UFC 274: Charles Oliveira vs. Justin Gaethje: A Head-to-Toe Breakdown

Tom Taylor@@TomTayMMAContributor IIMay 6, 2022

UFC 274: Charles Oliveira vs. Justin Gaethje: A Head-to-Toe Breakdown

0 of 5

    Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

    Lots of great fights fill Saturday's UFC 274 card in Phoenix, but none hold a candle to the main event: a lightweight title bout between champion Charles Oliveira (32-8) and challenger Justin Gaethje (23-3).

    Oliveira became the champ last year, when he weathered an early storm to knock out Michael Chandler for the vacant title. He then defended his belt in December, cashing as a slight underdog to submit former interim champ Dustin Poirier in Round 3. Those victories extended the Brazilian's win streak to 10—one that includes victories over Tony Ferguson, Kevin Lee, Jared Gordon, Jim Miller and Clay Guida.

    Gaethje hasn't been as consistent as Oliveira of late, but he long ago cemented himself as one of the world's best fighters. In his last bout, the American asserted himself as the lightweight division's No. 1 contender with a thrilling decision win over Chandler. That fight separated him from a submission loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov in a failed bid for the lightweight title, which was preceded by consecutive stoppage wins over James Vick, Edson Barboza, Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone and Ferguson.

    Not only are Oliveira and Gaethje the best lightweights in the world, but they're also two of the most prolific finishers in the sport regardless of weight class. Oliveira holds the record for most finishes in UFC history, at 18, and most submissions in UFC history, at 15. Gaethje, meanwhile, has finished a ridiculous 19 of his 23 victories by knockout or TKO (five in the UFC).  

    Needless to say, this is an incredible fight that could end any number of ways. Keep scrolling to see how the two fighters match up on paper and read our best guess as to how the matchup ends.


1 of 5

    Chris Unger/Getty Images

    Oliveira and Gaethje are dangerous strikers. While they both got their starts as grapplers, they have proved they possess the power and know-how to stop just about anyone in their tracks. Their records reflect this: Oliveira has won nine fights by knockout or TKO, and Gaethje a ridiculous 19.

    Still, the edge in the striking department has to go to Gaethje. Not only does he have a clear power advantage—it's safe to call him the division's hardest puncher—but he also has the edge in most key stats. He is first all-time among UFC lightweights in terms of significant strikes landed per minute (7.5) and significant striking accuracy (60.1 percent). Oliveira, meanwhile, clocks in at 3.4 and 54.1 percent for those categories.

    Gaethje definitely loses points for defense, absorbing 7.81 significant strikes per minute compared to Oliveira's 3.13, but he is durable enough that so far it hasn't really mattered.

    Neither man is safe while this fight is on the feet, but the tape and stats all say the same thing: Oliveira will be in greater danger in that phase of the bout than his challenger.  

    Edge: Gaethje


2 of 5

    Buda Mendes/Getty Images

    While Oliveira and Gaethje should be evenly matched on the feet, that is not the case in terms of submissions.

    When it comes to jiu-jitsu, Oliveira has few equals in the division. In fact, you could make a strong argument that he has no equal. 

    The lightweight champion has won more matchups by submission than any other fighter in UFC history—a big part of the reason he also holds the record for most finishes. A longtime Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, he has ended fights with armbars, calf-slicers and every kind of choke imaginable, from the anaconda to the guillotine to a modification on the Peruvian necktie.

    Gaethje has also lost by submission before—albeit just once, and against the great Nurmagomedov—which should give Oliveira even more confidence.

    There's no two ways about it. If this fight hits the mat, Gaethje needs to be extremely careful.

    Edge: Oliveira


3 of 5

    Corey Sipkin/Associated Press

    Just as Oliveira has an obvious advantage in terms of submissions, Gaethje is clearly the better wrestler.

    His credentials speak for themselves. In high school, he was a two-time Arizona state champion. When he moved to the University of Northern Colorado, he became a Division I All-American. 

    What's truly amazing is that Gaethje has attempted a takedown in the UFC just once. Instead, he has used his wrestling as more of a defensive tool, stopping 73 percent of takedowns against him, which has allowed him to force his opponents into firefights that he almost always wins.   

    Edge: Gaethje


4 of 5

    Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

    Oliveira's X-Factor: Don't Gamble on Newfound Toughness

    Oliveira has proved he can take a punch. After years of being criticized for his toughness and durability, he's flaunted plenty of both in his last two fights, weathering some early adversity to stop Chandler and Poirier. The champ's newly proven toughness will serve him well against Gaethje, but he mustn't rely too heavily on it. Gaethje is one of the most dangerous strikers in the lightweight division and has the power to stop even the most durable fighters in their tracks. So, Oliveira's first defense needs to be, well, actual defense. 


    Gaethje's X-Factor: Don't Expect an Easy Stoppage

    Gaethje is one of the few people on earth still questioning Oliveira's heart, calling the champion a quitter as recently as this week. It's impossible to say if he believes that, but if he enters the Octagon expecting to break the Brazilian, he may be in for a surprise. As we covered, Oliveira has shown impressive grit in his last two fights. If Gaethje overcommits to stopping the champ early, he risks making mistakes—the last thing you want to do against the most accomplished finisher in UFC history.


5 of 5

    Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

    This matchup is both compelling and complicated. When you lock two fighters as experienced and well-rounded as Oliveira and Gaethje in a cage, there are so many things that can happen, so many ways it could all end in an instant. 

    The biggest question is seemingly whether Oliveira can get Gaethje to the ground. Sure, it's possible the champ could knock out the American like he did Chandler last year, but he is at much greater risk of suffering that fate himself for as long as they are standing. It would be much better for him to turn this into a grappling match.

    That won't be easy, though. Gaethje has proved to have excellent takedown defense, and each time Oliveira shoots in, he risks colliding with a knee or uppercut—the latter being one of the challenger's best weapons.

    Still, the Brazilian should be able to get this one to the canvas eventually, whether it's with a takedown, a trip or a knockdown—don't sleep on that last possibility.

    Prediction: Oliveira by submission, Round 2