On Saturday, May 7, the UFC heads to Arizona for the first time in almost a year for the UFC 274 pay-per-view card. Like the promotion's previous Arizona fight card, which was UFC 263, UFC 274 has two title fights and an important lightweight bout at the top of the card.
In the main event of UFC 274, Charles Oliveira puts his UFC lightweight title and 10-fight winning streak on the line against former WSOF champ Justin Gaethje. Oliveira won the lightweight crown in May 2021 with a win over Michael Chandler. He defeated Dustin Poirier in his first title defence. His fight opposite Gaethje is his second attempted title defence. UFC 274 marks Gaethje's second attempt to secure the UFC 155-pound crown. He fell short in his first title fight when Khabib Nurmagomedov submitted him at UFC 254.
The co-headliner is a rematch of the inaugural women's strawweight title fight. In 2014, Carla Esparza defeated Rose Namajunas to win the 115-pound crown. Namajunas is now the titleholder, and she puts that belt on the line against Esparza in Arizona.
The lightweight feature fight sees Michael Chandler face off against Tony Ferguson. Chandler is on a two-fight losing skid, while Ferguson has dropped three straight.
Before we dive into the top fights on the UFC 274 pay-per-view card, make sure to check out the best sites for UFC betting as well as the best-rated Canadian sportsbooks, like SportsInteraction (SIA).
Date & Location: Saturday, May 7 at Footprint Center in Phoenix, AZ.
Time: Main card: 10 p.m. ET, Prelims: 8 p.m. ET, Early Prelims: TBA
Oliveira vs. Gaethje Picks
Justin Gaethje bounced back from his October 2020 title fight loss to then-UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov with a decision win over Michael Chandler in November 2021. That "Fight of the Night" bonus winning victory earned him a shot at current 155-pound UFC champ Charles Oliveira.
This matchup comes down to which fighter can impose their will on the other. Gaethje has some of the nastiest leg kicks and heaviest hands in the UFC to go along with an incredible chin. He has also become a more calculated fighter over the past few years. His bite down on his mouthpiece and throw for the style of the fence has been replaced by a more measured approach. Meanwhile, Charles Oliveira, who once struggled against tough opponents, has developed into a confident and well-rounded fighter who has an exceptional ground game.
I think Olivera has the fight IQ and skills to triumph in this scrap. The champion's wisest course of action is to either fight all the way in or all the way out against his dangerous opponent. That approach will allow him to negate the power of Gaethje's strikes and perhaps allow him to take the fight to the cage. With no distance for Gaethje to strike, Oliveira should be able to secure a takedown and use his superior ground skills.
Pick: Oliveira to beat Gaethje.
Namajunas vs. Esparza 2 Picks
It's been more than seven years since Carla Esparza defeated Rose Namajunas to claim the inaugural UFC women's strawweight title. A great deal has changed over that time. And the majority of those changes have taken place in Namajunas' career. When Esparza and Namajunas first fought, Namajunas had less than two years of professional experience. Her record was 2-1 heading into that title bout. Meanwhile, Esparza was a pro for four years and had 11 pro fights. She was also coming off winning the Invicta FC strawweight title.
Namajunas has developed into a complete mixed martial artist since that first fight. The most important part of Namajunas' growth has been her mentality toward the fight game. She is incredibly coachable and she has the ability to implement the game plan her team provides her before and during her fights. Outside of the mistake that ended her first title reign — a KO loss to Jessica Andrade in 2019 — Namajunas has been nearly perfect over the past five years.
Esparza deserves this rematch. She has won her past five fights. Esparza has become a more well-rounded mixed martial artist over the years, but she continues to rely far too much on her wrestling base. That lack of depth is what will cost her in this rematch.
Pick: Namajunas to beat Esparza.
Chandler vs. Ferguson Picks
Two fighters on losing skids face off in a lightweight feature bout on the UFC 274 PPV card. Tony Ferguson has not won a fight since he beat Donald Cerrone in June 2019. Since then, he has lost three straight.
The problem facing Ferguson is he is no longer an elite fighter. That's not to dismiss his talents, but to point out that his aggressive fighting style and time have caught up with him.
Michael Chandler's most recent win was a 2021 TKO win over Dan Hooker in his UFC debut; since then the former Bellator champ has lost to Oliveira and Gaethje. Chandler might not be a future UFC champion, but he is battling at a higher level than Ferguson these days and that will earn him a win at UFC 274.
Pick: Michael Chandler to defeat Tony Ferguson.