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UFC 274: Namajunas vs. Esparza 2 MMA Odds and Picks

UFC 274: Namajunas vs. Esparza 2 MMA Odds and Picks
Rose Namajunas celebrates after beating Zhang Weili of China during the women's strawweight title bout of UFC 261 on April 24, 2021. Photo by Alex Menendez / Getty Images via AFP

Rose Namajunas will vie for both revenge and a second successful defense of her strawweight crown in the co-headliner of UFC 274 against Carla Esparza on Saturday. Have a look at our Namajunas-Esparza picks before this weekend’s fights.

Over seven years after Carla Esparza tapped Rose Namajunas to become the UFC’s inaugural strawweight queen, the pair will run it back in Phoenix on the main card of UFC 274, only this time, Namajunas will take the cage as the defending champ.

The reigning titleholder reclaimed the divisional throne with a stomping of Weili Zhang not 13 months ago, and has since gotten another one over on Zhang by decision to defend it. She now heads to Phoenix for her second defense of the crown on a three-fight win streak. On the other side of the cage is Esparza, who earned a long-awaited bid for the strawweight strap with five straight wins. After splitting her first eight in the Octagon, she has climbed the division rankings and was last seen dispatching Yan Xiaonan by TKO a year ago.

Will Esparza grind her way to an upset and best Namajunas yet again, or will the defending champ outstrike her for a second successful title defense?

Here are my picks and predictions for Saturday’s co-main event between Namajunas and Esparza (odds via DraftKings Sportsbook, Caesars Sportsbook; pick confidence is based on a 1-to-5-star scale).

Namajunas vs. Esparza Fight Info

Date/Time: Saturday, May 7, 10 p.m. ET (main card)
TV: ESPN+, PPV
Location: Footprint Center, Phoenix, AZ

Namajunas vs. Esparza Odds Analysis

The defending champ is predictably the betting favorite ahead of Saturday’s co-headliner, but oddsmakers haven’t written the streaking Esparza off entirely. Indeed, both Caesars Sportsbook and FanDuel have Namajunas at -220 as of Wednesday evening, with DraftKings offering a successful title defense at -210, while an Esparza upset sits at +180 with Caesars.

The lines on a win for the champ are much more accommodating than some of the UFC’s more recent title fights, but bettors looking for a fun, low-risk wager can bank on Namajunas’ superior striking and go with a knockout victory at +400 with Caesars. As for Esparza, the challenger has gone the distance in four of her last five and in 10 of her 18 wins. FanDuel is offering an upset on points at a compelling +280.

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Rose Namajunas Betting Profile

The green Namajunas who tapped to Esparza in 2014 is no more, as the reigning champ has since developed into a methodical technician with crisp striking to go with her excellent jiu-jitsu. In fact, Namajunas has barely relied on her grappling of late, having outdueled Jessica Andrade in their 2020 rematch before sparking Zhang the following year to claim her second strawweight crown. The defending champion needed the full five to best Zhang the second time around, and now that she’s tasked with a durable wrestler in Esparza, Namajunas will need to rely on her much-improved standup yet again to defend her throne.

Carla Esparza Betting Profile

After going .500 in her first eight UFC bouts, Esparza seemed destined to remain the strawweight division’s designated gatekeeper, but she’s since gone on a tear and won five straight, with three of those victories coming against purebred strikers in Alexa Grasso, Marina Rodriguez, and Xiaonan. The former champ owes her recent run to her solid wrestling and top control, although she’s far more comfortable slinging leather than she was during her days on β€œThe Ultimate Fighter 20.” With another dangerous striker sharing the cage with her this Saturday, Esparza will have to ride her bread and butter yet again if she’s to pull off the upset.

Namajunas vs. Esparza Picks

  • Namajunas to win (-210 via DraftKings) β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…
  • Namajunas by KO/TKO (+400 via Caesars) β˜…β˜…

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Namajunas vs. Esparza Predictions

Namajunas to win (-210)

Esparza’s takedowns and top game are her best path to victory, and Namajunas knows it. With her former foe aiming to bring the action to the mat and grind her out, Namajunas should stick the challenger with her crisp jab early and often to keep Esparza honest. The reigning champ may avoid throwing kicks to minimize Esparza’s openings for takedowns, but once she’s found her range, Namajunas will open up on the challenger, shuck off some increasingly desperate shots, and outstrike Esparza to earn some sweet revenge.

Namajunas by KO/TKO (+400)

Esparza’s a durable grinder with a good motor, and while putting the challenger away is a tall order, I like Namajunas’ chances of finishing this one by knockout or TKO. With five rounds to work, the defending champ will have plenty of time to dissect her foe, and I expect Esparza to start panic-wrestling if Namajunas’ mitts keep finding their home.

Given Esparza’s durability and decision-riddled record, a win on points for Namajunas may be the safer bet, but I have an inkling Thug Rose’s fluid striking will be too much for the challenger and dispatch her in the championship rounds.

Where to Bet on UFC 274

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Namajunas-Esparza picks made 5/4/2022 at 11:22 p.m. ET.