UFC 274 takes place in Phoenix, Arizona tomorrow night and we’ve got our predictions for all the fights below.
Charles Oliveira vs. Justin Gaethje
These offensive prowess of the two men involved in this lightweight title fight are highly impressive, with current champion Oliveira having won 29 of his 32 career victories via stoppage inside the distance, while Gaethje has 20 finishes from his 23 career wins.
There’s a big contrast in how they get the job done though, with Gaethje’s finishes almost coming exclusively by strikes, while Oliveira is best known for his lethal ground game that’s led to him becoming the record-holder for most submissions in UFC history (15), but during his current 10-fight winning streak has also been demonstrating the fight-ending potential of his ever-improving stand-up game too.
That’s not to say that Gaethje doesn’t have other skills though as he does have a solid wrestling game, but he’ll be looking to use that solely in a defensive capacity to keep the fight standing as he did look out of his element on his back against Khabib Nurmagomedov in his previous title fight, and Oliveira is just too dangerous to deal with for even brief spells on the mat.
In the striking department Gaethje is a formidable foe though, being somewhat a of a technical brawler with an exceptionally high offensive output consisting largely of heavy-handed punches and brutal leg kicks, while he’s also one of the toughest, most durable fighters around.
Meanwhile, Oliveira is more versatile and creative with his attacks, and recent wins over talented strikers like Dustin Poirier, Michael Chandler and Tony ferguson will give him a lot of confidence, although he has had a tendency to get rocked at times which will be a big concern against Gaethje, though his powers of recovery have generally been good.
So, if the fight stays standing I do favor Gaethje, but Oliveira can still be very competitive upright, and is very good at finding ways to work the fight to the mat in the midst of striking exchanges, and once on the mat the momentum swings so heavily in his favor that I think a submission finish would be inevitable. I’ll take him to do so by the second round here.
Pick: Charles Oliveira wins by submission in Rd2.
Rose Namajunas vs. Carla Esparza
This is a rematch seven years in the making, with the two having first fought at the TUF 20 Finale to crown the UFC’s inaugural strawweight champion, and it was Esparza who used his wrestling ability to get the better of Namajunas on that occasion, before sealing the deal with a third round submission.
Esparza lost the belt in her next fight though and endured some mixed results for the a while, but a five-fight winning streak in more recent years has led her back to title contention, where as it happens Namajunas now holds the title.
Even after her first bid to win a title against Esparza came up short it always felt like it was only a matter of time before Namajunas made it to the top as even at that early stage in her young career she already had a great deal of talent, and in the years since she’s unquestionably lived up to that potential, winning the title on two separate occasions.
‘Thug’ Rose was always very dangerous on the mat, but these days she’s also an excellent striker too, having matured to be far less reckless in her approach in favor of being strategic and technical, utilizing slick movement and crisp, fast combinations to go along with her very good cardio.
On the other hand, it doesn’t feel like Esparza’s game has evolved all that much over the years, with much of her success still relying on her wrestling ability, while her striking remains functional at best and she’s not logged another submission finish since their last encounter.
Still, that wrestling advantage still offers Esparza a path to victory, but I think Namajunas is now the far better fighter and her big advantage in the striking department will pay dividends here as she picks Esparza apart from range and steers clear of her takedowns to set up a third round TKO victory.
Pick: Rose Namajunas wins by TKO in Rd3.
Michael Chandler vs. Tony Ferguson
Two all-action veterans who leave it all in the Octagon go to war here at a time in their careers when both are looking to get back to winning ways, with Chandler having lost back-to-back fights, while Ferguson has suffered a trio of defeats.
In fairness to Chandler, while results haven’t gone his way he had Oliveira in trouble before being TKO’d himself in their vacant title clash, while he was also involved in an incredible five-round slug-fest with Gaethje that raised his stock even in defeat, but must surely have taken a toll on him physically.
On the other hand, Ferguson’s recent results have been concerning as there has been real signs that time is catching up to the 38-year-old. He took a truly alarming amount of punishment in his own loss to the aforementioned Gaethje before being stopped in the final round, while he also looked off his game against both Oliveira and Beneil Dariush, who dominated him on the mat.
Ferguson still has a big reputation though and so he’s being thrown into the fire again here against Chandler, who will push a hard pace and throws with big power in his hands, while he’s also a very good wrestler with nasty ground-and-pound and he can work for submissions too.
Chandler does eat a lot of punches too however and is no stranger to being dazed in fights, though more often than not he does manage to battle through that. Still, Ferguson will fancy his chances of hurting him too, and while he doesn’t wield the same kind of one-punch power, he has a very deep striking arsenal at his disposal and is highly creative and relentless with his offensive approach, while also mixing in unpredictable movement to keep his opponents guessing.
Ferguson can also wrestle, works well in scrambles and continues to showcase his creativity in terms of his submission ability, but recent results suggest that he can be controlled on the mat, albeit admittedly by high level technicians, so I don’t think Chandler will fear tangling with him there, though he would have to be cautious.
So, both men have been through the wars, but I think the signs are that it’s now really affecting Ferguson to the point where he’s not the fighter he once was, while Chandler feels like he still has more to offer and so I’m going to pick him to come out all-guns blazing and finish Ferguson in the second round via TKO.
Prediction: Michael Chandler to win by TKO in Rd2.
Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua vs. Ovince Saint Preux
It was back in 2014 that these two first fought and it was a fight that was over almost as quickly as it started as OSP took just 34 seconds to stop ‘Shogun’ via KO.
All these years later the two veterans are now very much in the twilight of their careers, with the 40-year-old ‘Shogun’s’ last fight being a year-and-a-half ago when he suffered a TKO loss to Paul Craig, while the 39-year-old OSP has been TKO’d and KO’d in his last two bouts.
It feels like ‘Shogun’ has been in decline for a number of years, but it was painfully evident in that last fight with Craig, who in his prime years would have demolished on the feet, but instead ended up tapping out to strikes.
Injuries have certainly played their part over the years, but age has had an impact too and so ‘Shogun’ is no longer as dangerous or explosive on the feet these days. On the other hand, though OSP is also approaching 40 it does still feel like he can still call upon his athletic ability to deliver strikes with speed and power, though in his case the issue is that he rarely chooses to do so.
OSP has also proven to be very capable with submissions at times, though again it’s often an underutilized asset. So, though I have concerns about him never getting out of 2nd gear, I still think Saint Preux can get the better of the increasingly slow and fragile ‘Shogun’ and will catch him cleanly by the midway point of the fight to earn a TKO stoppage win.
Pick: Ovince Saint Preux wins by TKO in Rd2.
Donald Cerrone vs. Joe Lauzon
These are two of the UFC’s longest standing and most decorated lightweights off all-time, with both featuring in the history books in multiple categories, including Cerrone at 1st place for both most wins (23) and most bonuses (18), while Lauzon is 2nd for most finishes at lightweight (13) and most bonuses (15) to name but a few.
Fighters pay a price for those kind of achievements though and in the 39-year-old Cerrone’s case that’s become painfully apparent as he’s now gone six fights without a win, including four losses by TKO.
That’s troubling as Cerrone has always been as tough as old boots, but years of pushing the pedal to the metal both inside and outside the Octagon are now coming back to haunt him and has led to hints of looming retirement.
‘Cowboy’ still remains a force to be reckoned with offensively though as he’s a talented technical striker who pieces together kicks and punches well from range (aided by a 3″ height and 2″ reach advantage here) and also threatens with well-timed knees at closer range, which can be an effective deterrent against anyone looking to swoop in for a takedown.
Lauzon is a bit younger at 37 and has actually been on hiatus for well over two years since a TKO victory over Jonathan Pierce in 2019. It would have made sense if that had been the last time we saw the 43-fight veteran as he had lost three fights prior to that, with two having come by way of TKO, and there had been signs that he was becoming increasingly gun-shy over the years, often retreating into a defensive shell when coming under sustained fire.
Of course Lauzon is also very crafty on the mat and offers up a very significant submission threat, but then again, Cerrone also has a strong record of tapping out opponents on the mat over the years and has only been submitted himself on one occasion.
I feel this is a decent match-up for Cerrone as he’s going up against another fighter with a lot of miles on the clock, and one who doesn’t have the heaviest hands. The fact that Cerrone can also handle himself on the mat is also reassuring and so I’ll take him to overwhelm Lauzon in the striking department to score a second round TKO finish.
Pick: Donald Cerrone wins by TKO in Rd2.
Prelims (Predicted winners in bold)
Randy Brown vs. Khaos Williams
Macy Chiasson vs. Norma Dumont
Brandon Royval vs. Matt Schnell
Blagoy Ivanov vs. Marcos Rogerio de Lima
Francisco Trinaldo vs. Danny Roberts
Tracy Cortez vs. Melissa Gatto
Kleydson Rodrigues vs. C.J. Vergara
Ariane Carnelossi vs. Loopy Godinez
Journey Newson vs. Fernie Garcia
Andre Fialho vs. Cameron VanCamp