PHOENIX – Charles Oliveira went to the canvas on two hard punches and another on a takedown, all in the first round.

Each time, Justin Gaethje let him back up, hoping to inflict more damage and get the Brazilian to give up.

Giving up is no longer a part of Oliveira’s makeup. Fighting back – and winning – is.

Shaking off two big punches from Gaethje, Oliveira choked him out in the first round to win by submission in the lightweight division at UFC 274 on Saturday night.

“This is a message to the entire division,” Oliveira said through an interpreter. “I am a problem for this division.”

Oliveira (33-6, 1 no-contest) had to vacate the title after missing the 155-pound limit by a half-pound at Friday’s weigh-in, leaving Gaethje (24-4) – who was an All-American wrestler at Northern Colorado – as the only fighter who could take the championship belt.

It may not have been a title fight, but it certainly had plenty of action, including two knockdowns and a takedown by Gaethje. The Arizona native allowed Oliveira up each time and it backfired when the jiu-jitsu specialist knocked him to the ground and took his back, submitting him at 3:22 of the opening round.

“It was what I expected, what we all expected,” UFC President Dana White said. “It was an incredible fight.”

Carla Esparza (20-6) took the strawweight title eight years after losing it in the co-main event, working a patient fight to beat Colorado’s Rose Namajunas (12-5) in a split decision.

Christian Petersen, Getty Images

Rose Namajunas kicks Carla Esparza in their women’s strawweight championship bout during UFC 274 at Footprint Center on May 7, 2022 in Phoenix.

Esparza had trouble not only taking down Namajunas, but pulling her into range. She managed to get in a few solid strikes, some low leg kicks and a couple of brief takedowns to earn the title she had been waiting so long for.

“I can’t believe after all these years I have the belt back,” Esparza said. “I went through so much to get the belt both times.”

A fan favorite from eastern Arizona, Gaethje promised a few “car crashes” in a bid to make Oliveira back down.

He smashed into Oliveira early and often, dropping the Brazilian with punches twice in the first round, letting him up both times so he could keep punching. Gaethje added in a takedown and again let Oliveira get back up.


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