Wednesday, March 22, 2023

UFC 274 predictions — Charles Oliveira vs. Justin Gaethje: Fight card, odds, expert picks, prelims, date

Two UFC championships were scheduled to on the line Saturday night when UFC 274 goes down in Phoenix, but that all changed during Friday’s weigh-in when Charles Oliveira lost his belt on the scales. Oliveira came in overweight at 155.5 pounds for the 155-pound contest and was stripped of the belt, but challenger Justin Gaethje can still pick up the title with a victory. Even with the sudden change to the main event, UFC 274 features a stacked card with plenty of big stars and champions both past and current.

The co-main event features Rose Namajunas defending the women’s strawweight title against Carla Esparza. Esparza and Namajunas have met once before, with Esparza becoming the first strawweight champion when she defeated Namajunas in the finals of “The Ultimate Fighter” in 2014.

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Aside from the pair of title fights, more veterans fill out this loaded PPV card. Lightweight contenders Michael Chandler and Tony Ferguson are set to throw down in a bout that promises action. Veterans Ovince Saint Preux and former champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua scrap it out in the light heavyweight division. And legendary veterans Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone and Lauzon open up the festivities with a welterweight contest.

With so much happening on Saturday night, let’s take a closer look at the full fight card with the latest odds from Caesars Sportsbook before we get to our staff predictions and picks for the PPV portion of the festivities.

UFC 274 fight card, odds

  • Charles Oliveira (c) -170 vs. Justin Gaethje +145, lightweight title
  • Rose Namajunas -220 vs. Carla Esparza +180, women’s strawweight title
  • Michael Chandler -380 vs. Tony Ferguson +300, lightweight
  • Ovince Saint Preux -230 vs. Mauricio Rua +190, light heavyweight

  • Donald Cerrone -175 vs. Joe Lauzon +150, lightweight
  • Khaos Williams -120 vs. Randy Brown +100, welterweight
  • Norma Dumont -220 vs. Macy Chiasson +180, women’s featherweight
  • Blagoy Ivanov -155 vs. Marcos Rogerio De Lima +130, heavyweight
  • Brandon Royval -260 vs. Matt Schnell +210, flyweight
  • Francisco Trinaldo -120 vs. Danny Roberts +100, welterweight
  • Tracy Cortez -150 vs. Melissa Gatto +125, women’s flyweight

  • Kleidison Rodrigues -340 vs. CJ Vergara +270, flyweight
  • Loopy Godinez -170 vs. Ariane Carnelossi +145, women’s strawweight

  • Fernie Garcia -150 vs. Journey Newson +125, bantamweight
  • Andre Fiahlo -420 vs. Cameron Vancamp +330, welterweight

With such a massive main event on tap, the crew at CBS Sports went ahead with predictions and picks for the main card. Here are your pick makers: Brent Brookhouse (Combat sports writer), Brian Campbell (Combat sports writer, co-host of “Morning Kombat”), Shakiel Mahjouri (writer), Michael Mormile (producer) and Brandon Wise (senior editor).

UFC 274 picks, predictions

Oliveira (c) vs. Gaethje Gaethje Gaethje Gaethje Gaethje Gaethje
Namajunas (c) vs. Esparza Namajuns Namajunas Namajunas Namajunas Namajunas
Chandler vs. Ferguson Chandler Chandler Chandler Chandler Chandler
 Saint Preux vs. Rua

Rua Saint Preux Rua Rua Saint Preux
Cerrone vs. Lauzon Lauzon Cerrone Cerrone Cerrone Lauzon
Records to date (2022) 10-10 10-10 9-11 13-7 12-8

Oliveira vs. Gaethje

Campbell: As far as finishes are concerned, there has never been a more dangerous fighter in UFC history than Oliveira, who has won 10 straight fights since 2018, including nine by stoppage. But the career record holder for both UFC submissions and finishes has also accrued a fair amount of damage in getting there, including his vacant title win over Michael Chandler when Oliveira narrowly avoided being knocked out in the opening frame. Gaethje is so violent and intentional in his pursuit of a knockout that he represents the perfect type of threat for the champion’s calculated luck to run out on. Although Oliveira’s chances of winning can increase exponentially should the fight go to the ground, Gaethje isn’t exactly easy to take down. Should this fight turn into pure chaos, the kind of which Oliveira typically thrives, he may find out there’s someone out there who is even more comfortable in the deep water.  

Brookhouse: I’d initially picked Oliveira to win, just as I’d picked him to be the next lightweight champion when Khabib Nurmagomedov retired, just as I’d picked him to retain against Dustin Poirier. Then came Friday and Oliveira’s disaster on the scales. Not only did he miss weight the first time around, he failed to lose half of a pound in one hour. That indicates that something is off. Gaethje isn’t a man you want to face at less than your best and the red flags are just off the charts for Oliveira now. The lane is wide open for Gaethje to become UFC lightweight champion and Oliveira has to hope to regain the belt down the road because he’s no longer the champ, no matter the outcome on Saturday night.

Namajunas vs. Esparza

Campbell: Nearly eight years after losing the inaugural 115-pound title to Esparza, the full-circle nature of Namajunas’ evolution provides an intriguing narrative to this title rematch. But even though both fighters are alarmingly better today than their 2014 form, Namajunas has seemingly ironed out all of our deficiencies on this recent run, which has included a pair of victories each over former champions Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Zhang Weili, along with a redemptive victory her in rematch with Jessica Andrade. Unless Esparza can keep the fight on the ground exclusively, Namajunas’ precision on her feet should be more than enough.

Brookhouse: Namajunas is so much better than she was in 2014 that any improvements Esparza has made haven’t stopped Namajunas from becoming the clearly better fighter of the two. Esparza has to fight a nearly perfect fight to beat Namajunas, not engaging on the feet at all and landing takedown after takedown while keeping the fight on the ground and in top control at all times. That just seems an improbable way for the fight to play out and more likely is a fight where Namajunas cruises to a decision on the strength of a dominant striking game.

Mahjouri: Do not get it twisted, people are sleeping on Esparza. Zhang Weili’s ability to take down Namajunas (5 of 11 attempts) at UFC 268 should inspire confidence in Esparza’s camp. Esparza is a relentless grappler who has developed a mean streak inside the Octagon. Namajunas is arguably the more well-rounded fighter and a sneaky finisher on the feet. Under the guidance of coach Trevor Wittman, Namajunas will have dedicated far more time to defensive wrestling and range maintenance than she did in the lead up to Namajunas-Weili 2. “Thug Rose” is undefeated in rematches and a hitman in fresh matchups. Esparza has significantly improved since their first fight eight years ago, but her style remains relatively the same. Namajunas is unrecognizable from the 3-2 fighter who lost the inaugural women’s strawweight title. Esparza may take a round or two from Namajunas, but the champ will likely win on the scorecards or land a fight-finishing knockout.

Chandler vs. Ferguson

Campbell: At 38 and riding a three-fight losing streak, this is nothing short of a must-win for Ferguson. But there’s more than enough reason to believe the competitive fire within Ferguson might be waning given the combined level of damage he has accrued throughout wins and losses in recent years. Luring Chandler into a wild brawl could be Ferguson’s best move to level the terms of this fight, especially considering the former Bellator champion’s constant lust for making action fights. But it could also lead to Ferguson enduring a sustained beating as Chandler looks to finish the fight with every punch he throws. Some form of a Ferguson resurgence isn’t out of the question here. The real debate is whether it will be enough to actually win the fight. 

Brookhouse: It’s hard to figure the Ferguson who has shown up to his last three fights to be much of a force here against an aggressive opponent in Chandler. Ferguson looks like he wants to find that old fire that led to so much success, but his body doesn’t seem able to accomplish what his brain wants it to. At the highest levels of the sport, even a 3% reduction in your abilities can spell the end for your ability to compete with the best. That seems to be what happened to Ferguson and Chandler is not the kind of fighter who will show mercy once he’s throwing hands.

Who wins Oliveira vs. Gaethje? And what other picks do you need to see? Visit SportsLine now to get detailed top picks on UFC 274, all from the insider who’s up more than $10,000 on MMA picks the past two years, and find out. 

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