Is there a viable challenger for Charles Oliveira? How will Rose Namajunas rebound?

Is there a viable challenger for Charles Oliveira? How will Rose Namajunas rebound? thumbnail

A 14-fight card at UFC 274 produced some big wins, fantastic action, memorable knockouts and a lackluster co-main event sandwiched between two amazing bouts. Carlos Contreras Legaspi and Jeff Wagenheim react to the pay per view and share their thoughts.

Championship bouts are a common way to provide clarity. But what UFC 274 delivered instead was contradiction.

On Saturday in Phoenix, Charles Oliveira stepped into UFC’s cage as the lightweight champion. He then defeated Justin Gaethje in round one and walked out of Octagon as exchamp.

The reason for this mixed-up situation is that Oliveira had lost weight Friday and the UFC was able to remove his title at the beginning of his fight with Gaethje. The result was an empty feeling of something missing. There was no “And still!” Bruce Buffer announced that Oliveira was not wearing a belt.

And yet one thing is undeniable: Belt or no belt, Charles Oliveira is the best 155-pound fighter on the planet.

That became evident during the 3 minutes, 22 seconds the fight lasted. Oliveira stumbled over Gaethje during the first minute, but Gaethje landed a punch just seconds later. Then Gaethje dropped him again. Anyone who thought this was the end of the story had not been paying attention to Oliveira lately.

The 32-year-old Brazilian was hurt badly a year ago in Round 1 of his fight with Michael Chandler for the then-vacant title, but Oliveira came out for the second round and immediately clipped Chandler, then finished him at 19 seconds of the round. Oliveira was forced to endure a difficult start against Dustin Pirier , before finally choking out his opponent in Round 3.

This time Oliveira, his face marked up by the vicious work of Gaethje, scored a takedown midway through the round and quickly seized back control, putting him in position to sink in a rear-naked choke for the 30th finish and 21st submission of his 33-win pro career. Inside the Octagon, he has 19 finishes and 16 submissions — both UFC records. If only there was a stronger grappler in the division that could compete with Oliveira’s ground game. Too bad Khabib Nurmagomedov is retired. That might leave the job up Islam Makhachev ,, a Nurmagomedov friend who has been called Khabib 2.0. The 22-1 Makhachev has been working his way up the lightweight hierarchy, and his emergence couldn’t have come at a better time. — Wagenheim


Should Tony Ferguson really have faced Michael Chandler?

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Michael Chandler shows off his athleticism as he nails two backflips after knocking out Tony Ferguson.

Early during fight week, when I was plotting out the UFC 274 bouts that were must-see, I also noted a couple that I suspected might be hard to watch. One that I picked out ended up not happening, after Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone took sick Saturday, sparing us from the possibility of seeing him extend his six-fight winless streak in a way that might make us cringe. Although the fight I chose was difficult to watch, it did not go on as I expected.

I feared that Michael Chandler vs. Tony Ferguson would be a painful display of what happens when someone at or near the top of his game (Chandler) faces a fighter whose career has been fading (Ferguson, who was coming off three brutal losses). It could get ugly quickly, I thought.

But then Ferguson stepped in for the lightweight bout, and hurt Chandler immediately. Ferguson looked fluid, dangerous, and clearly competitive early on. Perhaps I was wrong about this booking.

Or not.

In Round 2, Chandler threw an inexplicable right kick up the middle. When the ball of his foot touched Ferguson’s chin, it was over. Ferguson fell on his face, unconscious, for several minutes. Ferguson looked dazed even after he was lifted to his feet.

Was this a result of Ferguson’s fading reflexes and his chin not being able to withstand the impact, or was it a scary knockout? Or was this something that could happen to any fighter, even a champion or prime-of career fighter? No one knows the answer, but I will say this: This was the ending I envisioned for Ferguson and Cerrone after I expressed concern about their bookings.

“Cowboy and “El Cucuy”, are legends in MMA. Both have provided many thrilling moments and thrills over the years. While no one is asking for these fighters to be stopped, matchmakers must recognize where they are at their career stages before they send them into the cage together.

During a UFC run highlighted by a 12-fight winning streak, Ferguson was breathtaking. We’re still waiting to see what Ferguson does when he fights. — Wagenheim


Namajunas-Esparza: A title fight unlike any other

“I’m the best! I’m the best! “

That was the mantra Rose Namajunas said aloud, quietly and resolutely and over and over, as she walked out to the cage for the co-main event. I wonder what mantra she used to return to the dressing room after her defeat as champion.

Namajunas, to be fair, has shown herself to be the best strawweight in the world these past few years, with two reigns as champ and multiple victories over former champs Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Zhang Weili, as well as a win over another titleholder, Jessica Andrade. She was not the best, or at least she chose not to show us her best Saturday night.

Carla Esparza was booed after getting her arm raised and having the belt wrapped around her waist. She wasn’t entitled to that response. She had been moving forward throughout the fight, but Namajunas remained aloof and refused to engage. It’s true that Esparza did not accomplish much in the five rounds. But, little is better than none and that Namajunas displayed until the end of the bout when it was too late.

Two important questions remain: Was this the worst UFC title fight? It’s definitely a contender. Esparza landed just 30 significant strikes, the fewest in a decision victory in a UFC title fight in the promotion’s modern era. Esparza is a wrestler. Namajunas is a skilled striker. She connected with just 37.

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Carla Esparza gets Rose Namajunas’ back and scores a takedown in her split-decision victory.

“It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t want to fight,” Esparza said in the Octagon after the bout. That leads to the second question: What do you think of Namajunas, a fighter who had stood her ground against many more dangerous foes? Why did a fighter who had stood her ground against several more dangerous foes dance around the Octagon for the better part of her 25 minutes in there with Esparza? I don’t think there’s a definitive answer. But do you know who should know the answer as the fight unfolded with Esparza? The Namajunas side. According to what I heard from her coaches, no one tried lighting a fire to get Rose to fight like Rose.

Namajunas has a mysterious past. This performance is not indicative of her imminent demise. She might look world-beater the next time she is in the cage. She looked like that when she was a champion. — Wagenheim


Francisco Trinaldo, young at 43

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Francisco Trinaldo makes Danny Roberts double over after he hits him in the body with a crushing left hand.

If you want to know how deep the UFC lightweight division is, just take a look at the unranked veteran Francisco Trinaldo. He went all-out against Danny Roberts — who was coming off a two win streak — to close the prelims at UFC 274 and light up the Footprint Center.

”Massaranduba” earned his 18th victory inside the Octagon with a complete striking performance and had Roberts in trouble more than once during the fight. He is one of the many gatekeepers in the division and is always entertaining to watch. Trinaldo has defeated Bobby Green, Jim Miller and John Makdessi.

At 43 years old and with over a decade fighting for the promotion, he’s standing with a 5-1 record in his last six fights. Like Andrei Arlovski, who is also stacking wins against fighters who probably were not even training when he signed with the UFC, Trinaldo isn’t showing signs of slowing down and wants to make some memories for his 5-year-old son. Tonight was a great one. — Legaspi

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