UFC 274 Predictions: Betting Value Now On Gaethje’s Side

Justin Gaethje connects with an overhand right to the side of the face of Tony Ferguson (left) during UFC 249
Image Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated from its original version following the May 6 news that Charles Oliveira failed to make weight for his lightweight title fight against Justin Gaethje. By coming in over the 155-pound limit, Oliveira was stripped of his title.

UFC 274 has the look of a classic card. No, not because the fighters at the top of the marquee boast an average age of 36. Rather, Saturday’s event in Phoenix has “classic” potential because — at least on paper — nobody on the main card has an easy matchup.

Both underdogs in the main and co-main are serious threats to take the belts. And a third bout down the card pits two fighters who recently held or fought for the most competitive belt in the sport.

Indeed, UFC 274 has all the makings of an electrifying night of nonstop violence that will leave bettors hanging on the edge of their seats. But while this is certainly one of the most unpredictable cards in recent memory, we’re not pulling any punches when it comes to UFC 274 predictions.

With that, let’s dive into our UFC 274 picks (with supportive analysis) for five fights — two preliminary bouts from action that starts at 8 p.m. ET., and three from the main card that begins at 10 p.m. ET.

Odds via DraftKings and updated as of 6 p.m. ET on May 6.

Lightweight Championship

Charles Oliveira (-140) vs. Justin Gaethje (+120)

Charles Oliveira points to the crowd with his left hand as he celebrates his victory by submission against Dustin Poirier during UFC 269
Image Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

A shockwave hit the fighting world a little more than 24 hours before UFC 274 when lightweight champion Charles Oliveira failed to make the 155-pound limit by a half-pound at Friday’s weigh-in. As a result, Oliveira vacated his belt ahead of Saturday’s main event bout against challenger Justin Gaethje.

The fight will proceed as planned, with only Gaethje eligible to claim the title with a victory. Should Oliveira prevail, the lightweight strap will remain in limbo.

Not only is the drama for this highly anticipated fight now lessened, but so too are the betting odds — Oliveira has dipped from a -170 favorite to -140, with Gaethje going from +140 to +120.

Still, it’s a quality fight between two evenly matched opponents. So let’s break down the key factors going into this main event.

Rising to the Top

A poster child for patience, Oliveira (32-8 pro record) fought in the UFC 27 times before getting his first title shot. The primary reason: The native of Sao Paulo, Brazil, took care of business against lesser foes, but struggled when given a chance against elite competition.

Everything changed, though, in June 2018. That’s when the now 32-year-old embarked on an ongoing 10-fight winning streak that included six submissions and three knockouts. Oliveira’s two most recent wins: a victory over Michael Chandler nearly a year ago in a bout for the vacant lightweight title, and a successful defense over Dustin Poirier in December.

Now he’s headlining UFC 274 against Gaethje, a former lightweight champ and hometown favorite from Arizona.

Once known as a reckless knockout artist, Gaethje (23-3) has shown in recent fights that he can maintain his knockout power while fighting technically and minimizing incoming damage. The shift in style is working: Gaethje, who now trains in Colorado with renowned coach Trevor Wittman, has a 65% striking accuracy rate in his last five fights. And the 33-year-old remains arguably the best counter puncher in the sport.

Just one problem for Gaethje: His opponent Saturday also has upped his striking game. Oliveria is averaging a KO per 87 significant strikes. Compare that with Gaethje’s clip of 119.

Oliveira’s mid-career turnaround lines up with his switch to training at Chute Boxe Diego Lima in Sao Paulo in 2018. There he began focusing on Muay Thai striking, while maintaining his old jiu-jitsu coach and his elite submission skills. The result was a well-rounded champion with no apparent weaknesses — at least until Friday’s weigh-in.

Back to Gaethje: UFC fans have been impatiently waiting for him to get another title opportunity after losing a unification bout to former undisputed champion Khabib Nurmagomedov in October 2020. When Nurmagomedov immediately retired after the fight, Gaethje seemed like the logical choice to get the first crack at regaining his 155-pound belt. Yet he was passed over several times until now.

Then again, having to wait his turn could end up being a blessing in disguise for Gaethje after what happened on the scales Friday. Here’s why: In trying to desperately make weight, Oliveira was no doubt trying to sweat out water from a body that was already drained to begin with. Such a weight cut can sap a fighter’s cardio and weaken his chin, particularly in a five-round bout. Moreover, the drastic — but not-quite-enough — weight loss also likely hurts Oliveira’s chances of being able to survive what surely will be an early onslaught by Gaethje.

Whereas Oliveira ordinarily would attempt to counter such an onslaught by trying to take Gaethje to the ground, it’s unlikely he’ll have the strength and stamina to do so. And with weakened legs, it’s reasonable to envision the now-former champ — who hasn’t been knocked out in 4 1/2 years — not finishing this fight on his feet.

UFC 274 predictions: Gaethje by knockout

Women’s Strawweight Championship

Rose Namajunas (-210) vs. Carla Esparza (+175)

Carla Esparza (right) connects with a straight right hand to the nose of Alexa Grasso (left) during UFC Fight Night
Image Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

“Thug” Rose Namajunas has been sequentially out-striking the world’s most dangerous 115-pound female fighters in an era when pure strikers sparsely populate the top ranks of each division.

Like Gaethje, the women’s strawweight champ also trains with Whittman in Colorado. The coach must have his student hitting the weights early and often, as Namajunas (12-4 pro record) possesses superior power for the division. The 29-year-old lands a KO every 261 strikes in a weight class where knockouts are otherwise rare.

Like most pure strikers, wrestling is the chink in Namajunas’ armor. Her 57% takedown defense is below average. But she’s shown a strong guard, which limits the damage her opponents inflict when they have her on the ground.

In UFC 274, Namajunas puts her title on the line against old nemesis Carla Esparza. A 34-year-old native of California, Esparza won the inaugural UFC women’s strawweight belt via a rear naked choke submission of a very green Namajunas in 2014.

Known as the “Cookie Monster,” Esparza (19-6) has eaten up opponents with her dominant wrestling skills. The impressive stats: She has spent 28% of her octagon time in top control on the ground; she has a 1.83:1 advantage in ground strikes landed; and she earned a ground-and-pound KO in her most recent bout. So we know Esparza can take this fight to the ground and throw vicious strikes in that position.

How long she can keep it on the floor and how many strikes get through Namajunas’ guard will determine her success. The odds seem tilted a little too far in the direction of the champ, so we’ll back Esparza as a live dog.

UFC 274 predictions: Esparza by decision

Lightweight Bout

Michael Chandler (-380) vs. Tony Ferguson (+290)

Tony Ferguson (left) throws a left elbow that Justin Gaethje (right) ducks under during UFC 249
Image Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Dubbed “Iron” because of his first name and exceptional physique, Michael Chandler came to the UFC in January 2021 with a 21-5 pro record after a storied MMA career as a former Bellator lightweight champ. So storied, in fact, that after winning his first UFC bout by first-round KO, Chandler was granted a title shot.

It didn’t go well, as the Nashville native was knocked out by Oliveira in the second round. Then in November, he fell to Gaethje by unanimous decision.

Chandler will try to get back on track Saturday against Tony “El Cucuy” Ferguson, who once briefly held the lightweight belt in 2017. Now 38, Ferguson (26-6) has lost his last three bouts following a historic 12-fight lightweight winning streak.

Looking at the UFC 274 odds for this contest, it’s clear the betting market believes Ferguson’s career is a sinking ship. Perhaps it is. But there’s reason to believe this fight will be much closer than oddsmakers suggest. First off, Ferguson might be long in the tooth, but he only has two years on the 36-year-old Chandler. So the “old man” narrative rings a bit hollow. Also, like Chandler, Ferguson has only lost to the most elite the division has to offer.

Unlike “Iron” Mike, El Cucuy has never been knocked out cold in the UFC. In fact, Ferguson technically has only been finished once (by the aforementioned Gaethje in May 2020). But Ferguson was still on his feet when the referee stopped the fight — a testament to his toughness.

That toughness should serve Ferguson well against Chandler. Make no mistake: Chandler has exceptional punching power, but his most dangerous strikes come in bursts early fights. He has a pattern of losing steam as the proceedings drag on. If Ferguson can outlast the initial flurry, he’s capable of taking advantage of Chandler’s poor 43% striking defense.

Chandler does have a ground edge that could be the difference the longer the fight goes. Then again, Ferguson can counter that with his D’Arce choke — a submission move that’s the bane of wrestlers everywhere.

Given his ability to eat strikes and never stop walking forward, Ferguson looks to be the liveliest of underdogs on the UFC 274 odds board.

UFC 274 predictions: Ferguson by knockout

Preliminary Bouts

Randy Brown (+105) vs. Khaos Williams (-125)

Khaos Williams (left) lands a left-hand straight punch to the face of Miguel Baeza (right) in a welterweight fight during the UFC Fight Night
Image Credit: Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

We move down the card to the prelims for this welterweight bout, as the knockout chance for Khoas “The OxFighter” Williams is too good to pass up. A 28-year-old from Jackson, Michigan, Williams’ 15-2 overall record includes a 4-1 mark in UFC.

Three of Williams’ four wins have come by knockout, and the lone loss was a tight decision. His UFC 274 opponent, Randy “Rudeboy” Brown, is a capable finisher as well, but he’s more likely to submit opponents than knock them out.

Brown (14-4) fights out of Queens, New York, with 12 of his 18 fights coming at the UFC level. There’s reason to like the 31-year-old in this spot for his experience. But he has a habit of getting knocked out by elite strikers who can deflect his grappling offenses. Williams fits that bill.

Like Brown, Williams throws strikes at a well-above-average rate. But the STNGRMMA predictive model projects Williams to land 89 strikes over a 15-minute fight compared with 78 for Brown. This translates to a 59.4% KO probability for Williams, much higher than Brown’s combined KO (8.3%) and submission (6%) chances.

Running the numbers, there are plenty of probability factors that support this fight ending with Brown on his feet. That said, I’ll take a shot with Williams by stoppage at essentially pick ’em odds.

UFC 274 predictions: Williams by knockout 

Francisco Trinaldo (-115) vs. Danny Roberts (-105)

Danny Roberts looks for an opening to throw a punch against Michael Pereira (face not pictured) during UFC Fight Night
Image Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Francisco “Massaranduba” Trinaldo (27-8) is a 43-year-old seasoned vet who had a successful 22-fight stretch in the UFC’s lightweight division, going 16-6 with several stoppages (while having never been knocked out himself). However, the native of Brasilia, Brazil, had difficulty making the 155-pound lightweight limit after turning 40.

So Trinaldo jumped to welterweight (170-pound limit) for his two most recent bouts. The results, predictably, weren’t stellar: He lost a unanimous decision last June and won a split decision in October.

Bringing a lightweight frame to Saturday’s welterweight fight against Danny “Hot Chocolate” Roberts (18-5) doesn’t figure to bode well for Trinaldo. The reason? The two fighters share a similar patient striking style, which means reach could be a huge factor — and Roberts has a decided reach edge (74 inches to 70 inches).

Furthering that point, Roberts has enjoyed a 1.12:1 strike advantage over his last five fights; conversely, Trinaldo sports a 0.84:1 disadvantage in his last five bouts.

Roberts is just 7-4 since joining the UFC with three knockouts. But he’s also been KO’d three times. That suspect chin should concern anyone betting on the 34-year-old from Liverpool. But at the same time, it’s obvious that the KO power Trinaldo regularly displayed at lightweight hasn’t translated to welterweight.

Look for Roberts to have the edge in a close striking battle. If his chin holds up, he should exit the octagon with his third straight victory.

UFC 274 predictions: Roberts by decision

For data-backed win probabilities and key stats on fight day, follow @STNGRMMA on Twitter.