UFC 274 Primer with Picks

Charles Oliveira has gone from a -170 favorite vs. Justin Gaethje to a -140 'chalk' since missing weight ahead of tonight's UFC 274 main event.

The drama for tonight’s UFC 274 show at Footprint Center in Phoenix, AZ., unexpectedly started early yesterday morning. Charles ‘Do Bronx’ Oliveira appeared set to defend his lightweight belt for the second time as a road favorite vs. a local legend, Justin ‘The Highlight’ Gaethje.

Instead, the 32-year-old Oliveira (32-8 MMA, 20-8 UFC) became the first sitting champion in UFC history to miss weight ahead of a title defense. Therefore, he was stripped of his 155-pound strap.

Less than 10 minutes before time was set to expire on making weight, Oliveira initially stepped on the scales and weighed 156 pounds. After disrobing, the Brazilian hit 155.5 pounds, one-half pound over the limit for lightweight title fights. He was given an extra hour to shed the half-pound.

When he returned an hour later, Oliveira was 155.5 pounds once again. In this situation, the fight goes on as scheduled, but only Gaethje can win the belt. If Oliveira prevails, the title remains vacant. Oliveira must also forfeit a percentage of his purse to Gaethje, and he’s not eligible for any fight-night bonuses.

Before Oliveira’s stunning weight issues, he was installed as a favorite in the -170 to -180 range, while Gaethje was +140 to +155 on the comeback. The total was 1.5 rounds at most spots, with the odds ranging from -182 to -200 toward the ‘over.’ Bettors could take the ‘under’ for a +155 to +160 payout.

As of this morning, most books had Oliveira as a -135 to -140 ‘chalk’ with Gaethje at +115 to +122. There hasn’t been any movement on the total.

Oliveira has ripped off 10 consecutive wins and hasn’t tasted defeat since getting knocked out by Paul Felder at UFC 218 on Dec. 2 of 2017. The Brazilian has finished nine of his last 10 opponents.

In fact, Oliveira is the UFC’s all-time leader in both finishes (18) and submission victories (15), padding those stats while competing at both featherweight and 155 pounds. Some of his most notable victims include the likes of two-time title challenger Dustin Poirier, Michael Chandler, Tony Ferguson, Kevin Lee, Jim Miller, Clay Guida, Jeremy Stephens and Darren Elkins.

Gaethje (23-3 MMA, 6-3 UFC) is arguably the most exciting MMA fighter in the history of the sport. He’s bagged 10 fight-night bonuses in nine career Octagon appearances. Five of his six UFC wins have been by KO over Michael Johnson, James Vick, Edson Barboza, Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone and Ferguson.

Gaethje, a product of Safford about an hour outside of Phoenix, won the interim lightweight strap with his dominant win over Ferguson via fifth-round KO at UFC 249. In a unification bout in Abu Dhabi at UFC 254 in October of 2020, Gaethje lost to Khabib Nurmagomedov by second-round triangle choke.

The former wrestler at Northern Colorado University bounced back with a Fight of the Night unanimous-decision win over Chandler at UFC 268 last November.

Recovering from difficult weight cuts obviously isn’t ideal. We should also point out how Gaethje was one of the first fighters on the scales within 10 minutes of the start of the allotted time. By the time Oliveira made his last-ditch attempt to hit his mark, Gaethje had already been replenishing his body with food galore for more than two hours.

PREDICTION: Oliveira’s stand-up game has vastly improved over the last 2-3 years, so it isn’t as if he has to get Gaethje to the ground to be successful. With that said, I feel like Gaethje is the much better striker and can certainly turn Oliveira’s lights out quickly if he catches him.

I rarely point to coaching in handicapping MMA fights, but it’s a fair point in this matchup (and this isn’t anything negative towards Oliveira’s team). Trevor Wittman was the 2021 MMA Coach of the Year and his three prized pupils are Kamaru Usman (welterweight champ and top pound-for-pound ranked fighter in the world), Rose Namajunas (women’s strawweight champ) and Gaethje, who has been with Wittman the longest. Wittman’s game planning and presence is an advantage.

If Oliveira can survive the early onslaught from Gaethje, he’ll be in good shape. The thinking here is that Gaethje wins by KO or Oliveira wins by submission. I believe there’s a really good chance either scenario occurs in Round 1 or early in the second stanza. Basing these stats on if the total was 1.5 rounds like it is tonight, the ‘under’ is 10-6 in Oliveira’s last 16 outings and 4-2 in Gaethje’s last six Octagon appearances. Therefore, I’ll place two units on ‘under’ 1.5 rounds for a +155 return.

In the co-main event, ‘Thug’ Rose Namajunas will try to avenge a loss to Carla Esparza in the first title fight in women’s strawweight history. In that contest held back on Dec. 12 of 2014, the 22-year-old Namajunas lost via third-round submission (rear-naked choke) and Esparza became the initial 115-pound queenpin.

This time around, Namajunas (11-4 MMA, 9-3 UFC) is the reigning champ set to make her second title defense in her second run as champion. She’s now 29 with 15 professional bouts on her resume rather than competing for only the fourth time as a pro.

After losing to Esparza, Namajunas went 4-1 in her next five scraps to earn another title shot. She took full advantage by unseating Joanna Jedrzejczyk with a first-round knockout at UFC 217 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Then in the rematch, Namajunas won a UD over Jedrzejczyk at UFC 223.

Namajunas lost her belt in Brazil at UFC 237 in May of 2019 when Jessica Andrade scored a second-round KO victory (slam). She has ripped off three straight wins since that loss. First, Namajunas avenged the loss to Andrade with a split-decision win at UFC 251 that garnered FOTN honors.

Then she defeated Zhang Weili, who had won the belt from Andrade, with a first-round KO (headkick and punches) at UFC 261 in Jacksonville on April 24 of 2021. In the rematch at UFC 268 last November, Namajunas retained her strap with a split-decision win.

The 34-year-old Esparza (18-6 MMA, 9-4 UFC) will enter the Octagon tonight on a five-fight winning streak. She’s compiled an 8-3 record since losing her belt to Jedrzejczyk via second-round KO at UFC 185 on March 14 of 2015.

Esparza is the division’s all-time leader in takedowns (42) and will undoubtedly try to get this fight to the ground.

PREDICTION: The straight price on Rose (-210 to -225) is too expensive for me, although I’m good with it in any sort of parlay bettors might be placing. I’ll go with one unit on Namajunas to win inside the distance for a +185 payout (BetRivers).

In a can’t-miss lightweight showdown, ‘Iron’ Michael Chandler is listed as an enormous -400 favorite vs. Tony ‘El Cucuy’ Ferguson, who is in the +280 to +310 range on the comeback. Both fighters are in dire need of a victory in this spot.

Since ripping off a division-record 12 consecutive wins, the 38-year-old Ferguson (25-6 MMA, 15-4 UFC) has fallen on hard times of late. The Boogeyman (El Cucuy in Spanish) took his first defeat in more than eight years when he lost by fifth-round KO to Gaethje at UFC 249 in Jacksonville on May 9 of 2020.

After taking that relentless beating and showing a granite chin, Ferguson needed to take a year off. Instead, he was back in the Octagon seven months later against another 155-pound savage in Oliveira, who won a UD at UFC 256. (We should note that Oliveira’s victory over Ferguson is the only non-finish in his last 13 wins.)

Then at UFC 262 last May, Beneil Dariush’s grappling was too strong for Ferguson in a UD win. We’ll point out that Ferguson didn’t take much punishment in that contest; he was simply outwrestled. Since then, he’s spent the past year working on his skills, reuniting with his old college wrestling coach and stewing on his three-fight losing streak.

The 36-year-old Chandler (22-7 MMA, 1-2 UFC) enjoyed a spectacular UFC debut by starching Dan Hooker via first-round KO at UFC 257 on Jan. 24 of 2021. That victory earned him a title shot against Oliveira after Nurmagomedov left the belt vacant when he retired.

Chandler appeared seconds away from winning UFC gold when he dropped Oliveira in the opening round of the UFC 262 headliner. Although he was clearly hurt, Oliveira was able to survive the first stanza. Then only 19 seconds into Round 2, he finished Chandler with follow-up punches after dropping him with a beautiful left hook.

Chandler jumped right back on the saddle in bounce-back mode vs. Gaethje at MSG in NYC this past November at UFC 268. Gaethje dominated most of the bout, but it was extremely entertaining and won FOTN honors.

We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention how Ferguson was also on the UFC 262 card when Chandler was given a title shot after only one fight with the promotion. At the UFC 262 press conference two days ahead of the event, Ferguson noted how Chandler had cut the line because he was being given “Dana White Privilege.”

PREDICTION: Many pundits feel as if Ferguson is shot, that his best days are behind him and that Father Time has caught up with him. Although I certainly agree that his best days are in the rearview mirror, I can recognize a price that’s out of hand. And regardless of who prevails tonight, this price is entirely off. Chandler got KO’d last May and then took a ruthless beating from Gaethje seven months ago. (Just as I pointed out how Ferguson came back from the Gaethje loss too soon, I feel as if Chandler could’ve probably used some more time off before his next appearance.)

The former three-time Bellator lightweight champion is now 1-2 in the UFC with his lone victory coming over Hooker, who is 1-4 in his last five Octagon appearances (and hasn’t looked the same since dropping a five-round war against Poirier). Also, it isn’t as if Ferguson lost to three tomato cans. Gaethje and Oliveira are currently atop the lightweight loop, while Dariush is ranked fourth and on a seven-fight winning streak. Ferguson isn’t facing the division’s two premier grapplers (Dariush and Oliveira) or its best striker (Gaethje or Poirier) tonight. He’s facing an opponent with 14 fewer wins in the Octagon than his resume boasts, and a foe that’s almost as old as he is (unlike Oliveira, Gaethje and Dariush). Give me one-half unit on Ferguson for a +310 payout (FanDuel).

**Other Picks**

–I hate fading one of my all-time favorites (Cowboy Cerrone!), but I’m on Joe Lauzon for one unit as a +160 underdog (PointsBet) in the opener of the main card on pay per view (ESPN+).

-I like ‘under’ 2.5 rounds at a -125 price for one unit in the Prelims Headliner – a welterweight contest between Khaos Williams and Randy Brown.

**B.E.’s Bonus Octagon Nuggets**

–On Thursday, FanDuel opened featherweight champ Alexander Volkanovski as a -146 favorite for his trilogy bout vs. Max Holloway that’s in the works for UFC 276 on July 2. As of Friday afternoon, the number was up to -184, with ‘Blessed’ as a +154 underdog. Volkanovski beat Holloway via unanimous decision in their first encounter at UFC 245 on Dec. 14 of 2019. In the rematch, Volkanovski won a split decision at UFC 251 on July 11 of 2020. However, many felt that Holloway won the second scrap. According to MMADecisions, 18 media members scored the contest for Holloway, while nine others had it for Volkanovski.

–Judging from what Jon Jones is saying, it appears he’ll make his heavyweight debut vs. former champion Stipe Miocic. That date might be on Sept. 24.

Whatever the case, BetOnline has Jones listed as a -200 favorite. Miocic is a +170 underdog.

–In this report from MMAJunkie’s Nolan King, Oliveira explains his side of the story with missing weight.

–There’s also this from MMAFighting’s Guilherme Cruz:

–Noted Toronto Raptors fan and music mogul Drake put a large wager on Gaethje (at the better payout before Oliveira’s scale woes). He has risked $550,000 to win $1.375 million.

–Folks, good luck with your wagers and enjoy the show!

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