UFC 274 Main Card Predictions: Oliveira vs. Gaethje

The UFC is kicking off the month of May with a bang, with a star-studded Pay-Per-View card out of Phoenix, Arizona.

Two belts are on the line, along with a contender matchup and veterans duking it out beforehand, as Shogun Rua and Cowboy Cerrone return to action. In the main event, Charles Oliveira looks to defend his belt for a second time opposite the hard charging Justin Gaethje, while Rose Namajunas looks to defend down at Strawweight in a rematch against Carla Esparza.

Charles Oliveira vs. Justin Gaethje (LW)

A UFC mainstay for almost eleven years, Charles Oliveira (32-8, 20-8 UFC) moved up from Featherweight and went on a tear, currently riding a ten fight winning streak with all but one victory coming by stoppage. He claimed gold in a wild back and forth with Michael Chandler, KOing the Bellator export in the second round, and submitted American star Dustin Poirier in the third round to defend his throne.

“Do Bronx” recently received his Brazilian jiu-jitsu third degree black belt and holds the record for the most submissions inside the Octagon. He is an absolute killer when the fight hits the mat, with oppressive top control, lethal submissions, and slick submissions. He has demonstrated the vast improvement to his striking skill in recent efforts, scoring knockouts over Nik Lentz and Jared Gordon. His standup is based upon his pressure and unorthodox strikes, loving to throw jumping front kicks and spinning attacks as he has no fear of going to the mat. He has powerful low kicks and constant forward pressure, though his cardio has been a concern before.

Justin Gaethje (22-2,  5-2 UFC) cannot be described as anything except a brawler, despite starting his pro MMA career with a stellar NCAA wrestling background. After a loss to Lightweight GOAT Khabib Nurmagomedov, Gaethje reeasserted himself at the top of the division, winning out in a Fight of the Year war opposite Michael Chandler. Gaethje is a knockout artist by trade, as his record has an astounding nineteen knockouts on it.

Gaethje has a CHIN on him and is well-known for going into brawls with the intent to stand and trade, as his moniker “The Highlight” suggests. Gaethje brings a multitude of weapons into the cage, with ferocious leg kicks from all angles as well as skilled boxing, particularly in his hooks and uppercuts. He has demonstrated his one-shot knockout power against James Vick, Edson Barboza, and Cowboy Cerrone with first round KOs in three straight bouts, which led him to his interim title win over Tony Ferguson with yet another (technical) knockout. 

Fight fans have had their eyes on this one since it was announced, and with two all-action finishers and a belt on the line, it is not hard to see why. Both fighters push the pace, and love forward pressure on the feet. Gaethje is clearly the more threatening striker, with a warring style and hard-nosed pressure, along with one-shot KO power and those deadly leg kicks. On the other hand, Oliveira is the more well-rounded fighter, holding the UFC record for career submissions and finishes. If Oliveira can get the fight to the mat, Gaethje is in for a rough night at the office. However, I expect the wrestling pedigree and forward pressure of Gaethje to keep the fight standing, and for him to find the kill shot after whittling down Oliveira’s lead leg.

My Pick: Justin Gaethje via Knockout

Rose Namajunas vs. Carla Esparza (SW)

After two stunning wins over Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Rose Namajunas (11-4, 9-3 UFC) lost her title in a horrific slam to Jessica Andrade after a strong start, but got the win by split decision in their rematch. She reclaimed gold back in April opposite Weili Zhang, winning early with a first round head kick knockout. She defended the title through a decision, although a somewhat controversial one.

“Thug” Rose built her base as a grappler with terrific submissions, but what has set her apart in recent years has been her striking, which she used to both knock out and outpoint former champ and divisional GOAT Joanna Jedrzejczyk to win and defend the Strawweight title. Rose has a crisp, clean jab that she uses to mitigate range and set her own terms for the pace, best when in a technical battle. On the mat, she can be seen utilizing her stellar jiu jitsu skills and submission potential off her back to keep the fight precisely where she wants it. She has seven pro finishes with five by submission, though her power is significantly more threatening than the two knockout victories on her record would suggest.

Carla Esparza (18-6, 9-4 UFC) is currently on the longest win streak of her UFC tenure since losing her belt to Joanna Jedrzejczyk, riding five straight wins. She joined the UFC as the first Strawweight champion after winning the twentieth season of the Ultimate Fighter, submitting current champion Rose Namajunas to claim gold. Her most impressive win came in her last outing opposite Yan Xiaonan, where she secured a second round TKO with elbows from the crucifix.

“Cookie Monster” is riding five straight wins over the likes of Michelle Waterson, Marina Rodriguez, and the aforementioned Xiaonan. Esparza has dominant wrestling and control on the mat in addition to quality point striking, utilizing quick movement and barrages of punches when she enters the pocket. When able to establish top position, Esparza is much more of a position over submission type of fighter and actively looks to grind out her opponents. Even when clearly outmatched on the feet, Esparza has the level of dominance on the mat to make every fight extremely close.

In their first meeting, Esparza dominated en route to a third round decision, as Rose was happy to hunt for submissions from her back. However, I do not see the rematch going accordingly, as both fighters have made measurable improvements in the meantime. While Esparza has continued to display her specialist style of wrestling over her current win streak, Rose has evolved from a clinical grappler to a well-versed offensive threat, with massive developments in her striking since her time on The Ultimate Fighter. While I can see Esparza having similar success through top position, I expect the emphatic difference to be established on the feet, in favor of Namajunas. I see a back and forth affair with Thug Rose dominating on the feet and sporadic periods of top control from Esparza for a clear decision or late Namajunas TKO.

My Pick: Rose Namajunas via Knockout

Michael Chandler vs. Tony Ferguson (LW)

Michael Chandler (22-7, 1-2 UFC) made his long awaited Octagon debut in January after a notable career in Bellator that saw him win and defend the Lightweight title several times. He needed just half of the first round to knock out Dan Hooker in his debut, cementing his status in the rankings. He lost his title shot to current champ Oliveira, then lost a Fight of the Year decision to Gaethje.

The NCAA Division I wrestler has a persistent ground attack combined with dominant top control and seven submissions to his name. He has a composed yet aggressive striking style with great cardio. “Iron” Mike’s knockout power has been on full display as of late, earning vicious knockouts over Sidney Outlaw and Benson Henderson since losing his title to Patricio Pitbull. Chandler is a versatile threat with sixteen career finishes, but has shown issues with his striking defense with leg kicks in particular, though he loves himself a brawl (you MUST watch his bouts against Eddie Alvarez).

Tony Ferguson (25-6, 15-4 UFC) had his twelve fight winning streak inside the Octagon broken by Justin Gaethje, and was then dominated in his next two outings by Oliveira and Beneil Dariush. Ferguson is a well-rounded fighter who is, quite frankly, insane in the best way. He has an unrelenting pace, aggressive striking, and sneaky submissions.

“El Cucuy”s striking is composed of an unorthodox style with constant stance switching, superb footwork, and slicing elbows. Ferguson likes to pressure forward and use his relentless pacing and volume to create a relentless onslaught of punishment for his opponent. He also has an high level grappling pedigree coming out of the 10th Planet system and can wing crafty submissions from his back. Ferguson has been on somewhat of a decline in recent bouts with both worsening striking and takedown defense.

The fans seem to expect another iconic FOTY war from this fight, and I hate to play the contrarian, but I am not expecting that here. Ferguson is undoubtedly still a scrapper, but his defensive lapses; particularly to wrestling, have become glaring as of late. Chandler comes in with the well-rounded style and the power to win a fight with Ferguson on the feet, but I fully expect him to utilize his well touted NCAA wrestling skills here. Ferguson still holds an iron chin, so I don’t see Chandler putting him away, but winning a clear decision through a well-paced striking offense and intermittent periods of top control.

My Pick: Michael Chandler via Decision

Mauricio Rua vs. Ovince St.-Preux II (LHW)

We have another veteran matchup leading up to the featured bout, pitting Brazilian legend Shogun Rua up against Ovince St. Preux, a highly touted finisher in any avenue.

Shogun Rua extended his winless streak to four with a FOTN war opposite Big Nog in a trilogy fight. However, he was mauled by Paul Craig on the mat in his next outing, and has not seen the cage since November 2020. OSP has certainly been active in the Apex, with four fights since the pandemic hit. Though he scored a Performance of the Night bonus opposite Alonzo Menifield, he has suffered twp straight TKO losses to Jamahal Hill and Tanner Boser.

Shogun Rua vs. Ovince St. Preux at UFC FIght Night 56

While both fighters are up there in age, OSP has certainly been the more active party as of late. However, that hasn’t turned out too well for him, just two wins in his last seven contests. While Rua was thoroughly dominated in his last bout, his fights with Big Nog and Tyson Pedro proved he can still bang with the best of them and carries heavy power, though his speed and brute strength may not be at his prime. St. Preux holds a clear edge on the mat and I can see him picking up a finish there if he is dedicated to the ground battle. However, his durability and striking defense have proven quite poor in recent efforts, and I think Shogun can find the finish on the feet if OSP does not commit to the takedown.

This is a rematch fight, however, the first inning took place almost eight years ago and each fighter has changed immeasurably. I see this as a coin flip fight and keep reversing my prediction every day as we near the event. However, I think OSP will find immediate success if he can bring the fight to the mat early, and avoid the power of Shogun.

My Pick: Ovince St. Preux via Submission

Donald Cerrone vs. Joe Lauzon (LW)

Kicking off the main card we have a fun Lightweight clash between two veterans of the Octagon.

Cowboy is winless in his last six Octagon contests, with four of those losses coming via knockout. He has not competed in almost a year to the day. On the other hand, Joe Lauzon returned from a rumored retirement in late 2019, picking up a first round TKO over Jonathan Pearce. He has not competed since, and despite his retirement, he is two years the junior of Cerrone.

When looking at recent form, it is hard to not favor Lauzon, however, he holds less than 90 seconds of cage time in the last four years, a factor that will inevitably show itself should the fight go longer. Cerrone holds the higher level of competition, and his striking advantage will become evident the longer the fight goes on, resulting in a late knockout or decision.

My Pick: Donald Cerrone via Knockout

The full fight card is set with nine preliminary bouts, kicking off at 5 PM EST and the main card action on at 10 PM EST.

Tune in to our home page for live coverage of the event!

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