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UFC 274: Oliveira vs. Gaethje main card preview - Everyone is past their prime

Get the dirt on the main card contests prior to the title fights, featuring former Bellator kingpin Michael Chandler looking to rebound against the uber tough Tony Ferguson.

Tony Ferguson prior to his contest with Beneil Dariush at UFC 262
Tony Ferguson prior to his contest with Beneil Dariush at UFC 262
Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC

While the two title fights topping UFC 274 are awesome, there are too many potential negative factors at play to get very excited for the rest of the main card contests. For one, none of the participants appear to be in their prime. In fact, a very strong argument could be made every one of them are past their prime. If each of the fighters were in their prime, it would be fair to say this main card would rival any card in the history of MMA. Tony Ferguson had a 12-fight win streak. Michael Chandler is a former three-time Bellator lightweight champion. Shogun Rua is an all-time great whose penchant for destruction was unrivaled. Ovince Saint Preux may have been inconsistent, but he was capable of taking gold when fighting at his best. Donald Cerrone was the ultimate anytime, anywhere fighter. And Joe Lauzon was, at one point, the UFC leader in Performance Bonuses. If they can flash what they once were, we’re in for a treat. If not, stick around for the title fights. At least those will be worthwhile....

For the early prelims preview, click here. For the televised prelims, click here. For an audio preview, click here.

Michael Chandler vs. Tony Ferguson, Lightweight

The list of fighters who have more consecutive wins inside the UFC than Ferguson is very short. He was regularly fighting the best in the division at the time as well. However, all good things must come to an end and it appears the sun has set on Ferguson in terms of him being one of the best in the division.

It shouldn’t come as a major surprise. Ferguson’s funky movement does create unique openings for his offense, but it isn’t necessarily notable for helping him to avoid what his opponents throw at him. Remember his fight with a debuting Lando Vannata on short notice? Vannata dropped him. Fortunately for Ferguson, he’s proven to be extremely durable, capable of recovering quickly from a power shot and enduring one of the most painful looking armbars in MMA history from Charles Oliveira. What I’m getting at is Ferguson has been willing to take a lot of damage because he could take it. Well, that style is catching up with him as his body doesn’t appear capable of doing the things he could make it do a few years ago.

On the flip side, there’s an argument that Ferguson has only been losing to the best in the division. After all, two of his losses are to the two men fighting for the lightweight title on this card and the other appears to be set up in a title eliminator. Plus, Oliveira and Beneil Dariush employ the type of grappling games designed to shut down Ferguson’s funky ground game. Does Chandler have that?

No one doubts whether Chandler can get Ferguson down. The compact former Bellator champion has been reluctant to go to his wrestling at times, but it comes out enough for us all to know it’s still there. If Chandler doesn’t try to get cute, we also know he can smother Ferguson from the top position. But will he? Chandler has frequently suffered from brain cramps, not always taking the most obvious route to victory. Then again, Chandler has proven gifted enough to get away with a spotty fight IQ.

The wrestling will have to be a big key for Chandler. Unless Ferguson’s durability completely falls out underneath himself, it’s unlikely Chandler puts him away on the feet. Even more concerning for Chandler would be Ferguson outworking him as Chandler has slowed late in fights. Not every fight, but in enough that it could be a concern if Ferguson gets the insane pace he prefers as Ferguson is a cardio machine. However, Chandler’s back is against the wall. He knows he needs the win. Ferguson is weird enough he may not take the most secure path to victory. If he does, it may only be by happenstance. Chandler knows what he needs to do. It’s fair to anticipate Chandler beginning to fade soon – it was all the way back in 2011 when he won the Bellator title – but we’ve already seen Ferguson fade. I’m not discounting Ferguson – though the betting odds are way too long against him – but the most likely outcome is a Chandler win. Chandler via decision

  • I cannot think of a legend whom the MMA community has wanted to retire more than Shogun Rua. He’s been the past-his-prime version of himself for so long that it’s good to go watch some of his Pride fights to remind ourselves of what he once was. Sure, the blitzing offensive juggernaut that Rua was flashes itself from time to time. But those flashes come further apart and even more fleeting. Even worse, his durability and stamina are both bigger concerns than they have ever been. Fortunately for Rua, those issues are proving problematic for Ovince Saint Preux as well. In fact, the issue appears to be compounded for Saint Preux as he doesn’t look like he can get down to 205 any longer without compromising himself, perhaps to the point that he’d be better off fighting at heavyweight. There’s also the possibility that Saint Preux is entering this fight overconfident given he blew Rua out of the water in their first fight. Given that fight took place in 2014, it’s hard to put much, if any, stock into it. Rua may have already been on the decline at that point, but Saint Preux was in his prime. He isn’t now and he’s also been the one who has taken far more punishment since that time. I’d rather not make a prediction on this contest as there’s so many possibilities and both men are nowhere near their peak. Given Saint Preux was never great at avoiding his opponents offense, I’ll say Rua has one more flurry in him... but I wouldn’t recommend anyone put money on that. Rua via TKO of RD1
  • Throughout his UFC run, the book on Joe Lauzon never changed much, if it changed at all. One of the craftiest submission artists on the roster when he was in his prime, Lauzon made a habit of blitzing his opponents early, utilizing his controlled chaos to catch them off-guard. Given he himself is a limited athlete, it only worked to a certain point, but it sure as hell helped him win several fights he probably shouldn’t have. Nevertheless, after all the brutal battles he put his body through, the wear and tear began to catch up to him and he struggled to put away opponents he once would have walked over. It wasn’t just a loss in physical skills; it was declining durability. Lauzon did prove he was as good once as he ever was in winning his last fight, but that was back in 2019. Can he do the same to Donald Cerrone? Most would say the odds appear to be pretty good as Cerrone has always been a slow starter. Cerrone’s busy fight schedule appears to be getting the better of him as well, slowing considerably after a long career of taking as many fights as the UFC would give him. Cerrone’s chin doesn’t appear to be what it once was, but has it sunk to the level that Lauzon’s did? We won’t find out until fight time. If Cerrone can survive the inevitable early onslaught from Lauzon, the fight should be his. Being the larger fighter and far superior striker should make it easy for him to pick off a fading Lauzon. However, that’s a big if, especially given the fight is taking place at lightweight. There’s no guarantee Cerrone can make the weight comfortably as he edges up on his 40th birthday. Lauzon via submission of RD1