The highly anticipated UFC 254 takes place on Saturday afternoon, live from “Fight Island” at the Flash Forum in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi.
The main event has lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and interim lightweight titleholder Justin Gaethje meeting in a title unification bout. The co-main event has former middleweight champion and No. 1-ranked Robert Whittaker taking on No. 2-ranked Jared Cannonier.
When MMA fans get a great fight card like this, there are certainly plenty of bets to be made. Let’s take a look at some of them.
UFC 254 odds for Khabib vs. Gaethje
(All odds via BetMGM)
BetMGM has Nurmagomedov installed as a significant favorite — as of Friday, he comes in at -358, meaning you’d need to bet $358 to win $100. Meanwhile, Gaethje is a +275, meaning if you pluck down $100 you’d win $275.
Nurmagomedov (28-0) returns for the first time since UFC 242, beating Dustin Poirier by third-round submission. After losing to Poirier in April 2018, Gaethje has (22-2) rolled through everyone, winning four consecutive bouts, all of which have come inside the distance, including his destruction of Tony Ferguson to win the interim title at UFC 249.
On paper and looking at the odds, it would appear Nurmagomedov wins in a rout. But there two factors that come into play, which could affect the fight.
How does Nurmagomedov handle the loss of his father, who passed away in the summer? His father had been there every step of the way in his son’s journey that has seen him come from wrestling bears to becoming a global superstar. Does Nurmagomedov let the emotions he’s feeling in his losing his best friend get to him?
We also need to remember Nurmagomedov is competing for the first time in 13 months. A long layoff affects fighters in different ways. Some perform like they never missed a beat, and it takes others awhile to get back into the rhythm of active competition.
For Gaethje, he’s not even supposed to be in this position. The names that roll of the tongue at 155 pounds are Khabib, Conor McGregor, Ferguson, and Poirier. He’s playing with house money in this situation.
The path for Khabib to win is pretty simple. While his striking is improved, evidenced by the knockdown of McGregor in their fight at UFC 229, Khabib’s bread and butter is getting you to the mat, stick to you like glue and proceed to beat the tar out of you. No one does it better than Nurmagomedov.
But the thing that gives Gaethje a legit chance to win is the way he beat Ferguson. He circled the cage well, stayed away from the back of the cage, kept things mainly in the middle of the Octagon, and, most important, didn’t throw every punch and kick like his life depended on it. He didn’t overcommit and battered Ferguson until getting the stoppage in the fifth round.
Nurmagomedov does an exceptional job of stalking his prey and methodically getting a fighter’s back close enough to the cage to where he can go for the takedown and get it because his opponent has nowhere to move.
If Gaethje can keep the fight on the feet and stay away from the cage, then it’s his fight to lose as his striking is exceptionally better than Nurmagomedov’s.
Twenty-eight men have tried, and twenty-eight have failed. Will Gaethje be any different?
With everything Nurmagomedov is going through, he finally wears Gaethje down, gets him into his world, and batters him for 25 minutes to remain undefeated and become the undisputed lightweight champion.
Khabib vs. Gaethje prediction
More Khabib vs. Gaethje odds
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Will the fight go the distance?
Method of victory
Whittaker vs. Cannonier odds
This comes in at an even fight. Whittaker is at -110, meaning you’d need to wager $110 to win $100, and Cannonier also comes in at -110.
The 29-year-old Whittaker (22-5) rebounded from his middleweight title loss to Israel Adesanya at UFC 243 to best Darren Till in at a UFC Fight Night event in July. Since moving to middleweight in November 2014, he is 8-1, with four of those victories coming by stoppage.
We haven’t seen much of Whittaker’s groundwork because of his fantastic takedown defense, as evidenced by Yoel Romero, an Olympic silver medalist, not being able to get Whittaker on the mat. His striking was top-notch when he went toe-to-toe with Romero and beat him by split decision at UFC 225 in June 2018, one of the best fights of the year.
At one time in his career, Cannonier fought as high as heavyweight before settling in at 185 pounds in November 2018. The move has paid dividends for “Tha Killa Gorilla”, steamrolling through David Branch, Anderson Silva and Jack Hermansson in under a combined six minutes.
If you are a fan of grappling, this fight isn’t for you. Both guys prefer to stand and trade and decide things that way. Cannonier has the edge in the striking department as Whittaker got dominated when Adesanya outstruck the Australian to finish him on the feet to take the championship. While Whittaker looked better versus Till, Cannonier possesses more raw power and is a more significant threat to finish him.
The one thing Whittaker has going for him is experience. UFC 254 is one of, if not, the biggest cards of the year. “Bobby Knuckles'” been here before and knows how to handle the moment. How does Cannonier perform when the lights shine the brightest? Does he rise to the occasion?
Whittaker will need to press the action and stay inside Cannonier’s space and not let him tee off, or it will be an early night at the office. He’ll be able to do that, wear Cannonier down, and hand him his first loss at middleweight and inch one step to getting a crack at regaining the gold.
Whittaker vs. Cannonier prediction
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