This article is part of our UFC Picks series.
The UFC returns to Phoenix, Arizona for UFC 274, which goes down on Saturday, May 7. In the main event, Charles Oliveira looks to defend his lightweight title against Justin Gaethje. The co-main event also sees Rose Namajunas rematching Carla Esparza for the strawweight belt.
In this series of articles, I'll share my favorite play, an underdog pick, a prop and a two-fighter parlay I like. All lines are taken from DraftKings online sportsbook and are accurate as of the post date of this article.
Fernie Garcia (10-1) vs. Journey Newson (9-3 and 1 NC)
Weight Class: Bantamweight
Opening up UFC 274 is a bantamweight bout, and I like Fernie Garcia to get the win in his UFC debut.
Garcia is someone I have heard a ton about from the fighters at Fortis MMA who have raved about him, some of those fighters being Damon Jackson, Steven Peterson and Miles Johns. The word is that he's a solid boxer with good wrestling, and I believe he gets a favorable matchup here against Journey Newson.
Newson has a heavy right hand, but his chin is a concern. He has also not fought since September 2020 when Randy Costa knocked him out in 41 seconds. I expect Garcia to go to his wrestling in the first round and try to wear on Newson. As the fight goes on, he will start piecing Newson up to win a decision. I personally lined Garcia near (-185), so to get him at this price makes it a play.
The Play: Fernie Garcia (-150)
Justin Gaethje (23-3) vs. Charles Oliveira (32-8)
Weight Class: Lightweight
In the main event, I'm taking Justin Gaethje to become the new UFC Lightweight Champion, as I think the underdog presents a ton of value.
Oliveira has solid jiu-jitsu, but he still stands and trades for too long and gets tagged too much. Dustin Poirier was able to drop him twice, while Michael Chandler rocked him badly and 10-8'd him in the first round. Gaethje, meanwhile, has more power than those two and has the better finishing ability, so if he can catch Oliveira, I do think he will get the KO.
Gaethje's volume will also be a problem for Oliveira, as he lands 7.5 significant strikes per minute. He can keep that pace for the full 25 minutes, as we saw in the Tony Ferguson fight. As a former All-American wrestler, Gaethje also has 73 percent takedown defense, which is a key against Oliveira. I think he can keep it standing long enough to get the KO win.
The Play: Justin Gaethje (+150)
Joe Lauzon (28-15) vs. Donald Cerrone (36-16)
Weight Class: Lightweight
Lauzon is returning for the first time since UFC Boston in October 2019 and only was going to return if he got the right opponent, and he gets that in Cerrone. Cowboy has struggled as of late as his chin seems to have faded. To make matters worse, he is now dropping back down to 155lbs which certainly won't help the situation.
In their careers, Lauzon has been a fast starter with several quick KOs, while Cerrone is the exact opposite. When I talked to Lauzon before this fight, he made it clear he plans to blitz Cerrone early and land big shots, which is the perfect game plan. I expect him to get an early finish.
The Play: Joe Lauzon inside the distance (+275)
Brandon Royval (13-6) vs. Matt Schnell (15-6) &
Andre Fialho (15-4) vs. Cameron VanCamp (15-5-1)
Weight Class: Flyweight & Welterweight
Royval gets a favorable matchup in Schnell, as Schnell is known as a grappler, but I don't see him having much success against Royval, who has solid jiu-jitsu. On the feet, Schnell's chin is a worry, as he has been rocked and knocked out a few times (Royval has sneaky power). I expect this fight to be similar to the Kai Kara-France matchup, which will be a chaotic fight but one in which Royval gets the stoppage in the second round.
In the other leg, I'm taking Andre Fialho against Cameron VanCamp, who's a lightweight moving up and taking this fight on a week's notice. Fialho is a solid striker with a ton of power, and the size will also show here, as I expect Fialho to get the early KO. This fight won't be close as the odds suggest and just helps lower the Royval line.
The Play: Royval & Fialho (-130)