yan Xiaonan in recent years.

    Again, the odds reflect the competitive nature of the fight. DraftKings has Namajunas listed as a -170 favourite, and Esparza as a +150 dog. That's not much of a spread. 

    The strawweight title could very easily change hands on May 7.

Michael Chandler (22-7) vs. Tony Ferguson (25-6)

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    Michael Chandler and Tony Ferguson, the former Bellator lightweight champion and interim UFC lightweight champion respectively, are two of the most talented and exciting lightweights of this era.

    At UFC 274, they will fight.

    It's an important night for both men.

    Chandler will be looking to bounce back from a pair of losses to the two men competing in the UFC 274 main event: Gaethje and Oliveira. He was defeated by the former by decision in November of 2021, and succumbed to strikes from the latter in May of the same year.

    Ferguson finds himself on even shakier terrain. The grappling specialist, once considered the best lightweight alive not named Khabib Nurmagomedov, has lost his last three fights: a pair of decision defeats to Beneil Dariush and Oliveira, and a brutal fifth-round stoppage at the hands of Gaethje, which derailed a 12-fight win streak.

    From the early vantage point, this looks like it could be on the best fights for year. That is, unless it gets ugly, and one of the two men ends up taking too much punishment. That's a very real possibility, and one that most fans will do their best to ignore.

Other Attractions: The Last Walk for Two Legends?

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    There are two bona fide MMA legends competing on the UFC 274 bill, and it could easily be the last time we see either man inside the Octagon.

    First up, fan favorite lightweight-turned-welterweight-turned-lightweight-again Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone (36-15) will swagger into the cage for a shootout with Joe Lauzon (28-15). Lauzon is one of the few fighters of Cowboy's vintage remaining on the UFC roster—and something of a legend himself—and it is frankly shocking the pair haven't fought yet already.

    It's a winnable fight for the 39-year-old Cowboy. However, he has lost his last five fights—and four of those by stoppage—so he will most likely be encouraged to retire no matter the outcome.

    Later on, in a bout that is expected to land on the main card, another legend will make what could be his final walk to the Octagon: Mauricio "Shogun" Rua (27-12-1).

    The Brazilian, the former UFC light heavyweight champion and one of the biggest names to emerge from Japan's defunct Pride organization, is actually 2-2-1 in his last five, which is not terrible. Still, he is now 40-years-old, and has already been pushed toward retirement by UFC President Dana White.

    If he looks anything short of brilliant in his UFC 274 fight with Ovince Saint Preux (25-16-0)—who he suffered a brutal, 34-second knockout loss to in 2014—he could well be encouraged to hang 'em up or handed his walking papers.

Best of the Rest

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    Tracy Cortez (9-1) vs. Melissa Gatto (8-0-2)

    Tracy Cortez is one of the most hyped young contenders in the UFC's jam-packed flyweight division, and it's easy to understand why. At 28 years, the Arizonian has already beaten the likes of Justin Kish, Mariya Agapova and Erin Blanchfield. She seems to have all the skills required to make some big moves in the division, but she will first need to get by a young talent of a similar description in Brazil's Melissa Gatto. That will be no easy task. The Brazilian has been a force of extreme violence since joining the UFC, first breaking Victoria Leonardo's arm in her debut, then stopping the tough Sijara Eubanks with a body shot in her sophomore experience. This is going to be a good one.


    Brandon Royval (13-6) vs. Matt Schnell (15-6)

    Brandon Royval and Matt Schnell are both ranked inside the flyweight top 10, at Nos. 6 and 9 respectively, so of course their fight will buried on the UFC 274 undercard, somewhere below a slew of other bouts involving fighters most casual fans have never even heard of, but I digress. This is an excellent matchup between two guys with a propensity for fun fights and exciting finishes. Better yet, the winner will take a big step forward in the UFC flyweight division, which has never been better.


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