UFC 254 Preview And Betting Tips
The big fight is finally here and the highly-anticipated lightweight title unification bout between champ Khabib Nurmagomedov and challenger Justin Gaethje finally goes down this Saturday at UFC 254. A betting-friendly card for European fans as the event will take place six hours earlier than usual. In the co-main event, former middleweight champion Robert Whittaker takes on Jared Cannonier in a number one contender bout. MMA Viking’s Ryan O’Leary casts his eye over another massive night in the octagon with his betting preview and tips for UFC 254.
UFC 254 Prelim Card
Lightweights kick off the early prelim card as Joel Alvarez takes on Alexander Yakovlev. Alvarez is the betting favorite and with 12 wins in his last 13, the most recent being a submission win over Joseph Duffy.
Liana Jojua meets Miranda Maverick in a women's flyweight bout. Although Maverick will be making her promotional debut against the two-fight UFC veteran in Jojua, the former Invicta star coming off a unanimous decision win over Pearl Gonzalez is expected to get the victory.
Casey Kenney collides with Nathaniel Wood in a bantamweight bout as well. Wood bounced back from his TKO defeat to John Dodson with a unanimous decision victory over John Castaneda. However, he will have his hands full against Kenney who has won his last two in a row as well as eight of his last nine outings.
Jung Da Un will look to make it 3-0 in the UFC when he faces Sam Alvey in light heavyweight action. Da Un has already impressed with a submission win over Khadis Ibragimov and a knockout of Mike Rodriguez and the smart money is on him to get the win over “Smiling Sam” who is winless in his last four and looking too slow in his move up a division.
Alex Oliveira is in search of a third straight win when he faces unbeaten Kazakh prospect Shavkat Rakhmonov in welterweight action. Oliveira is coming off solid decision victories over Max Griffin and Peter Sobotta and should get the win against Rakhmonov who will be making his promotional debut.
Stefan Struve and Tai Tuivasa collide in a heavyweight tilt with both fighters looking to return to the win column. Struve came out of retirement only to suffer a TKO loss to Ben Rothwell. Tuivasa, meanwhile, was briefly released before returning to the promotion following a three-fight losing streak. It’s a close matchup but the more experienced Struve has the edge, especially if he finally decides to use his reach to his advantage.
UFC 254 Main Card
Magomed Ankalaev (13-1) V Ion Cutelaba (15-5, 1NC)
The long-awaited light heavyweight rematch between Magomed Ankalaev and Ion Cutelaba will finally take place as it kicks off the UFC 254 main card. The pair’s first meeting took place in February and saw Ankalaev controversially earn the first-round TKO win after the referee deemed a rocked Cutelaba unable to continue.
However, Cutelaba claimed he was playing possum, pretending to be hurt, but fans have been eager to see the sequel ever since. Both fighters have the knockout power to end things early, but given how their previous fight went along with Ankalaev suffering just one defeat in 15 professional bouts, the smart money is on him getting another win.
Lauren Murphy (13-4) V Liliya Shakirova (8-1)
Lauren Murphy meets Liliya Shakirova in women’s flyweight action. Murphy was initially expected to face Cynthia Calvillo until the latter had to pull out due to testing positive for COVID-19. Instead Murphy will face UFC debutant Shakirova who has lost just once in nine professional fights.
However, Shakirova will undergo a baptism of fire against the more seasoned veteran in Murphy who is on a three-fight winning streak and coming off wins over Mara Romero Borella, Andrea Lee and Roxanne Modafferi. This should be a win for Murphy.
Jacob Malkoun (4-0) V Phil Hawes (8-2)
A surpise to make it on the main card, but Jacob Malkoun and Phil Hawes have a chance to impress as they battle each other in a middleweight bout. Both fighters will be making their promotional blows, however, Hawes is the more experienced fighter who has also made multiple appearances on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series.
Currently on a four-fight winning streak, the American is a solid favorite over the undefeated Malkoun.
Alexander Volkov (31-8) V Walt Harris (13-8, 1NC)
Heavyweights collide on the main card as well as Alexander Volkov takes on Walt Harris. Volkov hasn’t been that active with just two fights since October 2018. His last outing was a unanimous decision win over Greg Hardy in November which followed a prior knockout loss to Derrick Lewis -- his first defeat in the Octagon.
Harris, meanwhile, will be looking to return to the win column after suffering a TKO defeat to Alistair Overeem in May. Harris had previously won three of his last four outings leading up to that setback and will no doubt be looking to establish a new winning run again.
Harris certainly showed he has power when he dropped Overeem, however, Volkov is a more experienced fighter whose size attributes should play a huge factor. Harris will have to use his wrestling to keep the dangerous Volkov away from his striking advantage.
Robert Whittaker (12-1) V Jared Cannonier (26-8)
The winner of this bout should be the next contender for Israel Adesanya’s middleweight crown. Whittaker bounced back from his title defeat to Adesanya last year with a hard-fought unanimous decision win over Darren Till in July. Cannonier, meanwhile, hasn’t competed since September last year when he defeated Jack Hermansson via second-round TKO establishing himself as a title contender.
Cannonier has been on a tear since moving down to middleweight with a 3-0 record with all his wins coming by way of knockout. Despite facing arguably his toughest opponent yet and not competing for over a year, oddsmakers are giving the American a slight edge over the former champion that may be on the decline.
Khabib (28-0) V Gaethje (13-0) - lightweight title unification fight
Khabib Nurmagomedov faces arguably his toughest challenge yet when he collides with Justin Gaethje to unify the lightweight belts. The undefeated “Eagle” will be competing for the first time since September last year when he submitted Dustin Poirier. While, more importantly, this will be the first since the tragic passing of his father and long-time coach Abdulmanap.
Gaethje, meanwhile, is on a four-fight winning streak and is coming off an impressive fifth-round TKO win over Tony Ferguson in May which earned him the interim lightweight crown. Gaethje did not celebrate this title, and only wants the “real belt.”
The big puncher most certainly has the power to end a fight and boasts All-American wrestling credentials to possibly deal with Nurmagomedov explosive grappling. That said, Nurmagomedov’s ability to get the fight to the ground is another level and it’s hard to bet against him.
Oddsmakers agree that the Russian is a big heavy betting favorite to go 29-0, but if you want to bet on one fighter that has a punchers chance to end the magical run, this is your time to bet.
About Ryan O’Leary
Ryan O’Leary is a veteran mixed martial arts journalist and commentator. The Swedish-based writer is the founder and editor at MMAViking.com, which is the premier source for Nordic mixed martial arts news since 2008.