UFC 274 Predictions: Bleacher Report Main Card Staff Picks

Tom Taylor@@TomTayMMAContributor IIMay 5, 2022

UFC 274 Predictions: Bleacher Report Main Card Staff Picks

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    UFC 274 goes down this Saturday in Phoenix, Arizona. That means it's time for the B/R combat sports squad to risk their reputations with another round of pre-fight predictions.

    The event will be topped by a lightweight title fight between Charles Oliveira and Justin Gaethje, two of the most venomous finishers in the UFC today. The champion Oliveira will enter the Octagon on a 10-fight win streak, highlighted by a title-winning knockout over Michael Chandler and a submission defeat of Dustin Poirier in his first successful title defense.

    Gaethje, meanwhile, recently rebounded from a submission loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov—a failed bid for lightweight gold—with a thrilling decision win over Chandler. He has also beaten stars like Tony Ferguson, Donald Cerrone and Edson Barboza—all when those names meant a little more than they do today.

    There will also be a title on the line in the UFC 274 co-main event as strawweight queen Rose Namajunas attempts to defend her belt against Carla Esparza. The bout will be a rematch of a 2014 fight—the first strawweight title fight in UFC history—which Esparza won by decision to become the division's inaugural champion.

    Despite that outcome, Namajunas will enter the cage as a moderate favorite, thanks in large part to her recent wins over top talents like Weili Zhang, Jessica Andrade and Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Esparza, however, has beaten ranked contenders in her last five fights, including Yan Xiaonan, Marina Rodriguez and Alexa Grasso, and looks like a live underdog.

    Beyond the two title fights atop the bill, UFC 274 will also feature a compelling lightweight clash between human highlight reels Michael Chandler and Tony Ferguson, which many view as a front-runner for a post-fight bonus.

    The rest of the main card will be rounded out by a light heavyweight rematch between former champ Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and Ovince Saint Preux, and a lightweight fight between veterans Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone and Joe Lauzon.

    Keep scrolling to see who we're picking to win the five fights that compose the UFC 274 main card.  

Charles Oliveira vs. Justin Gaethje

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    Tom Taylor: My esteemed colleague Lyle has been singing Charles Oliveira's praises for most of the time we've been working together, but I have always been a skeptic. I have finally come around. Today, I see Oliveira the way Lyle has always seen him: as a hardworking talent capable of finishing fights from any position. More importantly, I no longer question Oliveira's heart and toughness, thanks in large part to his 2021 wins over Dustin Poirier and Michael Chandler.

    Provided Oliveira can withstand Gaethje's power shotsall the toughness in the world won't protect you from being knocked out—I see him getting this one to the ground, whether it's by taking his challenger down or dropping him with a punch. From there, it's only a matter of time before he puts that BJJ black belt to work. 

    Oliveira by submission, Rd. 2 

    Scott Harris: Oliveira is so incredibly good. I'm wary of picking against him and being labeled as a doubter, but, well, here goes. Why? Oliveira won't be able to use his grappling here, and that's a major mark against him. While acknowledging that MMA stats can be reductive, Oliveira only hits takedowns at a 41 percent clip. Meanwhile, Gaethje's 73 percent takedown defense rate would be tops in the division if his previous nine opponents hadn't been so squeamish that they couldn't collectively reach the minimum threshold (20 attempts) for eligibility. Add in Gaethje's lethal leg kicks, and Oliveira will eventually be a sitting duck after several action-packed rounds. Batten down the hatches and sound the upset alarms. Sound them far and wide for the new UFC lightweight champion.

    Gaethje by TKO, Rd. 4

    Lyle Fitzsimmons: "Do Bronx" is on a roll, and I'm going to keep riding it with him until one of us drops.

    Gaethje is a beast and seems ultra-confident in spite of the blowout loss to Khabib the last time around. But raining on the Oliveira parade has proved fatal forecasting, and it will again here. The challenger will look good early, but I don't see a fight-changing shot landing, and ultimately I think it gets to a place where the champ is comfortable.

    Let's say Round 3 and let's say a rear-naked choke. 

    Oliveira by submission, Rd. 3

Rose Namajunas vs. Carla Esparza II

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    Tom Taylor: My talented associate Scott speaks often of "the upset alarms." I have a sneaking suspicion they will sound at the conclusion of the UFC 274 co-main event.

    Rose Namajunas is one of the UFC's most popular champions, with wins over the likes of Joanna Jedrzejczyk (twice), Weili Zhang (twice) and Jessica Andrade. On the surface, she has all of the momentum, confidence and skill to avenge her 2014 submission loss to Carla Esparza. But sometimes one fighter just has another's number.

    Look for the challenger to suffocate the champion with non-stop pressure and a ceaseless stream of takedown attempts. She may not complete all of them, but she'll complete enough to come through as a slight underdog and become a two-time UFC champ in the process.

    Esparza by unanimous decision

    Scott Harris: Namajunas has all the charisma in the world. Esparza, uh, less so. But she's reinvigorated herself of late, ripping off five straight including two performance bonuses. Her takedowns—she leads all UFC women's strawweights with 42 for her career—will always and again be her most formidable weapon. Can Namajunas stop them or make Esparza pay on the ground? I agree completely with Tom on this: Esparza will keep Namajunas pinned to the mat or the chain link, and in the process keep Namajunas' dynamism under wraps. What's old is new again.

    Esparza by unanimous decision

    Lyle Fitzsimmons: I'll step away from my learned colleagues here and ride with another incumbent champ. I wasn't "Thug Rose's" biggest fan before she regained her belt last year in Florida, but I'll be a happy late addition to the bandwagon.

    Esparza won't be able to establish anything resembling consistent dominance, and so long as that's the case, it's Namajunas' fight to lose.

    Prepare for a long, close one.

    Namajunas by split decision

Michael Chandler vs. Tony Ferguson

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    Tom Taylor: People seem to be very excited for this fight. I am not. Michael Chandler and Tony Ferguson are both on losing streaks, but Ferguson's losses have been far more concerning and far more indicative that his time at the top is over. Chandler has lost two competitive fights in a row, but Ferguson has spent close to an hour having the tar beaten out of him in his last three.

    In other words, I don't see this being the wild, back-and-forth brawl many fans seem to be hoping for. My forecast calls for another ugly night for Ferguson as Chandler gets back on track in emphatic fashion at the expense of a fading legend.

    Chandler by KO, Rd. 2

    Scott Harris: Chandler is a big favorite here (-380 per DraftKings as of Wednesday) and with good reason. He just seems to be the fresher, more athletic fighter. After so many battles, Ferguson, now 38, is definitely aging in fighter years. That 12-fight win streak seems a long way away. He's accomplished a great deal in this sport, but Father Time is undefeated. Chandler, meanwhile, is ravenous for another UFC win to prove he's great at this level and not just Bellator. Chandler turns the headhunting against the headhunter.

    Chandler by TKO, Rd. 2

    Lyle Fitzsimmons: Chandler has proved to be something less than advertised since he arrived in the UFC, but he's no slouch.

    He's faced a high level of competition, and he's got more than enough to handle the dried husk of the near champion that Ferguson was three beatings ago. Maybe he gets him out of there inside of 15 minutes, maybe not.

    But it won't be close either way.

    Chandler by unanimous decision

Mauricio Rua vs. Ovince Saint Preux II

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    Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

    Tom Taylor: The first time "Shogun" and "OSP" met in the Octagon, it resulted in a sad but cartoonish knockout victory for the latter. I trust you've all seen the infamous skateboard gif. Shogun will be determined to avoid that kind of embarrassment the second time around, particularly with retirement just around the corner.

    I suspect the aging Brazilian striker will be so desperate to avoid another KO loss that he will resort to using his grappling to win the fight. OSP's takedown defense has always been pretty porous, so that plan should work—even if it's not pretty.  

    Shogun by unanimous decision

    Scott Harris: Nope! Not interested in this. I'm a Shogun fan going back to his days as a merciless competitor in Japan's Pride promotion, and it's sad to see the UFC (and probably Shogun himself, and his camp) working hard to squeeze every last drop of juice out of his injury-scarred, 40-year-old body. His only wins dating back to 2018 were a knockout of an immobilized Tyson Pedro and a split decision over a 44-year-old Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. And I repeat: no thank you.

    That 34-second knockout Tom mentioned from their first fight won't be far away when Rua succumbs once again to OSP, a limited fighter he would have destroyed in his prime. So it goes. What the hell, I'll give him one more round than he got last time.

    Saint Preux by TKO, Rd. 2

    Lyle Fitzsimmons: I agree with the boys, this one is downright cringeworthy.

    I'm all for guys fighting as long as the spirit and the body are willing—and they can get someone to pay them for the trouble—but that doesn't mean I have to like it. Rua would have wiped the mat with Saint Preux not all that long ago, but those days are gone. This will be difficult to watch.

    Saint Preux by TKO, Rd. 1

Donald Cerrone vs. Joe Lauzon

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    Tom Taylor: To me, the craziest thing about this fight is that it's taken this long for "Cowboy" and Joe Lauzon to meet in the Octagon. These guys have been fighting since some members of the UFC roster were in diapers. How have they not crossed paths before? But I digress. In this fight between two lightweight finishers at the tail end of illustrious careers, give me the one who has actually gotten close to a UFC title. Lauzon probably still has some tricks up his sleeve, but I think a Cowboy head kick will be his undoing. One more for the UFC's most beloved gunslinger.

    Cerrone by TKO, Rd. 2

    Scott Harris: An unabashed legends fight of the highest order, only unlike Shogun, these guys are still alive and kicking. Cerrone will look to leverage his muay thai in open space, while Lauzon's best path to victory is to close the distance, get Cowboy groundward and use those spidery limbs to lock in a submission. But here's the rub: I think Lauzon will forego the smart play to "give the fans what they want." That means a Fight of the Night slugfest—and Lauzon flat on his back.

    Cerrone by TKO, Rd. 2

    Lyle Fitzsimmons: I'm fully aware that I'm in the minority, but I can't get all that excited about this fight either.

    It should be far better than Shogun-OSP, but neither Cowboy nor J-Lau are on a top shelf level of excellence anymore. Of course, that could and probably will yield a memorable fight to kick off the card, and I'll step away from the pack and suggest Lauzon indeed does get it to the mat and takes home the W.

    Lauzon by submission, Rd. 3


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