UFC 274: Oliveira Looks to Reach Rarefied Air Against Electrifying Gaethje

Charles Oliveira and Justin Gaethje, UFC 274
Charles Oliveira and Justin Gaethje, UFC 274 pre-fight press conference Credit: Eddie Law/Cageside Press

Charles Oliveira will look to take a step closer to toward the upper-echelon of pound-for-pound greats while Justin Gaethje looks to usher in his era at UFC 274.

After putting together a ten fight win-streak in the ultra competitive lightweight division, you would think there was little left to prove for (now former) champion Charles Oliveira.  “Do Bronx” has already laid the framework for a Hall-of-Fame ballot: He holds the record for thee most submissions in UFC history and has a resume dotted with names like Dustin Poirier, Michael Chandler, Tony Ferguson, and Kevin Lee.  With another victory on Saturday, Oliveira would be within striking distance of reaching the benchmark of thirteen consecutive victories in the promotion that has become the standard for all-time greats in the sport.

Following his stoppage of Poirier last December, talk began to revolve around whether he simply a little too late for a clash with the last dominant force in the division in Khabib Nurmagomedov.  While Oliveira was part of the UFC from a younger age, it is Nurmagomedov’s undefeated streak that draws the most praise.  But while “The Eagle ” is steadfast in his retirement, Oliveira is doing his part to close the gap between the two and has several reference points to work with.  He stopped Poirier a round earlier than Nurmagomedov did and has another chance to try to outdo the performance of the former champion when he faces another of his former foes this Saturday.

Since before he joined the UFC, Justin Gaethje’s reputation has preceded him.  The electrifying former WSOF champion has recorded several Fight of the Year nominations, including another last year against Michael Chandler, and is easily one of the most popular fighters in the entire sport.  Along the way, he has evolved to become a more efficient fighter without losing the traits that made him must-watch television in the first place.  Now years later, the only box “The Highlight” has left to check is whether or not he can put everything together to claim the title in one of the deepest divisions in all of mixed martial arts.

While he would remain one of the top contenders in the division regardless of the outcome, Saturday is a key moment for Gaethje.  This will be this second shot at winning undisputed UFC gold and his last attempt was a much anticipated bout that ended in one-sided fashion for his opponent.  While he has become grown as an elite talent as a fighter and as a brand, it does not change that he would be in an unenviable position to have to climb the ladder again to earn a third title shot as the division becomes increasingly more competitive.

Oliveira will face arguably his toughest test stylistically against the multi-faceted Gaethje.  Patience will be key as he should look to use his height and reach to get in-and-out with short combinations and force a slow pace on the feet for the challenger to make moves.  Most importantly, he must control when the two initiate exchanges as the more explosive Gaethje figures to do more damage at close range.  For the challenger, shot selection will be key as to conserve energy and break down the famously durable champion.  Kicks to the calf and shots to the body will be his best options as he looks to create openings to land a fight ending shot.

Islam Makhachev with a ten fight win-streak is widely expected to fight for the title next, with a date in Abu Dhabi this October having already been announced months in advance.  The bout is expected to be one of the biggest fights of the year as Makhachev looks to claim the belt previously held by his childhood friend Khabib Nurmagomedov against either the newest force in the division in Oliveira (though the belt will remain vacant should Oliveira win following his weight miss) or against Gaethje who would be looking for a piece of his own redemption after coming up short to Nurmagomedov.


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