On May 7, two champions will put their belts on the line against top contenders in a main event filled with other world class fighters and legends of MMA. Taking place in Phoenix, Arizona, UFC 274 will see women’s strawweight champion Rose Namajunas and men’s lightweight champion, Charles Oliveira try to keep their gold against some of their toughest opponents to date. Alongside the two main events are legend packed fights as we see long time UFC veterans Donald Cerrone, Tony Ferguson and “Shogun” Rua go to war. This card will be stacked with fan favorites and likely some of the most exciting fights of the year.
Covering only the last three fights of the night, we start off with the lightweight bout between the legend and former interim champion, Tony “El Cucuy” Ferguson, and the former Bellator lightweight champion turned UFC title contender, Michael Chandler. Since entering title contention at the start of 2020, Tony Ferguson has found himself on a three-fight losing streak against the elite in the lightweight division, suffering losses to Justin Gaethje, Charles Oliveira and Beneil Dariush. The losses are nothing to scoff at as all those fighters sit within the top five of the division. With those losses though, the topic of Ferguson never returning to form and his possible retirement come to mind. With that said, this fight determines the momentum for any chance of returning to title contention as Ferguson is now 38 years old and a bit past the timewhen he was one of the most feared fighters on the planet. His opponent Michael Chandler finds himself on the same path. Chandler has lost his last two fights to Justin Gaethje and Charles Oliveira after a stunning UFC debut back in 2021. Unfortunately, Chandler spent his prime years having absolute wars in the Bellator as the three-time lightweight champion there. I do highly recommend watching his Bellator highlights. Although his defeats came from the current champion and top contender, momentum and age would play a big factor for his hopes of a title shot. For both fighters, age, damage sustained over their careers, and future title contention make this fight an urgent one for either to win. This should be a great fight to watch as both are known for their durability and ability to never have a boring fight. The winner of this fight would likely be one to two more fights away from a title shot.
The co-main event is a historic one for the strawweight division as the two fighters faced off before for the inaugural strawweight belt back in 2014. Carla Esparza bested Rose Namajunas at the end of the Ultimate Fighter and became the first ever strawweight champion in the UFC. Esparza would lose the belt a year later and Namajunas would later find herself as the champion in 2017. Namajunas would also lose her belt, this time in 2019, but would reclaim it in 2021 after a swift victory against Weili Zhang. Now the Ultimate Fighter rematch is set to take place with Namajunas, the current champion, defending her belt against the first champion. Esparza has found herself on a five-fight win streak after going 8-3 since losing her belt, climbing her way to the #2 contender spot just behind Weili Zhang. The current champ has now defended her belt once against Weili Zhang in their immediate rematch fight at the end of 2022 and now seeks to avenge her loss in a fight that has been eight years in the making. Both are ever confident in their abilities to claim gold by the end of the fight, and given the recent form of both fighters, they are right to think so. It will be tough for both fighters, but given Namajunas has been fighting the elite of the division for a long time, it will be hard for Esparza to compare after not having faced the same level of competition that the champion has. Namajunas in two.
The main event of the evening is between two entertaining and most elite level lightweights, Charles Oliveira and Justin Gaethje. Oliveira, after defending his belt for the first time against Dustin Poirier last December, has been a dominant force as champion. Taking out Michael Chandler to earn his belt and submitting Poirier in his first defense has proved Oliveira has the means to hang with the top contenders and finish his fights. Boasting the record for most submission wins in UFC history (14) along with the most finishes overall (18), Oliveira is a danger on the ground with his elite jiu jitsu and on the feet with his technical striking and long reach. Being on a 10-fight winning streak, with only his fight against Tony Ferguson going to decision, Oliveira has proven himself to be king of the lightweight division thus far, and a victory over Gaethje would greatly cement his status as one of the best lightweights of all time. But Justin Gaethje is no slouch and never has been. The “Highlight” Gaethje is one of the most violent fighters among violent fighters. With never a shred of effort left behind, Gaethje is one o fthe most entertaining and hardest hitting strikers in the UFC. Having suffered his only defeat in four years to the former champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, Gaethje has only improved upon rocky entrance into the UFC when he suffered back-to-back losses against former champions Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier. Gaethje’s last two wins saw him give Tony Ferguson his first ever knockout loss in Ferguson’s 11-year UFC career and turn Michael Chandler into a walking zombie in the fight of the year for 2021. Gaethje’s high level D1 wrestling background makes him a nightmare on the ground as he cannot easily be held down. Even with a great wrestling background, Gaethje has always been one to stand and bang with his opponents. His striking speaks for itself with his devastating leg kicks and thunderous hands earning him 19 knockouts in 23 victories across his MMA career. The two fighters are finishers first and foremost and I truly doubt this fight will see the end of the fifth round. This fight will be anything but boring come May 7 and I for one cannot wait to see who will come out on top.