UFC 274 was originally scheduled as a homecoming for Brazilian lightweight champion Charles Oliveira. However, in light of recent health complexities, this fight will now take place in Phoenix.
The venue change means his opponent, Justin Gaethje, will be the beneficiary of the home crowd. Gaethje went to high school just outside of Phoenix.
This five-round fight is one of two championship bouts on a 15-fight card.
Charles Oliveira (-165) vs. Justin Gaethje (+ 140)
Lightweight (155 pounds) | Main event
Top-ranked contender Gaethje is a special young man. Humble, mannered, polite outside of the cage, this fighter morphs into a forward-pressing, violent, knockout striker who sets up his hands with tree-trunk-cracking leg licks.
Gaethje has a D-I wrestling background and has utilized it in the past for takedown defense, but his plan for this fight, and most others, is to pressure the opponent then beat him into unconsciousness via violent striking.
In recent bouts, we’ve seen some evolution for Gaethje, who has trained with the Elevation Fight Team in Colorado and with welterweight champion and smothering wrestler Kamaru Usman as his training partner.
Gaethje is surely preparing for the offensive grappling attack that will be waged by the champion. The champ’s camp has certainly viewed Gaethje’s fight with Khabib Nurmagomedov and witnessed, as we all did, how Gaethje was dominated on the mat.
Gaethje and his team understand this opponent has similar strength, cardio and grappling ability as Khabib did during his reign as champion. If they believe otherwise, they’re making an immense mistake.
In Oliveira, we have an underappreciated champion in my judgment. I have voiced for some time my belief that Oliveira was Nurmagomedov’s biggest threat and the division’s most dangerous athlete.
Years ago, Oliveira toiled, struggled and bounced between divisions trying to find himself as a fighter and a man. A decorated third-degree black belt in BJJ, Oliveira’s submission game is savant-like. His striking has gone from light-volume precision striking to a stiff jab followed by combination striking with precision power. Couple that with the ability to utilize effective, damaging kicks delivered in pinpoint fashion to the lower, mid and upper extremities of opponents, and it’s no wonder Oliveira has held this title since Khabib moved on.
I believe Gaethje’s chances of winning revolve around his ability to immediately back up Oliveira in a firm, yet managed, pace to make certain he keeps this fight on the feet at all costs. He can’t force himself recklessly toward Oliveira to engage, as that sets him up for an early takedown. On the feet, Gaethje’s power kicking and striking can have its effect — it’s no secret Oliveira has wobbled early in previous bouts — but on the floor is no man’s land for Gaethje, just as it was against Khabib.
Oliveira, for his part, will remain patient, especially early, and ensure that he taxes Gaethje mentally, physically and cardiovascularly. Oliveira’s effectiveness will grow as this fight wears on, and it’s in the later rounds that I see the quicker, faster, more well-rounded offense of Oliveira begin to dominate. That is, of course, on the condition that Oliveira makes sure he does not enter the pocket with Gaethje in the first five minutes.
On “GambLou’s ’Bout Business Podcast,” I released Oliveira -150 at opening, which is notable because I believed the Brazilian venue would push the price up beyond the opening number. With the venue change, early investors in Oliveira gained less opening-line value, which actually works in favor of those who have not made a play yet on Oliveira.
While the current price on Oliveira is slightly higher than the opening number, I still handicap the champion worthy of an investment.
Play: Oliveira -165.
Total for this fight: 1.5 rounds Over -190 (opened Over -155). The total surprises me, as it indicates a potential early Gaethje KO or Oliveira submission.
Khaos Williams (-135) vs. Randy Brown (+ 115)
Welterweight (170 pounds)
Williams is the short, stocky, angry, power-punching aggressor in all of his fights. He comes inside the octagon to execute one thing, and that is to walk his opponent down and then knock him out.
Brown is the more experienced athlete and has seen a higher level of opponent. In what plays to be a striking match early, it will be Brown that is three inches taller, with arm and leg reach advantages.
I’m releasing this underdog position now because this price may be closer to a pick’em by Saturday.
Play: Brown + 115.