What mattered most at UFC 274 at Footprint Center in Phoenix? Here are a few post-fight musings …
1. The Charles Oliveira debacle
Charles Oliveira is declared the winner by submission against Justin Gaethje during UFC 274 at Footprint Center. (Mark J. Rebilas, USA TODAY Sports)
[autotag]Charles Oliveira[/autotag] once again showed he’s fighting on a different level right now. He gave Justin Gaethje exactly the type of fight he wanted and came out victorious with a first-round submission to extend his record for most finishes in UFC history.
We should be sitting here right now talking about how Oliveira (33-8 MMA, 21-8 UFC) is two defenses deep into his UFC lightweight title reign and working toward taking Khabib Nurmagomedov’s status as the divisional GOAT. I’m not entertaining that conversation right now, though, and it’s all because of half-a-pound.
No matter how you want to contextualize it, Oliveira did not make weight. It’s evident at this point there was a misalignment between the UFC’s pre-check scale and the official one used on stage for weigh-ins, but Oliveira and his team still have to take some of the onus for what happened here.
The fact that Oliveira claims he made weight on the Thursday night before weigh-ins but still came to the scale within the final five minutes of the two-hour window is perplexing. The fact he couldn’t shed the 8 ounces after being granted an additional hour is curious, as well.
It’s an unprecedented scenario, but the upside for “Do Bronx” is that he didn’t let it rattle him. He showed up and performed at a high level, and it doesn’t appear he’s going to be punished a whole lot more because of it.
Oliveira’s next fight will still be for a UFC title – albeit a vacant one – and it at least seems the promotion will still treat him as a champion in terms of matchmaking and pay.
Regardless, though, this should be a wakeup call for Oliveira. He can’t let stuff like this happen regardless of the circumstances. It’s simply a bad look.
2. What happened with Esparza vs. Namajunas?
Carla Esparza takes down Rose Namajunas during UFC 274 at Footprint Center. (Mark J. Rebilas, USA TODAY Sports)
There’s really no way to be nice about this: [autotag]Carla Esparza[/autotag]’s title win over [autotag]Rose Namajunas[/autotag] will go down as one of the worst championship fights in UFC history. It was shockingly bad, with just 67 combined significant strikes landed over the course of 25 minutes.
Like, that’s actually hard to do. And because of it, no one should complain about any scorecard that led to a split decision in Esparza’s favor. How do you judge a fight like that?
We don’t even need to spend much time on this, honestly. Namajunas is going to be very angry at herself when she watches the film back, because she failed to capitalize on a plethora of moments that could’ve made the difference in her favor. If she did a little bit more, she would’ve woken up this morning with a UFC belt in her possession. She didn’t, though, and now will have to try to pursue becoming the first three-time female champion in UFC history.
Esparza, on the other hand. What can you say? Good for her, I guess. She’s had to eat a lot of crap in recent years as she’s tried to rebuild from being the inaugural UFC strawweight champion back in December 2014 then losing the belt a mere three months later. She did it the hard way, and no matter how it went down, she set a record with the longest gap between title reigns in UFC history. That’s something no one can take away from her.
The UFC probably isn’t very happy to have Esparza as its strawweight champion right now after winning in that manner. Namajunas is a marketable star. And to be blunt, Esparza is not.
But as we’ve seen so many times before, star power doesn’t win fights. It’ll be interesting to see how the promotion handles Esparza’s reign going forward.
3. Michael Chandler’s all-time knockout
Michael Chandler kicks Tony Ferguson for the knockout during UFC 274 at Footprint Center. (Mark J. Rebilas, USA TODAY Sports)
Writing this on my flight home from Phoenix to Toronto, I still can’t believe what I witnessed from [autotag]Michael Chandler[/autotag] in that knockout of Tony Ferguson. Easily one of the most improbable results I can ever recall seeing from cageside.
If someone told you without watching that Chandler (23-7 MMA, 2-2 UFC) had knocked out Ferguson, it wouldn’t have been a shock. We know the speed, power and athleticism he possesses. It’s the way in which it went down that was so damn crazy. A front kick to the jaw? Are you serious? Chandler is not known as a devastating kicker by any stretch of the imagination, let alone one with the dexterity to land that particular shot on a taller opponent with such force.
Chandler himself said post-fight he doesn’t event really train that technique because he doesn’t like the harm it does to his feet and toes. But yet somehow, some way, his instincts led him to throw that in the moment, and it couldn’t have landed any cleaner.
Good luck to anyone who wants to top that for Knockout of the Year. And if someone manages to accomplish that feat, God help the poor soul who is on the receiving end of that blow.
There will be plenty of time to dissect what the future holds for Chandler beyond this win. He’s obviously a great asset to the UFC since coming over from Bellator, and it seems quite possible he gets the Conor McGregor fight at some point in the future. And if it’s not that, it’s going to be something else big.
Regardless, Chandler is in a great spot after producing an unforgettable moment.
4. Tony Ferguson’s frightening future
Tony Ferguson is stablized after being knocked out by Michael Chandler during UFC 274 at Footprint Center. (Mark J. Rebilas, USA TODAY Sports)
On the flip side, what a gut-wrenching loss for [autotag]Tony Ferguson[/autotag]. I think the expectations for him coming into the fight were pretty low considering how he looked in his past three bouts before this, but his fight week demeanor caused reason for optimism about a potential bounce-back.
Those who believed in him had to be encouraged with what they saw to start the fight. Ferguson (25-7 MMA, 15-5 UFC) dropped Chandler in Round 1, then went on to do some vintage work from bottom position after being taken down. He landed some slicing elbows on Chandler that opened a cut below the eye, and all was going well.
There was good reason to think he might actually win after seeing the first five minutes, then all that was flushed down the toilet when Chandler landed that kick just 17 seconds into the second stanza. Just like that, Ferguson is on a four-fight losing skid.
This is the first time Ferguson had ever really been put out. His defeat to Gaethje in May 2020 was a standing TKO in the fifth round after an accumulation of damage. This was a one-hitter quitter that is the type of outcome capable of changing not just a career, but a long-term livelihood. Especially for a 38-year-old fighter.
Thankfully the UFC team told us post-fight that Ferguson was released from a local hospital with a negative CT scan, but that doesn’t mean there’s no damage. It’s hard to believe his durability will ever be the same going forward, and for someone with a reckless style like “El Cucuy,” that doesn’t bode well for his chances in future fights.
It’s far too soon to know what will be next for Ferguson. He doesn’t seem like the type who will accept going out with his lasting image behind one of him stretched out on the octagon canvas, and the losses during this skid have come to arguably four of the top-five ranked lightweights in the world.
Time off is essential after a knockout like that, though, and when Ferguson is healthy, willing and able to come back, he and his team need to be very careful with what fight they take depending on the landscape of the 155-pound division.
5. Is Brandon Royval championship material?
Brandon Royval celebrates his victory by submission against Matt Schnell during UFC 274 at Footprint Center. (Mark J. Rebilas, USA TODAY Sports)
[autotag]Brandon Royval[/autotag] has been pining for the opportunity to fight in front of a crowd since he first got into the UFC. Obviously it wasn’t possible in the early stages of his tenure due to COVID-19, but it was still overdue.
When he got the chance, boy did he ever deliver. Royval (14-6 MMA, 4-2 UFC) choked out Matt Schnell after just over two minutes of thrilling flyweight action, waking up a crowd that was forced to sit through five decisions in the previous six fights before he stepped in the octagon.
It was the Fight of the Night, because he got knocked down before latching on a tight guillotine choke that finished the job. He was very fired up afterward, calling for the next shot at 125-pound champ Deiveson Figueiredo and taking a shot at Kai-Kara France, who would seemingly be next in line if the UFC doesn’t go to a fourth fight with Brandon Moreno.
I don’t think he’s quite there for beating Schnell, who is by no means an average fighter, but is also .500 in the octagon after 10 fights. He certainly positioned himself to potentially rematch Kara-France, though, if both are left as the odd men out in the division.
6. Bad luck for Donald Cerrone
The news of [autotag]Donald Cerrone[/autotag]’s last-minute withdrawal from his scheduled lightweight bout with Joe Lauzon was a big bummer. Thankfully it wasn’t serious illness and just food poisoning, but anyone who saw his media day interview knows how much this one meant to him.
Cerrone (36-16 MMA, 23-13 UFC) literally shed tears on Wednesday when discussing the significance of his fight. He deeply wanted to snap his six-fight losing skid and get the chance to perform in front of son Danger for the first time since he was old enough to truly understand what Dad did for a living.
It’s not as though Cerrone will never get the opportunity to fulfill that goal again, but everything seemed to be firing on all cylinders going into this one. He’ll be just shy of 40 years old if and when he’s booked for his next fight, and who knows how the circumstances will change there.
And obviously, it’s no less of a disappointment for Lauzon, who also has a family and is no spring chicken, either. Just a disappointing situation all around, but it seems they may be rescheduled for June 18 at the UFC’s event in Austin.