If you were to power rank the pound-for-pound most entertaining UFC fighters from the past decade, many names from UFC 274’s main card would be splattered all over the page.
Saturday’s pay-per-view event is headlined by lightweight stars Charles Oliveira vs. Justin Gaethje, which was injected with added intrigue following Friday’s dramatic weigh-in results.
If Gaethje wins, he will be the new champion. If Oliveira wins, though, the lightweight title will remain vacant.
UFC 274 also features a strawweight title rematch more than seven years in the making, six current or former UFC titleholders and a combined 99 post-fight performance bonuses on the main card alone.
That’s right. Ninety-nine bonuses! If you were tasked to design a main card that valued a combination of world-class talent, entertainment value plus some nostalgia you’d be hard pressed to do better than UFC 274’s lineup.
Check this out (career performance bonuses in parentheses):
— Charles Oliveira (18) vs. Justin Gaethje (10)
— Rose Namajunas (6) vs. Carla Esparza (3)
— Michael Chandler (2) vs. Tony Ferguson (11)
— Mauricio “Shogun” Rua (8) vs. Ovince Saint Preux (8)
— Donald Cerrone (18) vs. Joe Lauzon (15)
Keep in mind Namajunas and Esparza both rank top-10 all-time among the UFC’s women’s divisions and Chandler has only competed thrice in the UFC since coming over from Bellator MMA.
It’s another jam-packed weekend for sports fans and bettors with a full slate of Stanley Cup Playoffs, NBA Playoffs, The Kentucky Derby, MLB action, Canelo Alvarez vs Dmitry Bivol and this solid UFC card.
With that in mind here’s a look at the three featured bouts and the corresponding odds and some prop bet picks.
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CHARLES OLIVEIRA vs. JUSTIN GAETHJE
Oliveira -138 | Gaethje +110 | Draw +8000
Oliveira by decision +500 | Gaethje by decision +850
Oliveira by stoppage +120 | Gaethje by stoppage +160
Oliveira missed weight by half a pound Friday, so even though he’ll enter the arena technically as champion, he won’t leave the arena with his title – win or lose.
The Brazilian star opened as a -205 favourite when the fight was first announced but those odds have tightened as fight week approached. His odds took another dip in the hours following his weight-cut blunder.
They shifted from -163 Oliveira, +137 Gaethje when Oliveira initially missed weight to -138 Oliveira, +110 Gaethje only a couple hours later.
It would not be surprising to see this line completely flip by the time the fighters begin walking to the cage. If you plan on betting the Oliveira side, this odds change benefits you.
Oliveira has missed weight four previous times in his UFC career and is 2-2 in those fights, so it’s not a forgone conclusion that he’ll be at a disadvantage because of this.
Oliveira’s pace and output has been high these past few fights and he has shown improved durability during his 10-fight winning streak. Will he be able to withstand and match the top-tier output from Gaethje who lands 7.50 significant strikes landed per minute at 60 per cent accuracy compared to Oliveira’s career 3.44 significant strikes landed per minute at 53 per cent efficiency? Oliveira may be best advised to grapple more this time out.
Dustin Poirier’s best punch landed on Oliveira in their December fight at UFC 269 was a clean right hook that sat the Brazilian star down. Gaethje has the heaviest hands in the division and his right hook is among his most devastating punches. Will Oliveira be able to recover if Gaethje connects flush? Gaethje also lands damaging low chopping leg kicks often. Those kicks can give fighters with a more upright stance, like Oliveira, extra trouble when in range.
Oddsmaker are projecting this fight to get finished before the end of the third round. Not surprising considering each fighter’s propensity to avoid the judges.
Pick (and preferred prop bets): Gaethje (by stoppage +160, Gaethje by stoppage in round 1 +500, Gaethje by stoppage in round 2 +750). I’m choosing to believe Gaethje’s counter-wrestling and punching power will be the difference.
ROSE NAMAJUNAS vs. CARLA ESPARZA
Namajunas -210 | Esparza +175 | Draw +8000
Namajunas by decision +160 | Esparza by decision +275
Namajunas by stoppage +200 | Esparza by stoppage +650
Namajunas has more ways to win this fight as the better finisher and her dynamic style as a champion is more marketable than a controlling wrestler who rarely finishes her opponents. That can impact the betting lines with the public often siding with the chalk – in this case that means overlooking Esparza, who presents many challenges for Namajunas stylistically.
Esparza outmuscled and submitted Namajunas to win the inaugural 115-pound title when they met in The Ultimate Fighter Finale late in 2014. Namajunas is 9-2 since that fight but has never won more than three consecutive pro fights. Ezparza is 8-3 since winning the inaugural title and has won five in a row overall.
Pick (and preferred prop bets): Ezparza (by decision +275). I recommended back at UFC 273 the Aljamain Sterling to defeat Petr Yan by decision prop that cashed at +700 and I’m getting similar vibes with this co-main event matchup.
You should expect Ezparza to use a wrestling-heavy attack on Saturday. I may also sprinkle a bit on Esparza to finish the fight in rounds three, four or five, all of which have +3300 odds.
MICHAEL CHANDLER vs. TONY FERGUSON
Chandler -400 | Ferguson +300 | Draw +8000
Chandler by decision +260 | Ferguson by decision +650
Chandler by stoppage -138 | Ferguson by stoppage +650
Two action fighters on losing streaks are sure to put the crowd on its feet. You’d have a difficult time finding a boring bout on either of these fighters’ resumes. Both are willing to test their mettle (and chins) every time they step inside the Octagon.
The fact both fighters often get rocked and do the stanky leg adds to the potential chaos of this one.
Chandler is explosive, more powerful and oddsmakers are pegging him to get the finish but Ferguson has never been stopped in a three-round fight in his UFC career. On the flipside, three of Chandler’s past four losses has seen him get finished within six minutes.
Ferguson is 38 and nearing the end of his run as a legitimate title contender if that stage of his career is not already in the rear-view mirror.
The implied result will be a Chandler second-round stoppage at +400 but Ferguson has plenty of value at these odds against a fighter who routinely gets rocked. I’ll choose more chaos and ride with El Cucuy.
Pick (and preferred prop bet): Ferguson (by stoppage +650)
(Betting odds via Bet365 as of Friday evening and subject to change)
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