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UFC 274 recap: Charles Oliveira finishes Justin Gaethje in first round

'Do Bronx' doesn't walk away with title but still thrills in Phoenix headliner.

Charles Oliveira no longer holds the UFC lightweight championship.

Yet after another dominating performance, Oliveira once again proved that he owns and operates the lightweight division.

In less than a round, Oliveira forced Justin Gaethje to tap out in the UFC 274 main event. Despite the victory, Oliveira officially lost the title after he failed to make weight for the fight. Losing the belt on the scale is a miserable way to drop a championship, but it does not appear he will be apart from his belt for long.

Oliveira (33-8 MMA, 21-8 UFC), finished the fight by submission with a rear naked choke in the first round. Gaethje (23-4 MMA, 6-4 UFC) landed a few clips, but Oliveira had the better technique, striking and jiu-jitsu. The gap further widened between Oliveira and the rest of the division, and he removed any doubt that Gaethje was in the same class as him. Oliveira will now fight to regain his belt, which will, most likely, take place against Islam Makhachev. Oliveira called out Conor McGregor, who is also a potential opponent, but McGregor is a much better fit in a fight against Michael Chandler.

One of the most spectacular knockouts of all-time was delivered by Chandler in his bout against Tony Ferguson (25-7 MMA, 15-5 UFC). His front face kick sent Ferguson into a different orbit, and the moment was genuinely frightening with Ferguson laid out with his eyes open after spiking his head on the mat. Chandler (23-7 MMA, 2-2 UFC) withstood a quick flurry of shots in the face from Ferguson to open the first round, but even with significant swelling around his eye, he landed a takedown and finished the round with a vicious array of ground-and-pound. Then came the second round, where Chandler landed a field goal kick to the face of Ferguson.

Ferguson has now dropped four in a row. As he continues to fall in the lightweight rankings, his future in the octagon is uncertain. And after dropping his past two fights, Chandler is now back in title contention. A fight against McGregor would be a big draw, and the winner could potentially fight for the title.

After that unforgettable finish came one of the worst title fights in UFC history. Rose Namajunas (11-5 MMA, 9-4 UFC) lost her strawweight title to Carla Esparza (18-6 MMA, 9-4 UFC) by split decision in a bout that neither fighter appeared to win.

Namajunas lost her title in one of the most miserable ways possible – through the judges' scorecards. She wasn't beaten or finished, and while Esparza was pushing the grappling, she did absolutely nothing with it. It is a maddening defeat, especially considering Namajunas was winning the exchanges, she just wasn’t engaging and produced practically no offense.

One of the judges actually scored this 49-46 in Esparza's favor, which is hard to fathom. Yet that is the inherent danger in allowing the judges to control the outcome of a fight. In situations like this, I tend to side with the champion – but two of the three judges felt otherwise. This decision brought back memories of Henry Cejudo defeating Demetrious Johnson for the flyweight title in 2018, which also was a 25-minute bout that appeared to have no clear winner – until the judges awarded the finish (and title) to Cejudo by split decision. It was similar here with Esparza, who defeats Namajunas for a second time for the title.

Namajunas-Esparza wasn’t the only rematch on the card. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua (27-13-1 MMA, 11-11-1) and Ovince Saint Preux (26-16 MMA, 14-11 UFC) ran it back from their first meeting in 2014, which Saint Preux won by knockout in only 34 seconds. Like the women’s strawweight title bout, this was also disappointing. It was a slow-moving, prodding fight, with neither 40-year-old Rua or the 39-year-old Saint Preux controlling the pace or flow of the fight. It went the distance, with Saint Preux winning by split decision against Rua, who is rapidly approaching the end of his legendary career.

The main card opened with Randy Brown (15-4 MMA, 9-4 UFC) defeating Khaos Williams (13-3 MMA, 4-2 UFC) by split decision in a very competitive bout. Brown did enough damage on Williams to sway the judges. This was originally scheduled to be Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone (36-16 MMA, 23-13 UFC) against Joe Lauzon (28-15 MMA, 15-12 UFC), but that was postponed after it was announced Cerrone was unable to compete. The main card turned out to be a great stage for two promising welterweights, and with the win, Brown is going to be on the verge of a top-15 welterweight ranking.

UFC 274 had its share of lows, but the highs were extraordinary. Chandler’s knockout will take its place in UFC lore as an all-time great moment. Daniel Cormier was announced as the next inductee into the UFC Hall of Fame, a well-earned accolade for one of the greats of the sport. And by dismantling Gaethje in less than a round, Oliveira eliminated any remaining doubt that he has a legitimate peer in the lightweight division.

With or without the belt, the night belonged to Oliveira.

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