The UFC has announced that Charles Oliveira will defend the UFC Lightweight Title at UFC 274 in May against Justin Gaethje. Oliveira has been on a tear lately, first climbing the rankings to beat Michael Chandler for the vacant title via KO. Oliveira followed that up by winning his first title defense against Dustin Poirier via submission in December. If you haven’t seen that one, go check out the replay of his insane standing rear naked choke.
Justin Gaethje is also no stranger to winning. The 33-year-old has won five of his last six, with the only loss coming to the undefeated and now retired Khabib Nurmagomedov. His five wins have come against a Who’s Who of some of the most famous Lightweights, including knockouts against Edson Barboza, Donald Cerrone, and Tony Ferguson. He also won his last fight via decision against the aforementioned Michael Chandler to cement his position to be the next up against Oliveira.
One key to any UFC handicap is thinking about paths to victory for each opponent. There is no doubt that Gaethje hits hard, with 19 of his 23 professional wins coming by knockout. He also lands at a staggering rate of 7.5 significant strikes per minute. However, this would appear to be his only path to victory in this fight. Gaethje has never scored a takedown during his UFC tenure, and only has one submission win in his career via rear naked choke, coming ten years ago on the regional scene.
While any well-timed and accurate punch could win Gaethje the fight, Oliveira is elusive and brings in a strike defense of 53 percent. He also possesses two likely paths to victory, sporting 9 knockouts and 20 submissions in his 32 career wins. Oliveira lands at a slower pace with 3.4 significant strikes per minute, but he makes them count. Oliveira also averages 2.5 takedowns per match, landing them at a 41 percent accuracy. Gaethje has a very good takedown defense at 73 percent, but as Oliveira showed at UFC 269, he doesn’t even need to get the takedown in order to complete a submission! Oliveira also proved in that Poirier match that he can evade power, at least long enough to score the victory.
Early lines have Oliveira as the -155 favorite. I believe there is good value on the side of Oliveira, and it will help to bet it early, before the public begins betting on the favorite. Additionally a finish inside the distance looks very likely in this fight, so I will look to bet the under as soon as it is released. Hopefully there isn’t too steep a price on the under 3.5, but even if there is, I still like under 2.5 in this fight.