UFC 254: Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Justin Gaethje - MMA Betting & DFS Preview

UFC 254: Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Justin Gaethje - MMA Betting & DFS Preview

UFC 254: Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Justin Gaethje - MMA Betting & DFS Preview

A lightweight championship title bout between Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Justin Gaethje headlines this UFC 254 main card. MMA expert Casey Olson runs down your best bets & DFS plays.
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UFC 254: Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Justin Gaethje

#UFC254 MMA Betting Preview

Two champs touched down on Fight Island, and just one will leave after Saturday night. UFC 254 will feature undefeated 155lb champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, taking on interim champion Justin Gaethje to determine just who is the best 155lb fighter in the world. It's refreshing to have a build-up such as this that is purely just about the fight, rather than some drama outside the cage between the two combatants. This will be an opportunity of a lifetime for Gaethje, while Khabib looks to continue his path towards his late father’s goal of him reaching 30-0.

The card as a whole looks fantastic, with 10 of the 12 scheduled fights projected to end inside the distance. Expect some fireworks on this final card on the island before we head back to Las Vegas and the Apex next week, for Anderson Silva's retirement fight, along with another stacked card.

UFC 254 will start much earlier than normal, as the organization will accommodate the European viewers, as Khabib is a massive star, especially on that side of the globe. The card will kick off with prelims at 11 a.m. ET, followed by the main card at 2 p.m. ET. Prelims will be broadcast on ESPN2, and the main card available via Pay Per View.

UFC 254 Details

  • DATE: SATURDAY 10/24/2020
  • BROADCAST: PPV – PRELIMS: ESPN2
  • VENUE: UFC Fight Island
  • LOCATION: Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
  • # of MATCHES: 12

MAIN CARD

LIGHTWEIGHT TITLE BOUT 155LBS

  • (C) KHABIB NURMAGOMEDOV 28-0 VS (IC) JUSTIN GAETHJE 22-2

MIDDLEWEIGHT BOUT 185LBS

  • #1 ROBERT WHITTAKER 21-5 VS #3 JARED CANNONIER 13-4

HEAVYWEIGHT BOUT 265LBS

  • #6 ALEXANDER VOLKOV 31-8 VS #8 WALT HARRIS 13-8

MIDDLEWEIGHT BOUT 185LBS

  • JACOB MALKOUN 4-0 VS PHILLIP HAWES 8-2

WOMEN’S FLYWEIGHT BOUT 125LBS

  • #4 LAUREN MURPHY 13-4 VS LILIYA SHAKIROVA 8-1

LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT BOUT 205LBS

  • #11 MAGOMED ANKALAEV 13-1 VS ION CUTELABA 15-5

PRELIMS

HEAVYWEIGHT BOUT 265LBS

  • STEFAN STRUVE 29-12 VS TAI TUIVASA 10-3

WELTERWEIGHT BOUT 170LBS

  • ALEX OLIVEIRA 22-8-1 VS SHAVKAT RAKHMONOV 12-0

LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT BOUT 205LBS

  • DA-UN JUNG 13-2 VS SAM ALVEY 33-14

CATCHWEIGHT BOUT 140LBS

  • NATHANIEL WOOD 17-4 VS CASEY KENNEY 15-2-1

WOMEN’S FLYWEIGHT BOUT 125LBS

  • LIANA JOJUA 8-3 VS MIRANDA MAVERICK 7-2

LIGHTWEIGHT BOUT 155LBS

  • JOEL ALVAREZ 17-2 VS ALEXANDER YAKOVLEV 25-10-1

MAIN EVENT PREDICTION

(C) KHABIB NURMAGOMEDOV 28-0 VS (IC) JUSTIN GAETHJE 22-2

With Covid-19 travel complications, coupled with his father's very unfortunate passing, the lightweight champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov, is back to defend his belt after a much-warranted layoff of just over a year. With his return, we have one of the most highly anticipated matchups on deck, as current interim champion Justin Gaethje gets his crack at the throne with hopes to make history as the first-ever to beat Khabib.

At just 32 years of age, Khabib is absolutely in the conversation as quite possibly the best to ever do it. Still undefeated after 28 fights, Khabib has finished 18 of those inside the distance and has yet to lose a round on any scorecard going to the decision in the UFC. Khabib is known for his relentless wrestling and ability to empty his opponent’s gas tank, though if the fight calls for it, he is a very game striker with an incredible defense on the feet. Put it this way, his pre and post-fight mugshots almost look identical fight after fight. Khabib is a master of establishing where the fight will go, and as proven, his skillset is just incredibly tough to prepare for.

It’s no secret what each fighter's gameplan is here. For Khabib, it's to avoid the powerful strikes Gaethje is known for and eventually get the fight down to the mat, where he'll clock in for work and get to it. For Gaethje, it's to knock this guy out before getting taken down. I believe we will see a case of chess vs. checkers yet again.

Gaethje is game. Win or lose, he's a star and has won more UFC bonuses than fights. He has incredible hands, which have led to 22 wins with 19 of them via knockout, including his outstanding performance against Tony Ferguson last May, which rewarded him with the interim belt, and this shot at Khabib. It's always kill or be killed for Gaethje. Aside from his power, he's very technical on the feet and has fight-changing leg kicks that typically keep his opponents guessing, which opens up opportunities to land something big up top. Gaethje's resume tells us the story of how he likes to keep things on the feet. The narrative coming into this one is that he’s going to be able to do so by neutralizing the grappling from Khabib, as he’s a former NCAA Division I All-American wrestler. Not so fast.

Khabib is one of the greatest wrestlers ever in MMA. As mentioned, Gaethje is a former All-American, but I'm just not sure how successfully it translated into the MMA world for the challenger, mostly because we haven't seen it much. But the tape we have is telling. Early on in his career, Gaethje went to his wrestling on several occasions, often power-slamming his opponents or even implementing explosive rolls, looking to gain top control where he could let his hands go. All of this technique is exhausting, and Gaethje has even mentioned how it gasses him out. From a defensive perspective, when taken down, Gaethje has a habit of giving up his back and immediately looks to stand while breaking grip, rather than positioning into guard. Gaethje’s years of amateur wrestling drills and competition has him instinctively always looking to avoid having his back to the mat, which will work right to Khabib's advantage. Gaethje’s autopilot instincts while on the mat will expose a limb or even his neck probably earlier than we’ve seen Khabib’s other recent opponents. Dagestani wrestling is much different than American. Case in point, Khabib is known for his chain wrestling, and while others have set up unsuccessful single shots on Gaethje, Khabib’s offense will cause some issues. Khabib will press the takedown repeatedly, and once successful, the chain wrestling will kick into gear. Khabib is known for starting this technique later into the first round, or even following rounds, as he uses the first several minutes to download his opponent’s movements, all while keeping them guessing. All of them know what’s coming, just not exactly when. With the exertion of energy, the defensive movements will require to stay off the cage. With how Gaethje explodes time after time to defend, the longer this fight goes, we will eventually see his gas tank visibly empty. Gaethje has one way to win (KO), and just like any fight, there’s always a puncher's chance. The same chance 28 others before him had against Khabib.

READ MORE: The Blazing Contradiction of Justin Gaethje

Gaethje won’t be the first experienced wrestler Khabib faced. Kamal Shalorus made it to the Olympics' qualifying stages with Great Britain, and Abel Trujillo was a four-time NAIA All American. Shalorus ended up losing by submission via rear-naked choke, and Trujillo was taken down 21 times and, to put it lightly, got dominated. Since entering the UFC, Gaethje himself has been taken down just two times, but you have to consider he’s been matched up primarily against strikers. Michael Johnson took him down in the first round and almost finished the fight but ran out of time as the round ended. Gaethje ultimately ended it in a firefight in the second. Eddie Alvarez was the other fighter to land a takedown on Gaethje successfully and ultimately beat him via TKO in the round; he landed the takedown. Khabib has landed two or more takedowns in his last nine fights and averages over five takedowns per 15 minutes overall.

So who wins? 

From a mentality standpoint, this is Gaethje’s Super Bowl. This being fight week itself. He's been allowed to bring his parents along to Fight Island and has stated once he makes the walk and the fight starts, his mother will then be able to retire. Not win the fight; start the fight. He’s also stated he isn't even supposed to be in this spot, and rather it's supposed to be Ferguson, though that was nullified after Gaethje finished him.

For Khabib, this is about further solidifying his late father’s dream for him to retire as champ at 30-0, arguably making Khabib the greatest MMA fighter of all time. Saturday will make it 29-0 with a win over Gaethje, setting up a 30th and potential final fight for Khabib. Does anybody have GSP's phone number?

BETTING PREDICTIONS

  • KHABIB NURMAGOMEDOV -300 (look via ITD -110)

MAIN CARD WAGERS

LIGHTWEIGHT TITLE BOUT 155LBS: (C) KHABIB NURMAGOMEDOV 28-0 VS (IC) JUSTIN GAETHJE 22-2

  • At 28-0, Khabib still has yet to lose a round when going to the cards.
  • Win or lose, Gaethje has only gone to a decision twice in 24 fights, and the last was over six years ago.
  • Win or lose, Gaethje’s last 11 fights have finished via TKO/KO. (9-2)
  • Khabib has gone into the third round or later in eight of his last nine fights.
  • This will only be the second fight outside of the US for Gaethje.
  • Although he lands an outstanding 7.74 significant strikes per minute, Gaethje absorbs more, at 8.37, giving him a negative strike differential.
  • BET: SEE ABOVE

READ MORE: Georges St-Pierre on UFC 254; Potential of Khabib Fight

MIDDLEWEIGHT BOUT 185LBS: #1 ROBERT WHITTAKER 21-5 VS #3 JARED CANNONIER 13-4

  • Cannonier, a former light heavyweight, is undefeated at middleweight. (3-0)
  • In this fight, we have a fighter formerly fighting at a heavier weight class, fighting a fighter that formerly fought at a lighter weight class. Both have found success at this weight. At 185lb, Whittaker is 9-1, Cannonier 3-0.
  • Whittaker is 10-1 in his last 11 fights.

HEAVYWEIGHT BOUT 265LBS: #6 ALEXANDER VOLKOV 31-8 VS #8 WALT HARRIS 13-8

  • Kill or be killed, Harris' last nine matches have all been finished inside the distance, and all 13 of his wins are via KO.
  • Volkov's last seven fights have gone into the over rounds, and 12 of the last 13 into the third round or later.
  • Volkov is 3-0 against southpaws.
  • Harris is 13-8 overall, though just 6-7 in the UFC.
  • BET: VOLKOV -160

MIDDLEWEIGHT BOUT 185LBS: JACOB MALKOUN 4-0 VS PHILLIP HAWES 8-2

  • Both fighters will be making their UFC debuts.
  • Malkoun is Robert Whittaker’s coach.
  • In 10 fights, Hawes has never gone to a decision and has an average fight time of just over four minutes.

WOMEN’S FLYWEIGHT BOUT 125LBS: #4 LAUREN MURPHY 13-4 VS LILIYA SHAKIROVA 8-1

  • Shakirova steps in replacing Cynthia Calvillo on just nine days' notice.
  • This will be Murphy’s first fight outside of the states.
  • Murphy has landed at least one takedown in six of her last eight fights, facing mostly strikers. When she faced Sara McMann, freestyle wrestling silver medalist in the 2004 Olympics, she was taken down five times.
  • Shaikirova, also a freestyle wrestler, was banned from the Olympics for two years after getting into a fight at a tournament. This ban eventually led to her transition to MMA.
  • Shakirova is currently the No. 1 ranked active women's fighter out of Russia. (pound for pound)
  • BET: SHAKIROVA +190

LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT BOUT 205LBS: #11 MAGOMED ANKALAEV 13-1 VS ION CUTELABA 15-5

  • Here we go again, the third booking for these two. Hopefully, this will clear any questions from February's controversial fight, where Ankalaev won via TKO after Cutelaba played possum and acted wobbled, which caused the ref to wave off the fight.
  • Cutelaba is a finisher, with 93% of his wins inside the distance and 13 of 15 in Round 1.
  • Although only having a 54% finish rate, six of Ankalaev's last seven victories have come through knockout.
  • Though an exciting fighter, Cutelaba is just 4-4 in the UFC and 3-2 against southpaws.

PRELIMS WAGERS

HEAVYWEIGHT BOUT 265LBS: STEFAN STRUVE 29-12 VS TAI TUIVASA 10-3

  • Both fighters have their backs against the wall, as Tuivasa has lost three straight, and Struve is just 1-4 in his last five fights.
  • Struve will have a 9.5-inch reach advantage.
  • Struve carries a negative striking differential, absorbing more shots than he lands on average.
  • Struve is 2-4 in his last six fights. In that stretch, he landed takedowns only in the two fights he won.
  • Tuivasa has a lackluster 42% takedown defense.
  • Struve has been knocked down in three of his last five fights. In the two fights he wasn’t, he was taken down nine times.

WELTERWEIGHT BOUT 170LBS: ALEX OLIVEIRA 22-8-1 VS SHAVKAT RAKHMONOV 12-0

  • Rakhmonov has been out of action for 15 months and will be making his UFC debut on Saturday after winning 12 straight and all inside the distance.
  • Oliveira has gone 2-3 in his last five fights and has gone to a decision in his last four.
  • Oliveira will be replacing Elizeu Zaleski, who withdrew, and will be fighting on 17 days notice.
  • Rakhmonov is the former M-1 Global welterweight champ and vacated the belt when he signed with the UFC.

LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT BOUT 205LBS: DA-UN JUNG 13-2 VS SAM ALVEY 33-14

  • Jung is now 2-0 in the UFC and riding a 12-fight win streak.
  • Alvey has lost four straight fights and is just 3-6 in his last nine fights.
  • Jung is undefeated at light heavyweight, holding a record of 8-0 in this division.
  • Alvey is 2-4 at light heavyweight.
  • Statistically, Jung lands over double the significant strikes per minute than Alvey, but that is negated as he absorbs more than he lands on average, with a lackluster striking defense.
  • Expect a striking affair, as Alvey has landed just one takedown in 19 UFC fights and carries an 81% takedown defense. Jung has also yet to land a takedown in the UFC and has preferred standing.

CATCHWEIGHT BOUT 140LBS: NATHANIEL WOOD 17-4 VS CASEY KENNEY 15-2-1

  • Kenney fought just three weeks ago, winning a decisive decision over Heili Alateng.
  • In 17 fights, Kenney has never been finished, while Wood’s has only been finished twice in 21 fights.
  • Wood will have a slight edge in grappling, being the more accurate with takedowns coupled with better defense.
  • Kenny has had the tougher strength of schedule in the UFC, defeating Louis Smolka, Manny Bermudez, and Ray Borg in his debut.
  • Wood has only fought one ranked opponent, that being John Dodson, who TKOed him in the third round of their fight back in February.

WOMEN’S FLYWEIGHT BOUT 125LBS: LIANA JOJUA 8-3 VS MIRANDA MAVERICK 7-2

  • Maverick will be making her UFC debut on Saturday.
  • Maverick won the Invicta flyweight tournament in September of 2019 and followed that up with a victory over Pearl Gonzalez last February.
  • This will be Jojua's first fight against a southpaw.
  • Both fighters' strength is the submission game, with Maverick finishing five of her seven wins via submission and Jojua finishing six of her eight wins in the same fashion.
  • Five of Jojua’s six submission wins have come in the first round.
  • BET: MAVERICK (look via ITD -110)

LIGHTWEIGHT BOUT 155LBS: JOEL ALVAREZ 17-2 VS ALEXANDER YAKOVLEV 25-10-1

  • Alvarez is a fast starter and has 10 wins via submission in the 1st round, including his last fight against Joe Duffy back in July.
  • In 19 total fights, Alvarez has only gone to a decision one time.
  • Yakovlev is 1-3 in his last four fights and 3-5 overall in the UFC.
  • Alvarez’s average fight time is less than one round, while Yakovlev’s fight time is less than two rounds.
  • BET: ALVAREZ/YAKOVLEV U2.5 -140

BET CONFIDENCE RANK

  1. MAVERICK (look via ITD -110)
  2. NURMAGOMEDOV (look via ITD -110)
  3. ALVAREZ/YAKOVLEV U2.5 -140
  4. VOLKOV -160
  5. SHAKIROVA +190

FULL MAIN CARD & PRELIM PREDICTIONS

  • KHABIB NURMAGOMEDOV defeats JUSTIN GAETHJE
  • ROBERT WHITTAKER defeats JARED CANNONIER
  • ALEXANDER VOLKOV defeats WALT HARRIS
  • JACOB MALKOUN defeats PHILLIP HAWES
  • LILIYA SHAKIROVA defeats LAUREN MURPHY
  • MAGOMED ANKALAEV defeats ION CUTELABA
  • TAI TUIVASA defeats STEFAN STRUVE
  • SHAVKAT RAKHMONOV defeats ALEX OLIVEIRA
  • DA-UN JUNG defeats SAM ALVEY
  • CASEY KENNEY defeats NATHANIEL WOOD
  • MIRANDA MAVERICK defeats LIANA JOJUA
  • JOEL ALVAREZ defeats ALEXANDER YAKOVLEV

UFC PREDICTION BET SUMMARY

  • Fight card predictions overall: 321-167-9 (66%)
  • Targeted matchups (wagers): 160-65-5 (71%)

Be sure to check out DraftKings Sportsbook options as well, on top of the daily fantasy tournaments available for Saturday. The sportsbook has lines up and available for fight lines, method of victory, and round betting!

See all of the moneylines at DraftKings Sportsbook!

UFC 254 DFS Plays & Strategies

  • Choose active fighters. Coupling an active fighter on his/her way to a unanimous decision will give you key points for your team. Just like any other DFS traditional sport, you want the active, offensive player that scores. Key metrics here are SLpM and TD AVG/15min.
  • Play the heavyweights. The approximate overall finish rate in the UFC is 54%. Most weight divisions range from 40%-60%, while the heavyweights push a 75% finish rate. You will receive bonus points for finishes inside the distance.
  • Try always to include the main event or title fights. Five round fights mean more time to rack up points if you pick the right fighter. In some cases, even if you have the loser, the points can be more than a three-round winner.
  • Don't get excited and rush a pick based on stats; consider sample size. Some fighters have limited fights compared to their opponents when looking at metrics. Stats could be exaggerated. Do your research. Watch for spots with debuting fighters as well. Always check the records of the opponents they faced on their way to the UFC. Always pull fight tape as well. You’d be surprised at what you will find.
  • Review methods of victory. I supply the finish rates within this article, and as you dive in, you can even compare method of victory to method of loss for the matchups. For example, you can find matchups where Fighter A has a high percentage of submission victories matched up with Fighter B, with a high number of submission losses.

As mentioned in the tip sheet above, here’s my MMA DFS Heat Chart for UFC 254. As you can see, the chart is ranked based on fight finish odds. Fight finishes are where the points are in MMA DFS. Take a glance at the stack, and we will break down the individual matchups below.

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Two key offensive metrics are strikes and takedowns. They get off on their opponents; watch your points rack up quickly. Here's my Offensive Output Meter for the card. With this chart, you can compare historical fighter averages in these two key metrics as I rank all fighters participating Saturday.

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WIN PROBABILITY

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UFC 254 Final Recommendations

  • Fighters that typically press the action, land takedowns, and/or high finish rates matched up against those that get finished, roster. (see my charts above)
  • Fights projected to NOT go to a decision
    • Ankalaev/Cutelaba -275
    • Tuivasa/Struve -250
    • Hawes/Malkoun -225
    • Khabib/Gaethje -215
    • Jung/Alvey -205
    • Volkov/Harris -170
    • Alvarez/Yakovlev -170
    • Maverick/Jojua -150
    • Cannonier/Whittaker -140
    • Oliveira/Rakhmonov -125
  • As usual, take a look at the main event with five rounds to score. I’m siding with Khabib.
  • Top-tier fighters to build around include Khabib, Maverick, Ankalaev
  • Mid-tier fighter considerations are Volkov, Kenney
  • Live Dogs are Tuivasa, Whittaker, Rakhmonov

Good luck everyone! I hope to see some of you cashin' after Saturday night! Thanks for all the amazing comments, and I appreciate the follows. If you haven’t done so already, jump on Twitter and find me at @Y2CASEY. Stay cashin’.

UFC 254: Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Justin Gaethje

#UFC254 MMA Betting Preview

Two champs touched down on Fight Island, and just one will leave after Saturday night. UFC 254 will feature undefeated 155lb champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, taking on interim champion Justin Gaethje to determine just who is the best 155lb fighter in the world. It's refreshing to have a build-up such as this that is purely just about the fight, rather than some drama outside the cage between the two combatants. This will be an opportunity of a lifetime for Gaethje, while Khabib looks to continue his path towards his late father’s goal of him reaching 30-0.

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