Charles Oliveira entered UFC 274 fight week in Phoenix as the UFC lightweight champion and defeated Justin Gaethje in Saturday night’s main event. However, he didn’t leave Footprint Center as champion.
Oliveira (32-8) missed the 155-pound weight limit by four-tenths of a pound Friday, making him the first titleholder in UFC history to be stripped due to a weight miss.
Gaethje (23-4) would have won the title with a victory, but Oliveira emerged victorious in a short and wild fight via rear-naked choke submission at the 3:22 mark of the opening round.
Both fighters landed knockdowns in a frenetic pace. Oliveira scored the one that counted, however, and followed up on the mat by extending his UFC record with his 16th submission win. He’ll be installed as No. 1 contender and fight an opponent to be named later to fill the title vacancy.
“This is a message to the entire division — I am a problem to the entire division. That is my title,” Oliveira said.
The evening’s co-feature bout saw a new strawweight champion crowned after a bizarre matchup.
Carla Esparza of Redondo Beach, Calif., became a two-time champion by earning a split decision over Colorado’s Rose Namajunas in a matchup that was short in action, as Namajunas appeared to be completely disengaged. With little to work with, the judges scored the bout 48-47 Namajunas, 49-46 Esparza and 48-47 Esparza.
Esparza (20-6) is a wrestler and Namajunas (12-5) spent most of the bout circling away to the outside to avoid potential takedowns.
Esparza was cautious as she closed the distance. Little happened in the first three rounds. In the fourth, Esparza landed a pair of takedowns, the second one with authority. Namajunas never picked up the pace and Esparza’s willingness to at least attempt takedowns spelled the difference.
This marked Esparza’s second win over Namajunas, as she took their first fight in 2014 and won the inaugural UFC strawweight title.
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