UFC 274 took place last Saturday on May 7th in Phoenix Arizona’s Footprint Center and boasted a sold-out arena. The event put the lightweight and strawweight titles on the line, featuring long awaited bouts from fan favorite fighters all around. The event, overall, was a bag of mixed feelings from many fans as the main events either had someone put to sleep or had the fans asleep. But, when the card did deliver, the atmosphere was electric.
First up out of the three fights that ended the night is the long-awaited return of Tony Ferguson who squared off against the ever dangerous, Michael Chandler. The fight was electric from the start as the two big personalities had been back and forth during the lead up to the fight. Both fighters were coming off multiple-fight losing streaks and had something to prove. The first round opened, and it looked like the old Tony Ferguson was back to his old “boogeyman” ways when he tore up the lightweight division during his 12-fight win streak. Ferguson was throwing his patented deadly elbows, looking to cut up Chandler and make the fight messy. Ferguson showed sharp boxing although his striking has always been a bit awkward, and he managed to get a clean strike on Chandler in the middle of the round which sat him down. Chandler was able to secure a takedown later in the round a keep Ferguson down. But Ferguson, being Ferguson, was quick to take his bottom position as a leverage to throw elbows to the skull of Chandler who quickly had to turn his offense into defense until the bell rang. It looked like Ferguson was back to his old ways as he smiled coming off the ground, but this excitement was short lived as the fight would end soon in the second round. As the second round was underway, Chandler was able to back Ferguson down in the first 10 seconds where he threw the final strike of the fight, landing the most devastating snap front kick on the chin of Ferguson. Ferguson, expecting a body shot, lowered his guard and found the ball of Chandler’s foot sending his chin into his brain. In highlight fashion, Ferguson was knocked out cold for the first time in his career. To add backflips to injury, Chandler proceeded to do four consecutive backflips before calling out Conor McGregor. To be fair to Ferguson, he was looking like his old self until he got hit with a strike that would likely put anyone out. Fans of the sport were ambushed with mixed feelings seeing a legend like Ferguson go out, but this will not likely be the end of Ferguson’s career as he still sits in the top 10 of the lightweight division with a lot of fight left in him.
The most uneventful event of the night was the fight between Rose Namajunas and Carla Esparza for the Rose’s strawweight title. The fight started and ended the same way: very, very boring. The fight was a back and forth of Namajunas going in and out of range while feinting every other second, landing the occasional jab while Esparza, although being the shorter fighter, pressured on, landing strikes to the leg every now and then and attempting takedowns here and there. By the end of 25 minutes, it looked like the two had gone for a brisk jog. The judges were left to score a fight that I am surprised they were even awake for. Rose Namajunas lost her belt to Esparza in a split decision, but I felt like I was the true loser for watching that whole thing.
The main event, kind of, put the lightweight title on the line. In a last-minute bit of drama on the scales during weigh-ins, Charles Oliveira became the first ever champion to lose his belt on the scale, missing weight by 0.5lbs. Oliveira forfeited his title and was not allowed to win it back with a victory over Justin Gaethje. Although the contender, Gaethje, could still win the belt with a victory of the now “former” champion. When it came fight night, the intensity almost seemed to double over the whole ordeal.
As the first and final bell rang, the two fighters kept their promise to not back down to the other. Oliveira was able to neutralize the devastating leg kicks of Gaethje, but not the hands. Gaethje landed once on Oliveira, sending him quickly to the ground. Gaethje did not go to the ground with Oliveira to capitalize on the situation as Oliveira’s ground game is notoriously dangerous as he holds the record for most submissions in the UFC, often submitting people when he himself is hurt. Oliveira rose and the two went back at it until Gaethje landed yet another knockdown, this time with Oliveira falling to his back after a hard shot. Another moment of recovery for Oliveira followed and with that followed a devastating shot on Gaethje, landing flush on his chin and sending the contender to the canvas. With no hesitation, Oliveira jumped onto a stunned Gaethje, working ground position to limit his escape options and work to take his back. After securing his hooks in, Oliveira was able to lock in a rear naked choke and end the fight, adding one more to his impressive submission record. With this fight wrapped up, Oliveira is now the unofficial champ and number one contender for the lightweight title. Logically speaking, it would make sense to match up Oliveira with Islam Makachev. Or, if you want to make a lot of money, match up Oliveira with McGregor, who Oliveira called out at the end of the fight. As for Gaethje, I think he would need another two or three fights to work back to a title shot, ideally in a rematch against Dustin Poirier, but I think wins against Beneil Dariush or maybe Islam Makhachev would also be great for him.