Rating the fights at UFC 274 and past … and cautioning about a few them


Rating the fights on a giant UFC card can seem to be an apparent train. The game curates its battle nights to construct and construct all through the night, culminating in the primary occasion that has been hyped on promo posters to attract followers into the sector or to observe on tv.

And but plenty of battle playing cards invite spirited debate. Is the primary occasion actually essentially the most interesting contest of the evening? Is there a glittery co-main occasion that is attracting plenty of eyeballs? Or a preliminary bout that quietly has the potential to make the most important noise? Generally it is a shut name for the true No. 1.

Nicely, until Justin Gaethje is on the invoice. Then the competitors is for No. 2.

That is the case for UFC 274 (6 p.m. Saturday on ESPN+ PPV). The principle occasion in Phoenix provides the exhilarating Gaethje mayhem we’re all used to — and by no means get bored with — but additionally one thing tangible for his legacy: He’s difficult Charles Oliveira for the light-weight championship.

Gaethje made an unsuccessful title bid towards Khabib Nurmagomedov barely 18 months in the past. Why is he getting a second shot at gold so quickly? He earned his method right here by profitable a call over Michael Chandler in November. Realistically, he earned it all through a profession filled with exclamation-point performances. What’s extra, it is an evolving profession. He was 100% wildman, however beneath the steering of coach Trevor Wittman, Gaethje now measures out his savagery as only one ingredient in a gumbo of technical mastery and self-discipline. He stays breathtaking to observe. The UFC could not deny its followers this intoxicating title matchup.

Except for its must-see fights, UFC 274 additionally has probably eye-opening bouts which can be flying beneath the radar and a pair that might show onerous to observe. And past all of that, there are two different vital MMA occasions this week, so why not give them the rating remedy as nicely?

The 2 fights to not be missed, clearly

1. Light-weight championship: Charles Oliveira vs. Justin Gaethje

What extra can we are saying about this battle than, “C’mon, Saturday, hurry up and get right here”?

Whereas the enchantment for a lot of is the presence of Gaethje, Oliveira has additionally made himself a must-see attraction. He gained the belt a yr in the past with a knockout of Chandler and defended it in December with a choke-out of Dustin Poirier. That offers him 10 wins in a row, with finishes in all however one. Eight of these victories earned him Efficiency of the Evening bonuses. Oliveira has 15 submissions in his UFC profession, by far essentially the most in promotion historical past. He is constructing fairly a legacy at 155 kilos. Can Gaethje put a violent halt to it?

2. Strawweight championship: Rose Namajunas vs. Carla Esparza

It isn’t precisely going out on a limb to rank the co-main occasion right here, however let’s reframe this as an affirmation for UFC matchmakers who’ve leaned into meritocracy over advertising hype. There is not any capturing star right here, simply an intriguing revisit of a long-ago matchup that put this weight class on the map.

Eight years in the past, Namajunas and Esparza survived a season on The Final Fighter to arrange a finale to crown an inaugural 115-pound UFC champ. Esparza overwhelmed Namajunas that evening, getting 5 takedowns on her technique to a third-round submission win. However Esparza’s reign was short-lived, and Namajunas has gained 9 of 11 for the reason that 2014 title bout loss and is at present in possession of the strawweight belt for a second time. The champ appears to have come farther than her challenger, however we’ll see on Saturday.

Two fights to observe with one squinting eye, able to be shortly averted

3. Michael Chandler vs. Tony Ferguson



Justin Gaethje and Michael Chandler kick off the UFC 268 foremost card with an unbelievable three-round battle.

It feels just like the wheels out of the blue fell off for Ferguson, with two years in the past in a five-round battle versus Gaethje as the place to begin. When “El Cucuy” fought Oliveira seven months after that beatdown, he was a step behind all evening. 5 months after that, Beneil Dariush dealt Ferguson a 3rd straight loss. Until there is a second wind in Ferguson (like there was), this one may get ugly. Chandler is a strong man with a revving high-test engine. Ferguson may have saved up with him, no downside, in his prime, however that prime is lengthy gone. Is not it? Be able to both be shocked or cowl your eyes.

4. Donald Cerrone vs. Joe Lauzon

Cerrone is winless in his final six fights and has been completed 4 instances throughout a skid extending again to 2019. This matchup is not as regarding as Chandler-Ferguson, although. Lauzon doesn’t pose the identical stage of hazard as Chandler, and “J-Lau” is kind of in the identical ballpark, career-wise, as “Cowboy.” He hasn’t had Cerrone’s high-profile latest defeats, however Lauzon quietly suffered by way of a three-fight dropping streak towards competitors that principally would not measure as much as what Cerrone has confronted. Lauzon will not be an unreasonable matchup. And but it is plain that it has turn into more and more tough to observe “Cowboy.”

Two fights that you’re going to discover beneath the radar

5. Macy Chiasson vs. Norma Dumont

The ladies’s featherweight division is hanging on by a thread, so a matchup that might set up the winner as a title challenger is critical. Since struggling her solely profession loss in her Octagon debut, Dumont has gained three in a row, the final two at 145 kilos. Chiasson misplaced her final battle to Raquel Pennington in December, and she or he badly missed weight, so she has one thing to show. Chiasson gained a featherweight season of The Final Fighter again in 2018 and has the physicality to swim with the 145-pounders (what few there are).

6. Tracy Cortez vs. Melissa Gatto

Gatto is undefeated (8-0-2) and scored TKOs in her two UFC appearances, and Cortez has misplaced solely as soon as — in her professional debut nearly 5 years in the past. Neither of those flyweights is near being a title contender, however this battle provides them one thing to construct upon. Which lady will proceed her good or practically good ascent?

Two extra fights to search for … exterior the Octagon

7. Ryan Bader vs. Cheick Kongo (Bellator 280 on Friday)

The sunshine heavyweight model of Bader has misplaced two of his final three fights and slipped a bit from the shape that earned him the Bellator 205-pound championship 5 years in the past. However this battle options the heavyweight model of Bader, often known as the undefeated model. He is 4-Zero with a no contest on the big-boy weight. And within the lone non-win towards Kongo in 2019, Bader was nicely on his technique to victory earlier than an unintentional eye poke ended the battle prematurely and unsatisfyingly. Can Bader resume the place he left off?

8. Ray Cooper III vs. Magomed Umalatov (PFL Three on Friday — Watch on ESPN+)

This night’s headliner is Kayla Harrison, the promotion’s largest star, however she’s going through a fight sambo champion missing in MMA bonafides. Whereas within the co-main occasion, her fellow two-season PFL champion, Cooper, takes on an undefeated fighter. Possibly Harrison’s opponent, Marina Mokhnatkina, will shock, however Cooper has a greater probability of being challenged and is bound to entertain. Additionally on the cardboard are Anthony Pettis and Rory MacDonald, who each desperately want a win after arising quick final season.

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