Friday, May 20, 2022

UFC 274 Predictions: Expert Picks by MMA News Staff

UFC 274 is quickly approaching, and we’ve got our staff predictions ready for you ahead of this weekend’s big card!

UFC 274 will be available exclusively on ESPN+ pay-per-view on Saturday, May 7, 2022. The main card begins at 10:00 PM ET, and the ESPN preliminary card kicks off at 8:00 PM. The early preliminary card starts at 5:30 PM. The event will take place from The Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona.

In the main event, reigning champion Charles Oliveira will defend the lightweight title against Justin Gaethje in what will be Gaethje’s second attempt at UFC gold after falling to Khabib Nurmagomedov in 2020. The co-main event will see another title fight in a rematch between strawweight champion Rose Namajunas and her opponent, Carla Esparza.

Prior to the title fights, fan-favorites Michael Chandler and Tony Ferguson will lock horns in a bout that could very easily steal the show.

Also on the main card, we could very well be seeing the final Octagon appearance for the loser of Donald Cerrone vs. Joe Lauzon, or perhaps even both veterans. You won’t want to miss this monumental battle between two of the UFC’s most familiar faces.

Additionally, there will be a light heavyweight rematch between two other UFC veterans when Ovince Saint Preux takes on Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.

Staff Predictions for UFC 274: Oliveira vs. Gaethje

MMA News is the place to be for all the latest UFC 274 updates. Harvey Leonard, Andrew Starc and I have provided our picks for you below.

Here is the full main card for UFC 274: Oliveira vs. Chandler:

  • UFC Lightweight Championship Bout: Charles Oliveira (c) vs. Justin Gaethje
  • UFC Strawweight Championship Bout: Rose Namajunas (c) vs. Carla Esparza
  • Michael Chandler vs. Tony Ferguson
  • Mauricio “Shogun” Rua vs. Ovince Saint Preux
  • Donald Cerrone vs. Joe Lauzon

Donald Cerrone vs. Joe Lauzon

https://www.photojoiner.net/image/FHeVm6iB
Donald Cerrone, Joe Lauzon

Clyde Aidoo: Donald Cerrone and Joe Lauzon are both long-toothed veterans of the UFC. With the two combatants being 39 and 37 years old respectively and both losing more than winning in recent years, many fighters could adopt the belief that this is anyone’s fight. I don’t quite think that’s the case.

The one difference that stands out to me between these two men’s records is the level of competition. Cerrone has continued to face ranked fighters and former champions while Lauzon has primarily tangled with fellow unranked veterans, such as his UFC 274 opponent Cerrone.

That said, I’m not looking at this fight from a “Who’s form is currently worse as of late?” perspective. I’m judging this fight the same way I would if these two were paired together at any point in their careers: which is that Lauzon is unlikely to join the list of names like Conor McGregor, Darren Till, and Justin Gaethje in putting away Cerrone early.

If that’s the case, Cerrone will warm up. And once Cerrone warms up, I believe him to be better than Lauzon just about everywhere. (Prediction: Donald Cerrone)

Harvey Leonard: Hopefully this is an entertaining fight for both men to bow out with. While “Cowboy” is inherently the better fighter, he certainly can’t take shots like he used to, and it’s clear that pressure has become his enemy. Although I’d expect a long fight to benefit Cerrone, it seems clear that Lauzon knows that and is targeting a quick start. With that in mind, I wouldn’t be surprised if an aggressive Lauzon hurts and finishes “Cowboy” relatively early.  (Prediction: Joe Lauzon)

Andrew Starc: A victory for Donald Cerrone here will be his 24th in the UFC, making him the winningest fighter in the promotion’s history. But it would also be his first in seven fights. Can the 39-year-old Cerrone get back in the win column? I don’t think so.

The wear and tear “Cowboy” has sustained over his career has well and truly caught up to him. While Joe Lauzon hasn’t fought since 2019, and his résumé isn’t nearly as impressive as Cerrone’s, I think he gets it done. (Prediction: Joe Lauzon)

Consensus: 2-1 Lauzon

Mauricio “Shogun” Rua vs. Ovince Saint Preux

Mauricio Shogun Rua Ovince St Preux
Getty Images

Clyde Aidoo: With Rua only losing one fight out of his last four Octagon appearances while Saint Preux has dropped three of his last four, Rua has looked better in recent years. However, we haven’t seen Rua compete since 2020 and he’s now hit 40, so it’s difficult to project how he’ll look in his return this weekend.

For me, this fight is a toss-up. And when that’s the case, I’ll go with the fighter who’s already proven he could beat the opponent at hand, in this case, that would be Saint Preux. (Prediction: Ovince Saint Preux)

Harvey Leonard: I think this one will be an uphill battle for Rua from the start. While “OSP” is on a poor run of form, losing consecutive fights via KO, a finish on the feet is unlikely to be a worry for him this time around. It’s always tough to predict when two veterans collide, but it seems Saint Preux just has more left in him. If he can avoid being bogged down by Rua’s wrestling, I’d expect a TKO or KO to come à la “OSP” vs. “Shogun” 1, or a submission when a hurt Rua changes levels.  (Prediction: Ovince Saint Preux)

Andrew Starc: When these two met in 2014, Ovince St. Preux got the KO in just 34 seconds. There’s been a lot of water under the bridge for the duo since then, however. Saint Preux has lost three of his last four, with his last victory coming against Alonzo Menifield in 2020.

Maurício Rua, meanwhile, has been inactive since November 2020, when he lost via submission to Paul Craig. St. Preux is the betting favorite, but I’m predicting the 40-year-old Rua will wind back the clock and get the win. (Prediction: Maurício Rua)

Consensus: 2-1 Saint Preux

Michael Chandler vs. Tony Ferguson

Tony Ferguson Michael Chandler
Tony Ferguson, Michael Chandler

Clyde Aidoo: If this fight took place three years ago, I’d side with El Cucuy with a decent level of confidence. But it’s difficult to do so in 2022.

I can see Chandler winning one of two ways. He could use his speed advantage and explosiveness to potentially run through Ferguson, whose chin and durability may never be the same again after being brutally pummeled by Gaethje two years ago. Or, Chandler could put his wrestling background to good use against Ferguson, as Charles Oliveira and Beneil Dariush did before him.

Ferguson claims to have gone back to his wrestling roots in preparation for this fight. If his takedown defense holds up and he can weather the first-round storm of Chandler, then this fight could very well be Ferguson’s to win. But those are two big ifs that are hard to bank on in 2022. (Prediction: Michael Chandler)

Harvey Leonard: As much as this is a fan-friendly bout that should deliver entertainment, it’s also a crucial one. So far in the UFC, Chandler’s stock hasn’t dropped in defeat. Against Oliveira, he was moments away from the title, and his part in a FOTY with Gaethje certainly maintained his reputation.

This time, defeat would be damaging for “Iron.” Given the manner of Ferguson’s recent performances and the names he’s lost to, a setback to “El Cucuy” would create a sizable gap between Chandler and the top contenders. With that said, I expect him to prioritize the win over entertainment this time. If that is the case, he’ll have the tools to grind out the victory, something he’ll know having seen Ferguson’s last two losses. (Prediction: Michael Chandler)

Andrew Starc: Tony Ferguson’s recent slump in form isn’t news to anyone, and at 38 years old, many believe he’s lost a step. But I don’t think he’s seen his last victory in the UFC. “El Cucuy’s” unorthodox style, phenomenal work rate, and legendary gas tank could pose problems for Michael Chandler, who’s coming off back-to-back losses. 

Yes, Chandler could very well put a Justin Gaethje-style beat-down on Ferguson, but I’m picking Tony for the upset win. (Prediction: Tony Ferguson)

Consensus: 2-1 Chandler

Rose Namajunas vs. Carla Esparza

Rose Namajunas, Carla Esparza
Rose Namajunas, Carla Esparza

Clyde Aidoo: Earlier, I mentioned that if a fight is a pick-em, I’m going to side with the fighter who has proven they can defeat the opponent. However, I’m not siding with Esparza here. The reason? This fight isn’t a pick-em, and it is no longer 2014.

Nope, Namajunas is now a much more patient, versatile, and lethal foe for Esparza. I can imagine her staying at a distance where she could pick Esparza apart or knock her out. Mind you, Namajunas has managed to finish two of the toughest women in the entire company: Joanna Jędrzejczyk and Zhang Weili. So finishing Esparza is certainly a plausible outcome for the UFC 274 co-main event.

Esparza has made her improvements but far more subtly and incrementally than Namajunas has. Ultimately, her path to victory is still to outwrestle Namajunas as she did eight years ago. Only now, Namajunas poses an even bigger threat on the mat and is much more likely to employ tactics to stop the fight from even making it there. (Prediction: Rose Namajunas)

Harvey Leonard: Esparza’s form since 2018 has been something to behold, and her pressure wrestling and ground and pound are dangerous for anyone. And given the fact Zhang managed seven takedowns at UFC 268, I think it’s safe to say that Esparza will manage the feat at some point.

However, “Thug Rose” has great scrambles and I can’t see her being kept down long enough for “Cookie Monster” to unload with strikes or work to a finish. When the fight is on the feet, Namajunas should have a clear edge, even if it is just by landing more impactful strikes in low-volume frames. (Prediction: Rose Namajunas)

Andrew Starc: Rose Namajunas is of course a completely different fighter from the one who lost via submission to Carla Esparza in 2014. After avenging her loss to Jéssica Andrade, then regaining and defending her strawweight title against Weili Zhang, the 29-year-old looks virtually unbeatable.

Esparza, meanwhile, is on a five-fight win streak and possesses the wrestling to pose problems for Namajunas. I’m picking Esparza to get the upset victory and regain the title she lost in 2015. (Prediction: Carla Esparza) 

Consensus: 2-1 Namajunas

Charles Oliveira vs. Justin Gaethje

Charles Oliveira Justin Gaethje
Charles Oliveira, Justin Gaethje

Clyde Aidoo: This is a tough one. My mind says Gaethje wears out Oliveira on the feet after using his wrestling background and takedown defense to keep the fight standing. Oliveira may be a submission guru but he’s no Khabib when it comes to taking the fight to the mat.

My gut tells me that Oliveira has arguably more ways to win a fight than anyone on the entire UFC roster right now and that his confidence and sly knack for creating a path to victory is second to none and will be on display yet again on Saturday.

So which will I side with? I’m sorry, but 10 straight victories bleed straight from my gut, into my brain, and finally onto my pick. It’s pretty hard to bet against that track record.

“Do Bronx” is every bit as slick as he is talented, so I’m going to side with his veteran intangibles and prime form to get it done someway, maybe when we least expect it and successfully defending his title for the second time. (Prediction: Charles Oliveira)

Harvey Leonard: At UFC 269, I predicted that should Poirier hurt Oliveira as Chandler did, he’d have the power and finishing instinct to put “Do Bronx” away. Having been proven wrong by the Brazilian, I’m not sure there’s any basis to doubt the toughness and grit of the current iteration of Oliveira. With that in mind, and should he survive any hairy moments, I think the champ’s well-rounded game will take him to a second successful title defense, probably via submission.

Gaethje’s threat on the feet can never be counted out and a knockout could always happen, but with Oliveira’s development in the standup realm, coupled with his BJJ talents, I expect it’ll take a grappling specialist like Dariush or Makhachev to dethrone him, not the striking-heavy game of “The Highlight.” (Prediction: Charles Oliveira)

Andrew Starc: Written off many a time, Charles Oliveira continues to prove why he’s the best in the lightweight division. He’s now won his last 10 fights, and only one of those victories came by decision. But can he deal with the KO power of Gaethje? 

While Oliveira was almost put away by the similarly heavy-handed Michael Chandler, I think he can weather the storm from Gaethje and get the fight to the ground. Despite Gaethje’s impressive wrestling, I’m picking the Brazilian to extend his UFC submission record to 16.  (Prediction: Charles Oliveira)

Consensus: 3-0 Oliveira

That’ll do it for our UFC 274 staff picks! What do you think? Do your picks look similar? Let us know in the comments section! Also, you can check out the UFC 274 undercard below.

UFC 274 Preliminary Card (ESPN/ESPN+ 8:00 PM ET)

  • Randy Brown vs. Khaos Williams
  • Macy Chiasson vs. Norma Dumont
  • Brandon Royval vs. Matt Schnell
  • Blagoy Ivanov vs. Marcos Rogerio de Lima

Early Preliminary Card (ESPN+ 5:30 PM)

  • Danny Roberts vs. Francisco Trinaldo
  • Tracy Cortez vs. Melissa Gatto
  • Kleydison Rodrigues vs. CJ Vergara
  • Ariane Carnelossi vs. Loopy Godinez
  • Fernie Garcia vs. Journey Newson

Be sure to keep it right here on MMANews.com Saturday for all the results, highlights, and updates on UFC 274!

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