UFC 254: Khabib vs. Gaethje for the fight of the year!
Ladies and gentlemen, we are returning to Yas Island for UFC 254. The headline of the event, Khabib Nurmagomedov, and Justin Gaethje will be deciding who is the real Lightweight Champion! Khabib is undefeated with 28 wins and zero losses but kept from competing due to COVID-19 and his father’s passing. This absence enabled the 22-2 Gaethje to be named the interim lightweight champion in his absence by disassembling Tony Ferguson earlier this year. Setting up what could be the fight of the year as both fighters bring the action! Let’s discuss them and the other fighters on the main card below.
Magomed Ankalaev (13-1) vs. Ion Cutelaba (15-5-0, 1NC)
This fight is a rematch from earlier this year. Ankalaev tore up Cutelaba while standing so bad that when he went down, the ref immediately jumped in to save Cutelaba from further damage. Was it a fluke? I don’t think so, and I think we will see another beating here at UFC 254.
Prediction: Ankalaev repeats and puts down Cutelaba by TKO in the 2nd
Lauren Murphy (13-4) vs. Liliya Shakirova (8-1)
Lauren Murphy likes to point fight, and while it doesn’t make her exciting to watch, it shows she knows what she is doing and how high her fight IQ is. Liliya Shakirova is an unknown and coming in to replace Cynthia Calvillo. Liliya does have a win over Meng Bo in ONE championship, though, showing she should not be underestimated. Murphy is the odds favorite, but I’m not sure I agree.
Prediction: Shakirova gets a submission on Murphy in the third round.
Phil Hawes (8-2) vs. Jacob Malkoun (4-0)
Both of these fighters have potential and are rising stars. Hawe’s didn’t fare well on the Contender Series, but after taking two years off, he has come back with a vengeance and won his second Contender series attempt demonstrating substantial potential for a title shot. Malkoun, though, is an Aussie hopeful in Robert Whittaker’s stable. This fight will establish his place in the UFC. Unfortunately, I think Hawes’ has more experience and is a more well-rounded fighter.
Prediction: Hawes by decision
Walt Harris (13-8-0, 1NC) vs. Alexander Volkov (31-8)
Volkov is an odds favorite to Harris coming into this fight. Harris is a widowmaker with his punching power and almost took down Alistair Overeem in their last battle. He has the potential to catch Volkov at the right moment to put him to sleep. Volkov, though, is a safe fighter with a high fight IQ. I think Volkov will maximize his experience against Harris, and while the fight to fans will look one way, judges are sure to interpret it another.
Prediction: Volko eeks out a decision victory that will leave fans arguing who indeed won the fight.
Jared Cannonier (13-4) vs. Robert Whittaker (22-5)
The night’s Co-main event where the winner gets the middleweight title shot straight from Dana White’s mouth! Oddsmakers have this match as even odds. Whittaker has had a roller coaster ride against opponents lately and a lifeless fight against Darren Till; he is still an experienced veteran who can handle the most dangerous fighters. Cannonier is up and coming, and I hope he can break through Whittakers range defenses. Whittaker is an excellent counter striker who will punish Cannonier if he can’t achieve that. Cannonier is hungry and looking to recover from previous losses against opponents at the same skill level as Whittaker. Can that hunger carry him through? Let’s hope he Cannonier can shock and awe Whittaker in the first round before he can center himself for a long grind.
Prediction: Cannonier gets the KO in the first round
Khabib Nurmagomedov (28-0) vs. Justin Gaethje (22-2)
Where to start with this fight? Shoot, even the weigh-in, had some drama. It looked as though the inspector didn’t let the scale settle in for Khabib, who went out first and seemed surprised and relieved he made weight. Honestly, he looked pretty weak from his cutting program as well. So did he make weight, or was the UFC saving face on such a big name? Will such a drastic weight cut, hurt his performance? Or will there be enough recovery time before the fight? Add the loss of his father, Khabib carries a lot of baggage into his first fight in 13 months.
Oddsmakers see no issue, though, and have Khabib winning this fight with no problems. Gaethje, on the other hand, enters as a severe underdog, just as he did with Tony Ferguson, whom he picked apart. That fight allowed fans to see the changes Gaethje has gone through. He has turned from a violent brawler to a refined tactician utilizing his laser point accuracy to deliver blows that picked apart Tony with ease.
Khabib is Gaethje’s most formidable opponent so far and will be a real test of his adaptation. Additionally, it will be interesting to see how Gaethje’s wrestling experience will help him against an opponent known for wrestling bears. Gaethje has wrestled since the age of four but hasn’t required that skill for most of his UFC career. Will this fight change that? Can he stuff Khabib or take him down and gain the top mount? He will be the most experienced wrestler Khabib has had to face in the ring. Will this throw off his game plan without his father there to push him to his strengths? I don’t think this ends well for Khabib if he stays on his feet. I know I’m going out on a limb on this one, but I want an underdog repeat.
Prediction: Gaethje surprises everyone and TKOs Khabib in the 3rd, setting up an epic rematch
UFC 254 is a fully packed main card and will make for a night of tremendous and hopefully surprising fights! Make sure you tune in on ESPN+ 2 PM Eastern!
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