Home Sports VERSUS: Previewing UFC 274 & Canelo v. Bivol

VERSUS: Previewing UFC 274 & Canelo v. Bivol

One of my favorite times of the year is upon us again. Along with the margaritas and chips and dip, Cinco de Mayo (particularly the weekend that follows) has always been synonymous with big fights as well. This weekend is no different, delivering three great fights across two different sports in a single night. 

First, we have maybe the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world, Canelo Alvarez, moving up in weight once again to go for another title in the squared circle. To make the night even better, there is also UFC 274, which features a stacked card headlined by two title fights. 

UFC 274

The UFC returns to Phoenix Saturday with a loaded PPV headlined by the lightweight title fight, Charles Oliveira vs. Justin Gaethje. Oliveira, who has had a complete career turnaround, will look to take out Gaethje and solidify himself as the true king of the lightweights. 

Five years ago, Oliveira was just another fighter. Sure, he had all the skills in the world, but for whatever reason, he was never able to string together a run of good performances. In 2017, “Do Bronx” made the decision to return to lightweight full time. He won in his return fight to the division before suffering a setback to Paul Felder later in the year. Since then, Charles has been a wrecking ball. 

Oliveira has won his last 10 fights with the last two wins resulting in UFC gold. He stopped Michael Chandler this time last year to claim the lightweight strap and then defended his title in December against the man who everyone thought was the uncrowned champion in Dustin Poirier. Oliveira’s recent run still hasn’t changed his opponents’ mind about him. 

“Once a coward, always a coward,” Gaethje stated of his foe. “He doesn’t want to be in there when it gets nasty. That same Charles is still there.” 

Gaethje believes deep down that Oliveira still has some quit in him and promises to bring that out on Saturday night. 

The two styles make for an interesting clash. Both Oliveira and Gaethje are finishers who enjoy short nights at work. Oliveira holds the UFC records for most submission victories at 15 and for the most finishes with a total of 18 in his UFC career. Gaethje is a fireball and has been awarded a bonus in nine of his 10 UFC fights. The Highlight has also found finishes in five of his six UFC wins since joining the organization in 2017. 

Gaethje’s willingness to jump in the fire and take one to give one could be his undoing against a finisher like Oliveira. It will be interesting to see if the weight cut issues and being stripped of his title will affect Do Bronx physically or mentally during Saturday’s main event. 

The Pick: Oliveira has been hurt in both of his last two fights. Gaethje is a big puncher and a guy who looks to finish fights. Pre-weight cut, I felt like Gaethje would get the job done, and after the weigh-ins I still feel the same — Gaethje by KO/TKO.

The second title on the line Saturday night is a rematch from the first ever UFC strawweight title fight. 

Champion Rose Namajunas will defend her belt against Carla Esparza, who defeated Rose in the inaugural strawweight title fight. The pair first fought in 2014 with Esparza taking the victory via a third-round submission. 

Both fighters have drastically improved since their initial clash, as each fighter has had separate paths back to the rematch. Rose hit the ground running after her title loss and won her next three fights. She suffered a setback after a razor-thin decision loss to Karolina Kowalkiewicz but rebounded with a win over Michelle Waterson in a title eliminator just three months later. 

Rose would then shock the world at UFC 217 when she stopped Joanna Jedrzejczyk, who had been the division’s grim reaper. Rose dropped the title at UFC 237 after being slammed on her head by Jéssica Andrade in her second title defense. “Thug” Rose would get that win back after a hard-fought decision over Andrade a year later and regained the title in her next fight with a nasty head kick knockout of then-champion Zhang Weili. 

Carla’s path was much different than Rose’s. “The Cookie Monster” struggled after winning the belt and lost her first title defense to the aforementioned Jedrzejczyk. She then split her next two fights before winning two straight. Esparza seemed to be back on track but then lost her next two fights. She would get things together and has since won her last five fights. 

Carla’s predominantly heavy wrestling style has given Rose trouble in the past. If Rose wants to retain her gold, she will need to keep the fight standing, where she has an advantage over almost anyone in the division. 

The Pick: Although Esparza has a victory over Rose and the style to dethrone the champ, I see Rose keeping the fight upright. Thug Rose uses her footwork to avoid the takedown and wins by decision.

Canelo v. Bivol

Probably the biggest fight of the night will take place in Vegas, where Canelo Alvarez looks to capture another title. Canelo will chase this belt in his fifth different weight class when he takes on undefeated Dmitry Bivol for the WBA light heavyweight championship on Saturday.

Canelo, who many call the pound-for-pound best fighter on the planet right now, has been on an impressive run. He stays fairly active, fighting three times in 2021 and has not lost a fight since his bout against Floyd Mayweather way back in 2013, nine years and a couple dozen pounds ago. 

He has been on a Thanos-like run, grabbing every belt he can get his hands on. Since his last loss, Canelo has captured gold in the middleweight, light middleweight, super middleweight, and light heavyweight divisions. 

Dmitry Bivol will be no easy contest for the Mexican-born Alvarez. Bivol had his first taste of gold in 2015 when he knocked out Felipe Romero to win the vacant WBC light heavyweight title and has held a belt ever since. 

When it comes to this fight, Bivol will have a decent size advantage. Canelo, conversely, will hold the skill advantage and may be the more dangerous puncher of the two. 

The Pick: Bivol is the bigger fighter and will try to use his size to bully Canelo around the ring. Although they say a good small guy cannot beat a good big guy, I don’t think the saying applies in this one. Canelo is not merely a good small guy, he’s a great one, maybe the greatest currently fighting. Canelo’s pressure and combinations will be the difference here, and I predict he gets another title, this one by decision.

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