MMAOB staff writer Adam Martin takes a deeper look at the main event of UFC 254, a five-round title unification bout between UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and interim champ Justin Gaethje. The event takes place on Saturday, October 24 at Fight Island on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Khabib Nurmagomedov (-335)
Nurmagomedov (28-0) is the UFC lightweight champion. The 32-year-old Russian is undefeated with 28 wins and zero losses, including a perfect 12-0 mark in the UFC. Some of his wins include Dustin Poirier, Conor McGregor, Al Iaquinta, Edson Barboza, and Rafael dos Anjos. Nurmagomedov has built an incredible resume for himself and is in the GOAT talks as one of the greatest fighters of all time. Nurmagomedov has dominated all of his opponents with his wrestling and ground and pound, which are both legendary. He has some of the best cardio in the sport and is able to go a full 25 minutes and still have gas to spare. He has also improved his striking in recent years, even knocking down McGregor in their fight. He is an incredible fighter and with a win here over Gaethje he would get one step closer to that elusive 30-0 mark and a superfight with Georges St-Pierre.
Justin Gaethje (+275)
Gaethje (22-2) is the UFC interim lightweight champion. The 31-year-old American is one of the most exciting fighters in the sport today, having won nine bonuses in seven UFC fights. Gaethje has a 5-2 record in the UFC with wins over Tony Ferguson, Donald Cerrone, Edson Barboza, James Vick, and Michael Johnson, with losses to Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier. Gaethje is one of the most creative and violent strikers in the sport today. He constantly moves forward and applies pressure to his opponents, throwing an incredible amount of volume with power, making him a special fighter. Gaethje has 19 knockout wins in his career and just one submission and two decisions, proving his fight-ending power and ultimate endgame in his fights. Gaethje also has incredible cardio and a good chin, plus improved striking defense compared to his earlier UFC fights. He also has a wrestling background that he hasn’t used much in the UFC, which makes him even more intriguing. With a win over Nurmagomedov, Gaethje could become a massive star.
Fight Breakdown: This truly should be one of the best fights of the year as we have an undefeated champion in Nurmagomedov going up against a fighter at his peak abilities in Gaethje. Nurmagomedov has been utterly dominant in his MMA career especially with his wrestling, while Gaethje has primarily relied on his striking to make his way up the ladder. Nurmagomedov has shown that he can hang on the feet with some of the top strikers in the division, but can he hang on the feet with Gaethje for 25 minutes? I’m not so sure. If Nurmagomedov can land takedowns, of course, he can win this fight. But Gaethje is hard to take down, and if this fight remains on the feet, Gaethje will have a huge edge in both power and volume. Nurmagomedov has a clear path to victory in this fight, but so does Gaethje. I believe that Gaethje will be able to get the better of Nurmagomedov on the feet and maybe even stop him late. With Nurmagomedov being an undefeated champion, he deserves to be the favorite, but not at these lopsided odds. Therefore, I see a lot of value here in Gaethje as an underdog. I feel like this fight is much closer than the odds indicate, and I’m going to pick the dog to win straight-up as I see Gaethje winning via TKO (strikes).
Prediction: Justin Gaethje wins via TKO