UFC 274: Charles Oliveira wins fight over Justin Gaethje, loses belt

Charles Oliveira of Brazil secures a rear choke submission against Justin Gaethje in the UFC li ...

PHOENIX — Charles Oliveira lost his belt in Phoenix this weekend. But he didn’t lose his fight.

A day after being stripped of the lightweight title for missing weight, Oliveira submitted Justin Gaethje in the main event of UFC 274 at Footprint Center to solidify his spot as top contender.

He was ineligible to win the belt, which will remain vacant.

“I’m the champion,” he said. “I’m a problem for the rest of the division. It’s my title. It should be (around my waist).”

Gaethje knocked Oliveira down twice and cut him open in the first 90 seconds only to fall into a bad position and get trapped in an armbar.

He escaped, but Oliveira locked in a choke as Gaethje tried to scramble away and it was all over.

The fight lasted 3:22, but featured far more action than the 25-minute grind of a co-main event that was filled with lots of posturing and feinting with little engagement.

In the end, the judges awarded challenger Carla Esparza a split decision, as she dethroned women’s strawweight champion Rose Namajunas.

“You never want to be a part of a fight like that,” Namajunas said after loud boos from the sold-out crowd.

Namajunas appeared to be waiting for Esparza, a wrestler with a strong takedown game, to come forward. It rarely happened.

Instead, the judges were left to make a decision at the end of each of the first three rounds based on little activity. There was more action in the fourth and fifth, but only compared to the first three.

It’s the second time Esparza has beaten Namajunas for the belt. She became the first UFC women’s strawweight champion by winning “The Ultimate Fighter” reality show in 2014, defeating Namajunas in the finals.

Saturday’s crowd was far more enthused about the finish in a lightweight contender bout.

Former champion Michael Chandler made the case for another shot at the belt by turning in an early favorite for knockout of the year.

After a back-and-forth first round, Chandler landed a front kick down the middle to knock Tony Ferguson out cold in the opening moments of the second.

“When you have a round like I did in the first round that wasn’t that decisive, you have to pull something out,” Chandler said before calling for either a title shot or a bout against Conor McGregor. “He’s so tall, but he does keep his hands off to the side. I didn’t even train that kick very much, but it was there.”

Ovince Saint-Preux, the brother of former UNLV wide receiver Renan Saint-Preux, largely went through the motions in winning a split decision over former champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in a slog of a bout that was booed throughout.

It followed a much faster-paced bout, as welterweight Randy Brown won his third straight fight and fifth of his past six with a split decision over Khaos Williams.

It was the first fight on the pay-per-view card after being scheduled for the prelims. The bout got a promotion because Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone withdrew from his fight against Joe Lauzon hours before the event.

Cerrone was sick and unable to compete. UFC officials confirmed the illness was not COVID-related.

Commentator Joe Rogan explained during the broadcast the issue was believed to be food poisoning.

It was potentially the final fight for Cerrone, who was emotional about his lengthy career throughout the week and excited to fight live in front of his oldest son.

The bout is expected to be rescheduled.

Seven of the nine preliminary card bouts went the distance.

Flyweight Brandon Royval had the only submission of that group when he choked out Matt Schnell in the first round. Welterweight Andre Fialho had the only knockout, a first-round stoppage of Cameron VanCamp.

Fialho improved to 2-1 since the start of 2022 and said after the win he has agreed to a fight on the UFC 275 card June 11 in Singapore.

“I want to feel as comfortable in there as I am on the couch drinking water,” he said. “I’m a professional. I don’t eat sugar. I don’t drink soda. I sweat a lot. It’s easy to make weight.”

Rising women’s flyweight star Tracy Cortez won her 10th straight fight and improved to 4-0 in the UFC with a unanimous decision over Melissa Gatto.

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on Twitter.