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*This was originally posted May 5, 2022*

After a few weeks at the APEX Centre in Vegas, the UFC takes the road, moving to Phoenix, Arizona for one of the biggest PPV events of the year. The night is headlined by the lovable, legendary lightweight champ, Charles Oliveira and the title challenger, Justin Gaethje. But that’s not the only title fight! In the co-main, we’ll be treated to the strawweight title bout: a rematch between the champ, ‘Thug’ Rose Namajunas and Carla Esparza. Just before that, we’ve got one of the wildest matchups of the year: a lightweight BANGER between Michael Chandler and Tony Ferguson. We’ll also see the return of other fan-favourite UFC veterans like ‘Shogun’ Rua, ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone, Joe Lauzon and OSP (St. Preux). We’ve also got a couple of exciting ranked bouts between Macy Chiasson and Norma Dumont, as well as Brandon Royval and Matt Schnell. Finally, we’ll also see two young, rising flyweights Tracy Cortez and Melissa Gatto. All of these matchups (plus more) are covered below and feature BLÜ’s predictions along with the Bet99 Sportsbook Odds. As a special bonus, the first episode of The Ultimate Fighter Season 30: Peña vs. Nunes (as seen on UFC Fight Pass) is also covered below.

Main Card (7:00 PM PST)

Donald Cerrone vs. Joe Lauzon

BET99 Odds

Cerrone: -186 Lauzon: +150

Over 2.5: +142 Under 2.5: -184

After taking a year off, perhaps contemplating retirement, fan favourite UFC legend, Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, is back against another veteran in Joe Lauzon. ‘Cowboy’ has been in the UFC since all the way back in 2011 when it merged with WEC. Since then he’s fought most of the big names both at lightweight and welterweight. Although he’s close to the record for most UFC wins of all time, he’s been going through a rough patch, going 0-5-1 since 2019. He may not have won any of those, but four of them were to ranked UFC superstars Ferguson, Gaethje, McGregor and Anthony Pettis. His most recent loss happened a year ago to Alex Morono where he was finished in the 1st Round. Joe Lauzon’s most recent bout ended in a win, sadly it was over someone fairly unknown and it was back in 2019. Before that he struggled like “Cowboy”, losing 3 in a row. Amazingly, Lauzon joined the UFC all the way back in 2006.

They may both be veterans in the UFC, but “Cowboy” holds the clear edge in experience; he’s also one of the most active fighters in UFC history. Outside of all that experience, Cerrone also stands out because of his recent welterweight history. Since this bout is taking place at lightweight, ‘Cowboy’ should have an edge in power. Thanks to all the experience, the activity, the power and the determination to get a win… Cerrone has everything he needs to win the close decision battle and possibly leave his career on a high note.

BLÜ’s Prediction

Cerrone by Decision

Ovince St. Preux vs. Mauricio Rua

BET99 Odds

St. Preux: -250 Rua: +200

Over 1.5: -158 Under 1.5: +122

“Shogun” Rua is one of the legends of the UFC light heavyweight division, joining back in 2007. He’s lost to everyone from Lyoto Machida, Dan Henderson and Chael Sonnen, to Jon Jones, Gustafsson and Anthony Smith. In his most recent trip back into the Octagon, he was a victim to Paul Craig, getting finished in the 2nd Round back in 2021. St. Preux (OSP) also has a storied UFC career but has moved between heavyweight and light heavyweight, losing to Jones, Teixeira and Reyes, as well as Rothwell and Boser.

Their histories are almost identical, what separates them is OSP’s history at heavyweight. That tells me he probably has a bit of extra power. The most noteworthy point about this matchup: they’ve already fought each other. Back in 2014, they met and OSP used that power to grab a 34 second KO. Considering their history and OSP’s heavyweight power, we could be treated to another finish from St. Preux.

BLÜ’s Prediction

St. Preux by Finish

Michael Chandler vs. Tony Ferguson

BET99 Odds

Chandler: -375 Ferguson: +280

Over 1.5: -200 Under 1.5: +150

Here we’ve got the first of three absolute BANGERS closing out this PPV. On the one side, you’ve got the man who’s taken the UFC by storm the past year: Michael Chandler. He entered the UFC early last year, taking on one of the top contenders at the time, another fan favourite, Dan Hooker. After getting a highlight reel KO in that fight, he went on to fight for the vacant belt against Charles Oliveira. He had won the first round of that fight but ended up getting finished in the 2nd Round. He then took on the title challenger tonight: Justin Gaethje. This ended up being one of the fight of the year contenders; he had lost most of the fight, but never quit and made it entertaining as always. Ferguson is similar, always wanting to put on an insane fight for the fans. His 12 fight win-streak came to an end after losing to Gaethje in the first event since COVID lockdowns started. Ever since then he just hasn’t been the same. After getting absolutely mangled by Gaethje, he lost to the champ, Oliveira, and then Dariush.

This is an EASY choice for a potential Brawl of the Night already. It’ll be an explosive, non-stop offence from both sides. While it’s going to be an insane brawl, it just seems as though Chandler holds all the cards here. Chandler has been WAY more impressive recently and they’re evenly matched on the ground, but he has more power and more refined stand-up skills. Thanks to those slight edges, I think we’re going to see a repeat of Gaethje vs. Ferguson; Chandler is going to mangle his face with his stand-up skills and avoid Ferguson’s submissions. Since we’re talking about 2 of the most durable fighters in the UFC and this fight is 3 rounds, the safe bet would be a decision.

BLÜ’s Prediction

Chandler by Decision

Co-Main Event (Strawweight Title Fight)

Rose Namajunas vs. Carla Esparza

BET99 Odds

Namajunas: -213 Esparza: +171

Over 4.5: -184 Under 4.5: +142

Finally, we’ve got another women’s title on the line (it’s been a while). The champ, ‘Thug’ Rose, entered the UFC through TUF season 20 back in 2014. Funny enough, she lost her debut to none other than Carla Esparza. Since that loss though, she’s been almost flawless with a split decision loss to Kowalkiewicz and a devastating, somewhat flukey, KO via a slam from Andrade. Outside of those losses she’s got 2 wins over Joanna and, of course, two wins in her last over Zhang Weili in 2021. One interesting fact, she’s been in 4 other rematches (Torres, Joanna, Andrade, Weili) and she’s gone 4-0 in the 2nd fights. As for Esparza, as I just said, she ended up winning TUF 20 over Rose. Since then she’s also done fairly well, sitting at 8-4 with losses to Joanna, Markos, Gadelha and Suarez. Heading into this one she’s on a 5 fight win-streak over top contenders like Waterson, Rodriguez and Xiaonan.

There’s no doubt that this will be a VERY close matchup, likely going all 5 rounds. Physically, they’re almost identical except for the fact that Rose is 5 years younger. That being said, there are a few reasons that have me leaning towards Rose. She’s got the better record, her two losses were pretty shaky and she’s been looking VERY strong, skilled and determined recently. You have to also keep in mind that Rose is 4-0 in rematches; it may not sound that significant, but it means she learns and comes back stronger every time. Rose may get a finish in there, but I suspect we’ll see a decision at the end of this one.

BLÜ’s Prediction

Namajunas by Decision

Main Event (Lightweight Title Fight)

Charles Oliveira vs. Justin Gaethje

BET99 Odds

Oliveira: -175 Gaethje: +142

Over 1.5: -209 Under 1.5: +162

Back to defend his belt once again, it’s Charles Oliveira. Since losing to Felder back in 2017, he’s gone on to grab one of the longest winning streaks in the UFC with 10 wins in a row. The last four were the most impressive with finishes over Kevin Lee, Chandler and Poirier, as well as a decision win over Ferguson. Since beating Lee, he’s seemingly reached a whole new level and truly seems unbreakable. He struggled in the opening round against both Chandler and Poirier, but after that, he quickly turns it around, gets his jiu-jitsu going and starts to dominate the fight. He then tends to get a submission to add to his UFC record. Gaethje is also a finisher, grabbing more UFC performance bonuses than wins. I mentioned earlier his gnarly win over Ferguson in 2019 and, of course, his convincing decision win over Chandler last year. In between those wins, he was dominated and submitted by Khabib in his final fight.

Just like all of Gaethje’s fights and all of Oliveira’s recent fights, this is another matchup that is SURE to bring some highlights. Oliveira holds a slight 4-inch reach advantage, but the real differences come in their recent performances and their respective skills. Gaethje likely holds an advantage on the feet thanks to his power, while Oliveira holds a CLEAR advantage on the ground. Sadly for Gaethje, Oliveira is more than capable of handling his offence, while it seems likely that Gaethje would have serious problems with Oliveira’s ground game. Oliveira submitted Poirier, finished one of the best strikers in Chandler and controlled Ferguson on the ground for the whole fight… NOBODY does that to Ferguson on the ground. If Gaethje can push the pace early and throw EVERYTHING at Oliveira, there’s a chance he might get a finish, but if this fight moves into the 2nd Round, it’s probably going to be ALL Charles after that. I’m predicting another submission win for Oliveira, copying what Khabib did to Justin.

BLÜ’s Prediction

Oliveira by Finish

BLU’s Prelim Picks (Prelims begin at 3:00 PM PST)

Tracy Cortez vs. Melissa Gatto

BET99 Odds

Cortez: -150 Gatto: +122

Over 2.5: -220 Under 2.5: +171

Both these women are young, very talented rising contenders on HUGE win streaks. They’re both the future of the flyweight division and I think they’ll both be ranked within the next couple of years. For this week, we need to figure out who is going to be farther along in their journey. Cortez has been in the UFC since 2019, grabbing her contract on the Contender Series. Since then she’s won all 3 of her fights including one over another promising prospect: Stephanie Egger. Gatto hasn’t been around as long, making her debut last year, winning two fights with two finishes. Her most recent win was a body kick over Sijara Eubanks, extending her undefeated record to 8-0-2.

Physically, there’s nothing really separating these two; the only differences come in their recent history. Cortez has looked good, but all of her UFC wins have come in decisions and she hasn’t had a statement win yet. Gatto, on the other hand, has two VICIOUS finishes with a broken arm stoppage in her debut and a body kick TKO over Eubanks. It should be an entertaining, close matchup, but I think Gatto holds an edge thanks to her extra finishing ability.

BLÜ’s Prediction

Gatto by Decision

Brandon Royval vs. Matt Schnell

BET99 Odds

Royval: -250 Schnell: +200

Over 2.5: +122 Under 2.5: -158

Here we’ve got another exciting flyweight matchup, this time between two top 10 brawlers. Royval ranked 6th after losses to top contenders Moreno and Pantoja and won his last outing in a tight, split decision against another ranked contender, Bontorin. Schnell, although he fought his last one at bantamweight, is ranked 9th here in the flyweight division. Just like Royval, he fought Bontorin in his last bout; sadly, it didn’t work out as well for him, losing by decision. In spite of his rankings, he hasn’t had any noteworthy wins, plus, he doesn’t have any wins over currently ranked contenders.

This is going to be a close one and I’m sure we’ll be seeing the final bell. Although Schnell is going to put up a good fight, it seems like Royval holds a fairly clear edge thanks to his history. Plus. both of their last fights were against Bontorin; Royval won and Schnell lost. MMA math doesn’t exist, but if it did, it’d tell you that Royval was going to win.

BLÜ’s Prediction

Royval by Decision

Macy Chiasson vs. Norma Dumont

BET99 Odds

Chiasson: +185 Dumont: -234

Over 2.5: -250 Under 2.5: +190

Although these ladies are fighting at featherweight this week and tend to compete here, they are also both currently ranked at bantamweight. Ranked 10th after losing by submission to Pennington in her last, Chiasson won TUF on Season 28 and has found herself at a record of 7-2 in her career. You may remember Dumont from what most refer to as the least entertaining main event of 2021. Thankfully, she was on the winning side of that matchup, plus, it was her threatening offence and forward pressure that led to Ladd not throwing anything. Before that, she had just beaten one of the best female featherweights in MMA, Felicia Spencer, in a decision.

Like most women’s fights, this should be a close matchup that ends in a decision. Chiasson has a slight reach advantage of 5 inches, but Dumont still seems to hold a fairly clear edge thanks to her experience. With wins over Ladd and Spencer, it makes sense that Dumont should be able to overwhelm Chiasson with her power and pick her apart in a decision.

BLÜ’s Prediction

Dumont by Decision

Randy Brown vs. Khaos Williams

BET99 Odds

Brown: +100 Williams: -125

Over 2.5: +105 Under 2.5: -134

They’re not ranked, but they’ve definitely both got some hype behind them with some huge power and great skill. Since joining the UFC in 2016, Brown’s gone 8-4 with losses to Belal, Niko Price and Luque. After losing to Luque in 2020, he turned it around with an incredible 1st Round finish over Alex Oliveira and a decision win over Jared Gooden. Khaos joined the UFC in 2020 and has had a BUSY schedule with a 4-1 record here. He may have lost in a decision to the beast, Michel Pereira, but he’s grabbed highlight-reel finishes over Alex Morono, Alhassan and Baeza.

Physically, both of these men are unreal and are very similar. The only advantage that I see is Williams’ statement wins over Morono, Alhassan and Baeza. It’ll be a close bout with a LOT of fireworks, but I think Williams should edge ahead with his extra power, maybe even grabbing a finish.

BLÜ’s Prediction

Williams by Decision

BLÜ’s Best Bets

Here I highlight some betting lines that you might want to take advantage of for UFC 274. These are odds that favour the bettor. Although some of them may conflict with my picks, they offer a fair reward for a slight bit of risk.

Donald Cerrone vs. Joe Lauzon Over 2.5 at +142

Both these men, as veterans of the UFC, are fairly evenly matched. While there are a lot of finishes on their records, these men are both durable and also likely don’t have as much finish power as they did before. I think we’ll be treated to a brawl and that it’s well worth the risk to put some money down at +142.

Brandon Royval vs. Matt Schnell Over 2.5 at +122

Statistically speaking, the lighter fighters, in this case, the flyweights, tend to reach more decisions than other divisions. That trend, combined with the fact that both of these men are ranked AND have a lot of decisions in their past, it seems well worth the risk to put some money down at +122.

The Underdog Melissa Gatto at +122

Both Cortez and Gatto have a chance to win this fight; that alone means it could be worth the risk to put money on the underdog. That aside, Cortez’s wins have come by decision, while Gatto has the RARE distinction of being a flyweight with multiple UFC finishes. Thanks to that finishing power, she holds an edge, making the +122 betting extra juicy.

Parlay Opportunities

The Short Run

Fialho + Chandler + St. Preux

The Long Run

Fialho + Royval + Dumont + Chandler + St. Preux

Other Fight News

TUF 30: Episode 1 Recap

For the milestone 30th season of the Ultimate Fighter, we’re going to see coaches Julianna Peña and Amanda Nunes lead teams of heavyweights and flyweight women to find the next UFC superstars. It was the season opener, so we saw the coaches pick their teams. One name stood out among the crowd: Kamaru Usman’s brother, Mohammed Usman. That’ll be a name we’ve got to focus on throughout the season; after all, Kamaru made his journey through TUF as well, winning his season and going undefeated, still with a firm grasp on his welterweight title.

After the teams were picked, we moved on to the first matchup of the season, a heavyweight bout between Zac Pauga (Team Peña) and Nyle Bartling (Team Nunes). Leading up to the season, Pauga was a policeman but also spent time as a pro rugby player and an alternate for the Houston Texans in the NFL. As for Bartling, he works on his family’s pig farm and used that ‘farm strength’ to succeed in wrestling matches.

The fight started off quick, both men were quick on their feet, but Nyle was the one landing some good ones early and shooting takedowns. Thanks to all the preparation from his coach, Peña, Pauga brushed off all those takedown attempts and started to get more into it, landing some big shots and even getting some ground and pound in. As the round went on, Bartling kept shooting for more takedowns. It took him a while, but after an unfortunate slip for Pauga, Nyle found himself in the dominant position on top. That only lasted about 30 seconds though as Pauga got back up. After 5 minutes, it was pretty hard to tell who was ahead. If I had to pick, I’d have said Pauga may have been ahead thanks to his crisper striking and the fact that he shut down Bartling’s wrestling. The 2nd Round started with more back and forth striking and Bartling trying to shoot for more takedowns. Bartling was working really hard for the takedowns but just couldn’t land any of them. In between, as Nyle was grabbing his legs, Pauga was letting loose some decent ground and pound. Just as the round was ending, Pauga found himself on top again, even threatening a submission this time. After 2 rounds, I figured with his takedown defence and the control time, Pauga had won the decision. In the end, the judges agreed, giving the unanimous decision win to Pauga.

It’s tough to say how Pauga will do because we haven’t seen any other fighters yet, but he’s a lighter heavyweight and didn’t do anything crazy to put himself out there and make a statement. He looked good but he’ll have a tough time against someone bigger.