UFC 254: Khabib vs Gaethje Preview

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One of the biggest UFC events of the year as Khabib returns to the octagon. We have the betting previews from our UFC tipster right here.

Khabib Nurmagomedov holds the lightweight UFC championship belt

THE BIGGEST UFC PAY-PER-VIEW OF ALL-TIME!! If UFC boss Dana White is to be trusted (which I normally would advise against), then this Saturday’s UFC 254 fight card is “trending” to be biggest event the UFC has ever put on.

This is all due to the main event, a UFC Lightweight Championship bout between the current champ Khabib Nurmagomedov and top contender and interim champion Justin Gaethje. The rest of the card is solid, but not spectacular, so it surely is Khabib’s worldwide star power that is generating all the buzz leading up to Saturday.

Khabib a Healthy Favourite

It comes as no surprise given that Khabib is 28-0 and, at only 32 years old, still in his prime, that he is a healthy 5/19 betting favourite heading into Saturday’s title defense on UFC Fight Island (Yas Island in Abu Dhabi). However, many peoples’ opinions (including mine), are that Gaethje offers the toughest challenge Nurmagomedov has met to date, making this betting line a little too high. Here’s why.

There are several factors leading up to Saturday that could portend an upset happening. First off, Khabib recently lost his father, who was also his main trainer, to COVID-19. He also didn’t train for this fight at American Kickboxing Academy in California as per usual, electing instead to stay home to prepare. This fight will be his first without his father as well as his first that he didn’t train at AKA for. Will we see the same fighter in the cage come Saturday?

Justin Gaethje celebrates a victory in his UFC fight.

Styles Make Fights

They say that styles and matchups make fights, and Gaethje has just the style that could flummox the champion and allow Gaethje to leave the island with the gold around his waist. While never really showing it off during his MMA career, Gaethje is a former NCAA All-American wrestler. The prevailing thought is that ‘The Highlight’ is the best wrestler the grapple-heavy Dagestan native has ever faced.

Which means if Khabib isn’t able to implement his typical gameplan – that being taking his opponent down and smothering them until they tap out or the ref stops it – then the fight will take place where Gaethje wants it. Which would be a standing, striking battle. And in this realm, the American has an extraordinarily strong advantage. Saying he’s a knockout machine is probably an understatement, as he’s won 19 of his 22 pro fights via (T)KO, including his last four, and all five of his UFC wins. The longer Khabib remains stuck in a striking battle with Gaethje, the more danger he remains in to be knocked out.

All said, Khabib is still my pick to win the fight. However, at the numbers currently on the board, Gaethje to win at 5/2 or, better still, to win via KO at 4/1, are worth a strong consideration.

Live Dogs at UFC 254

As for live dogs at UFC 254, there aren’t too many that I like. I do like Nathaniel Wood at 29/20 in his 140-pound catchweight fight against fellow bantamweight prospect Casey Kenney. ‘The Prospect’ has a slight reach advantage, is younger, and is a better grappler than Kenney. Worth a looksee at plus money. That’s it for underdogs; however, there are a few fighters currently on the board as basically pick ‘ems that I’m high on. Newcomer Shavkat Rakhmonov (20/23) has the grappling chops to give his veteran opponent Alex ‘Cowboy’ Oliveira fits on Saturday night, and recently re-signed Tai Tuivasa (20/23) has the striking ability and power to end things against ‘Skyscraper’ Stefan Struve, who retired briefly last year before reconsidering his decision, meaning his head and heart might not be in it any longer.

*All odds correct at time of writing.

Jeff Fox offers expert insight into the world of MMA & UFC betting from his years of experience in the industry. His work has appeared in publications such as SI.com, St Louis Post-Dispatch, SLAM, Fighters Only Magazine & FIGHT!, among many others. Jeff shares his UFC betting tips with MansionBet readers on a weekly basis.

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