In the third season of HBO's hit show "Succession," Kendall Roy throws himself an opulent, hipster, faux-edgy 40th birthday party. At one point, the neurotic scion of the Roy family, hearing music he doesn't recognize, asks one of the party coordinators-slash-staffers he has around him at all times, "Are they playing from the approved playlist in the main room, because my thing was all bangers, all the time."
Do you know who else was thinking "all bangers, all the time?"
Dana White and the UFC matchmakers when they put together this fight card!
Saturday's return to Phoenix's Footprint Center for UFC 274 brings a collection of compelling, exciting, sure-to-entertain matchups to the octagon. From the opening bout of the evening through the lightweight championship main event, it is all bangers, and I cannot wait for the action to get underway.
Let's take a look at the main card.
Charles Oliveira vs. Justin Gaethje
After winning and successfully defending the lightweight title in his two appearances last year, Charles Oliveira (32-8 MMA, 20-8 UFC) kicks off his 2022 campaign with a title engagement against human wrecking ball Justin Gaethje (23-3 MMA, 6-3 UFC) on Saturday night.
Oliveira pushed his winning streak to 10 with stoppage victories over Michael Chandler and Dustin Poirier in 2021, becoming the 11th undisputed lightweight champion in UFC history. The 32-year-old Brazilian has collected finishes in nine of those 10 outings and all but two of his 20 career wins inside the octagon.
Gaethje returned to action in November, kicking off the UFC 268 main card at Madison Square Garden with a gripping brawl with Chandler that collected "Fight of the Night" honors. It was the first time in his UFC tenure that the Safford, Arizona native went the distance, so you can be sure he'll be hunting for a finish as he looks to make good on his second attempt to secure championship gold in the UFC lightweight division.
Oliveira's rise to the top of the division has been equal parts unexpected and impressive, as he's converted the majority of his critics into believers, exhibiting greater resiliency to go along with his always insane finishing abilities and instincts. Gaethje, on the other hand, remains one of the most feared men in the weight class, although his last outing was the first time in his UFC tenure where the judges were called upon.
Was that because it was only a three-round fight and the Trevor Wittman trainee is used to having a little more time to work or have all the battles he's been a part of taken a little something off his fastball after all these years?
No matter how this one shakes out, it should be a thrilling way to the close out the evening, and set a fresh course for the lightweight division heading into the summer.
Rose Namajunas vs. Carla Esparza
The first two women to fight for the UFC strawweight title meet for a second time in this, the division's 15th championship fight, as two-time titleholder Rose Namajunas (11-4 MMA, 9-3 UFC) puts her belt on the line against inaugural champ Carla Esparza (18-6 MMA, 9-4 UFC).
Namajunas reclaimed the top spot in the 115-pound weight class last April, capturing the title for a second time with a first-round knockout win over Zhang Weili at UFC 261. The popular champion cemented her place atop the division with a split decision win over Zhang in the rematch a little over six months later.
After beating Namajunas in the finals of the strawweight tournament on Season 20 of "The Ultimate Fighter" to etch her name in the history books, the 32-year-old Esparza has taken a circuitous route back to contention. She lost the title in her first defense and dropped four of her next seven fights after winning the title, but since then, the streaking veteran has put together a five-fight winning streak, capped by an emphatic second-round stoppage win over Yan Xiaonan last May.
This is a compelling clash on a couple different layers, beyond just the simple fact that it's a rematch.
Namajunas is unbeaten against familiar opposition, having avenged previous losses to Tecia Torres and Jessica Andrade, as well as posting twin victories over Zhang and Joanna Jedrzejczyk. As for Esparza, she's been continually making her case for a championship opportunity for a couple years now, and her win over Yan very much felt like a declaration that she wasn't interested in waiting any longer.
Both women have improved since their first encounter, so it should be interesting to see how this one unfolds all these years later.
Michael Chandler vs. Tony Ferguson
Veteran lightweight contenders Michael Chandler (22-7 MMA, 1-2 UFC) and Tony Ferguson (25-6 MMA, 15-4 UFC) meet in this highly anticipated clash where each man is looking to get things moving in the right direction once again.
Chandler's time in the UFC started off so well, as he knocked out Dan Hooker in his January debut to earn a championship opportunity, and he opened that bout with Oliveira well. But after failing to get "Do Bronx" out of there in the first, the Brazilian stopped the University of Missouri alum in the second before Chandler landed on the wrong side of the decision in an all-out war with Gaethje at Madison Square Garden in November.
After going seven years and a dozen fights without a loss, Ferguson enters Saturday's contest on a three-fight skid, searching for his first victory since the summer of 2019. The 38-year-old's slide started in an interim title fight opposite Gaethje at UFC 249, continued through a meeting with Oliveira seven months later at UFC 256, and was extended to three last May when he was out-grappled by Beneil Dariush at UFC 262.
Something has got to give here – either Chandler gets back in the win column and hands Ferguson another defeat, or "El Cucuy" has a return to form and sends Chandler home on a three-fight slide of his own.
Expect both men to come out guns blazing in this one and neither to stop until the referee intervenes or the final horn sounds, whichever comes first.
Mauricio Rua vs. Ovince Saint Preux
The co-main event isn't the only rematch on Saturday's main card, as veteran light heavyweights Mauricio "Shogun" Rua (27-12-1 MMA, 11-10-1) and Ovince Saint Preux (25-16 MMA, 13-11 UFC) renew acquaintances more than seven years after sharing the octagon together in Uberlandia, Brazil in November 2014.
This is Rua's first appearance since November 2020, when he was stopped in a clash with streaking Scottish finisher Paul Craig. The former light heavyweight champion and PRIDE legend was 5-1-1 in his seven bouts before that – a run that started following his loss to Saint Preux in their first meeting – but after falling to Craig and spending the last 18 months on the sidelines, it will be interesting to see what the 40-year-old Brazilian has left in the tank.
Saint Preux has made more than twice as many appearances as Rua since their initial encounter, but has struggled to find consistent success, amassing an 8-10 record over that time. He's bounced around between light heavyweight and heavyweight the last couple years, and remains a threat to finish, but he too has some questions to answer as he heads into this one on a two-fight skid and having earned just three wins in his last nine outings.
Can "Shogun" turn back the clock and collect another victory or will Saint Preux earn a second win over the beloved Brazilian veteran?
Donald Cerrone vs. Joe Lauzon
All-action lightweights that somehow never crossed paths before do so in the main card opener, as Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone (36-16 MMA, 23-13 UFC) returns to the 155-pound weight class to square off with Joe Lauzon (28-15 MMA, 15-12 UFC).
It's been a tough couple years in the cage for the 39-year-old Cerrone, who enters Saturday's contest looking to snap a six-fight run without a victory.
Lauzon returns for the first time since collecting a first-round stoppage victory over Jonathan Pearce at home in Boston in October 2019. The 37-year-old has transitioned into coaching, but after a 26-month hiatus, the former "The Ultimate Fighter" contestant and all-action stalwart will step back into the octagon to tangle with Cerrone on Saturday night.
In their heydays, Cerrone and Lauzon were two of the most consistently entertaining fighters on the UFC roster, and if there is any goodness in the world, they'll get to have a competitive, entertaining bout together this weekend. "Cowboy" is destined for the UFC Hall of Fame whenever he hangs up his spurs and Lauzon is an all-time "fighter's fighter" who deserves enshrinement as well.
This story first published at UFC.com.