UFC 254 Early Preview - Khabib Nurmagomedov and Justin Gaethje

And just like that, UFC 253 is history.

I thought it was a great show even though the main and co-main events were a bit underwhelming as each winner completely dominated their fight.

Paulo Costa brought just about nothing to his fight with Israel Adesanya. Well, I shouldn’t say that. Israel kept him mostly at kicking range for the entire fight.

I guess that’s why Paulo never got off. There is the possibility too that the game plan Team Borracha set in place was for Costa to pace himself.

If that was the plan, City Kickboxing was one step ahead as their first-round plan was to destroy the legs and thus the movement of their opponent who was already at an 8-inch reach disadvantage.

The Brazilian powerhouse’s ability to move forward was compromised and that’s when he started to come out of his frame, turning sideways and blading his body to lengthen it in hopes of landing a strike.

His style was now bent and at that moment, Adesanya knew it was now a matter of when and how. The if was gone. The lead left high kick is an excellent weapon against the bladed boxer.

Daniel Cormier got away with dipping hard off of the centerline so hard that he turns his whole body.

Jon Jones, in their second fight, wanted him to slip the jab so heavily. Just put a high kick behind the punch. They won’t slip your shots very much anymore.

The left hook that put Paulo Costa down for good was gnarly. Costa had missed a left hook so badly that he over-rotated his entire body. He was then perpendicular to Izzy who threw a left hook that actually landed on the left temple of his opponent.

Exquisite stuff from the champion.

In the co-main event, I knew the betting line was off but I still thought Dominick Reyes’s speed would play a factor but much like the main event, it was virtually one-way traffic.

Jan Blachowicz just keeps on shocking the world. Maybe the betting market will respect this guy in his first title defense.

It was a rough night for Reyes, though. Dominick, like Paulo, never got off. They never got started.

Props to their opponents for shutting them down before they could but I know both Dominick Reyes and Paulo Costa will be upset with themselves for their lack of aggression for the short time they were in the Octagon.

That brings me to our next UFC pay per view event coming up on October 24th.

Neither participant of the main event, Khabib Nurmagomedov or Justin Gaethje, will be lacking aggression at UFC 254.

I say that with confidence but I was pretty confident in Paulo Costa and Dominick Reyes being their usual aggressive selves this past Saturday night but that never happened.

The Middleweights were fun. Izzy is awesome and is still putting people away in his title defenses. That is something you don’t always see once a world champ starts defending their belt regularly.

GSP didn’t finish one opponent in 5 years of his prime as the champ yet Anderson Silva was 16-0 with 14 finishes during his legendary run in the UFC.

I am not the biggest fan of Adesanya on the mic but when he’s fighting, I’m in love.

The UFC’s Light Heavyweight Division is going to be a lot of fun now that Jon Jones has made the move to Heavyweight.

UFC 254 Details

But, here’s the thing. The Lightweight Division is THE Division in mixed martial arts. Khabib and Conor are the most popular MMA fighters in the world. Both 55ers.

Unfortunately for fans, Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson never fought despite having signed to fight one another 5+ times.

There are several reasons for this including freak injuries doing media and botched weight cuts.

One reason, though, is Justin Gaethje.

  • The Highlight broke El Cucuy’s 12-fight win streak and he dominated the man.
  • As tough as Tony is, he may never be the same after that beating.

Some hardcore fans still want Tony to fight Khabib but in my opinion, he was exposed. Ferguson had not beaten a top-five fighter on the roster ever other than Rafael dos Anjos in 2016.

How can we watch this upcoming event?

When?

October 24th at 10:00 PM Eastern on Pay Per View with the preliminary card on ESPN-8:00 PM and the early prelims-7:00 PM on Fight Pass and ESPN+

Where?

The Flash Forum on Fight Island aka Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

UFC 254 Full Betting Guide

There were and are loads of fights to look forward to in the UFC.

There always will be. I love this stuff but the last time I have been this excited for a fight was probably Conor vs Khabib and I wasn’t too pumped for that one because I had a feeling it was gonna play out the way it did.

The main event is the only fight on the UFC 254 card that has betting odds right now.

That’s alright, though. We will preview and predict the Lightweight title fight but also handicap some of the other notable fights ourselves.

What I mean by handicap if you’re not familiar is that I assign my own betting line which I can always convert directly to an implied probability to win.

For example, let’s say that I think Nurmagomedov wins 7 times if these two have 10 controlled scraps. That converts to a moneyline of (-235).

Looking at the odds over at BetOnline, Khabib is a (-240) favorite so we are in agreement with the books therefore we have no edge over them here.

This is hypothetical, of course, because I got Gaethje by death touch! Nah, it’s gonna be a great fight I think and it will likely be Khabib’s toughest test to date.

I want to preview this fight so badly but let’s practice some patience and handicap some of the other fighters on the card before we sink our teeth into the main event.

UFC 254 Blind Handicaps

Magomed Ankalaev vs Ion Cutelaba

Again?! I mean still!

Magomed Ankalaev and Ion Cutelaba still haven’t rematched?! These two fought back on February 29th, one of the last fight cards before lockdown.

It appeared that Ankalaev caught his Moldovan foe with a decent shot early in the first round. This was about the time that Ion Cutelaba started doing the chicken dance but it was hard to tell at the time if he was faking it or not.

Ion is quite the animated character in and outside of the Octagon so it makes sense that he would fake wobble to mock and possibly surprise his opponent with a heavy strike.

The ref bought it hook line and stinker, though, because he jumped in and that’s when you saw Cutelaba’s expression change sharply and immediately.

That told us that he was indeed faking being hurt at least somewhat but that’s the thing with lies, man. Sometimes you get too good for your own good.

Okay, so Magomed won but he was the sizable favorite who wasn’t losing the fight. An immediate rematch was set.

April…no go.

August…no go.

August again two weeks later…nope.

COVID-19 tried to cut down Cutelaba but I think the trained killer probably scared the virus away as fast as he was infected.

If this fight doesn’t happen at UFC 254, I think both men should move on because there is clearly a higher power at play who doesn’t want this rematch to happen.

I cap this fight at (-220) for the Russian, Magomed Ankalaev, and (+180) for the Moldovan, Cutelaba. We will see where the betting line is sitting when it is released.

I expect it to be around the same as mine with Magomed a slightly higher favorite.

As far as our prediction goes:

This is where it can get very interesting.

Let’s pretend BetOnline opens the betting for this fight up at (-280) for the favorite, Ankalaev, and (+230) for the underdog, Cutelaba. There is less value on Magomed now because the sportsbooks have an edge on us.

We have Magomed at 70% and they have him at 74%. We would need at the bare minimum a 5% edge on the sportsbooks but we are 4% in the other direction.

That means that according to our handicap of the fight, the value is on the underdog. We have Cutelaba at (+180) which denotes an implied probability of 35%. The online sportsbooks have his hypothetical betting line at (+230), though, and that denotes a 30% to win. There is our 5% if we want it.

That’s all it is, though, is 5% so if we do make the play, we should probably limit our bet size to just one unit or 1% of your bankroll.

These are just hypothetical betting odds, though, but we can reference them once the actual betting lines are released and we will already have done the work.

Visit BetOnline

Islam Makhachev vs Rafael dos Anjos

It looks as if Rafael dos Anjos is headed back down to 155 pounds for this fight with Khabib Nurmagomedov’s BFF, Islam Makhachev.

It has been nearly 4 years since the former UFC world champion fought at Lightweight. He lost his last two fights at this weight to Tony Ferguson and Eddie Alvarez.

It wasn’t a bad run at Welterweight for a guy who had already been with the UFC for 8 years at that point. He went 3-4 in the UFC’s Welterweight Division but listen to who he has fought.

  • He beat the 2017 Robbie Lawler as well as tough outs Neil Magny, and Kevin Lee.
  • Rafy came up short in a fight for the title against Colby Covington, ranked #2.
  • Then he drops a decision to the current champ, Kamaru Usman.
  • Leon Edwards ranked 4th and Michael Chiesa ranked 8th were his next two losses which are also Rafael’s previous two fights.

He has lost 4 of 5 fights and will be turning 36 a couple of days after this fight.

Dos Anjos is certainly a gatekeeper at this stage in his career but fighters the caliber of Leon Edwards and Michael Chiesa have pushed him to the side and hopped the fence.

Is Islam Makhachev on that level?

He is pretty darn good and I believe he will be the favorite when the betting odds are released.

Islam is one of the most balanced of all the Dagestani fighters. Most have striking that at least looks good and works well simply due to the threat of their wrestling.

Makha’ striking is legit, though, and so is his record of 19-1.

Makhachev’s only loss came in his second-ever fight inside the Octagon against Brazilian Adriano Martins who actually has lost 4 in a row since his big win over Islam.

Adriano is 38 now, though, and that’s how it goes. I kinda prefer it when a fighter’s 0 goes.

You have to lose to significantly learn and grow and it appears that Islam’s loss and the months thereafter led to him growing into the world-beater that he is today.

I believe he will have a speed advantage as well as a defensive edge on his Brazilian opponent. I love Rafy but the man has MILES on his body.

Once 14-5 inside of the Octagon, Rafael dos Anjos has since dropped 6 of his last 10 fights including 4 of his previous 5. This was against very stiff competition, though, and we have to take that into account.

Rafy has only been finished 3 times in his 42-fight professional mixed martial arts career.

Makha has the gas to go three rounds, though, and I think his speed, defense, and power will be too much for dos Anjos. Islam will also hold a wrestling advantage should he need to steal some top time on the mat.

I believe the online sportsbooks will open this one up at (-180) or so for Islam but I think he wins 7 of 10 times these two men fight.

Dos Anjos isn’t the most dangerous guy. He has plenty of experience but Makhachev is now 29 with 20 pro fights. He isn’t a rookie either. I handicap this fight at (-240) and (+190) for Islam Makhachev and Rafael dos Anjos, respectively.

Keep an eye out for these betting lines to be released. I think the smart money will be rolling in on the Dagestani.

Cynthia Calvillo vs Lauren Murphy

I think we have a slam dunk here.

Lauren Murphy is strong in the clinch. I give her that. I remember witnessing it in her fight tape and hearing about it from my colleagues but I still thought Roxy was going to be able to take her down and win in the clinch.

Neither happened. Lauren is very strong in her shoulders and back and when Rox can’t win in the clinch, she might have a hard time in the fight. Lauren didn’t beat her to death or anything but she surely did enough to win the fight.

Cynthia Calvillo is a takedown artist but I don’t think she necessarily needs to take down Lauren Murphy to beat her. Cynthia is not quite blue chip but she is a very good prospect.

Already a gamer having grown up fighting most of her life, Calvillo joined Team Alpha Male nearly ten years ago and has recently made the move to the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose.

I love her quickness, aggression, cardio, and especially her grappling. I’m very high on Calvillo. She doesn’t have much time to waste either at the age of 33.

Her opponent, Lauren Murphy, has been fighting for a very long time and is as game as any inside that Octagon.

Very underrated at 13-4 fighting tough competition most of her career, Lauren Murphy is used to being the underdog.
That’s good because she likely won’t be the betting favorite against Cynthia Calvillo.

Lauren Murphy was taken down 2 or more times in all of her UFC losses except for her fight against Katlyn Chookagian who throws about 200 strikes a fight making it nearly impossible to beat her.

Cynthia is faster on the feet and prefers the double or single leg takedown as opposed to takedowns from the clinch where Lauren is at her strongest.

I have Cynthia winning this fight 7 out of 10 times. Let’s line her at (-250) and Lauren comes in at (+200).

Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Justin Gaethje

Thanks for sticking with me this far, guys.

I know I am strong winded today. Every Sunday morning after a UFC which is like every Sunday morning now, I somehow wake up refreshed from fighting and can’t wait for another week of taping, capping, picking, writing, and watching.

How can anyone not get excited, though, when they hear about this fight?

Khabib Nurmagomedov has not faced many high-level wrestlers in his mixed martial arts career. Heck, for all the GOAT talk, he hasn’t faced many top fighters either but we will save that debate for another day.

Gleison Tibau probably has the best takedown defense of any fighter he’s gone up against and it is arguable that the Brazilian won that fight.

Justin Gaethje is absolutely one of those high-level wrestlers I speak of.

  • He has been wrestling since he was 4 years old. Two-time state champ in high school.
  • NCAA Division I All American at the University of Northern Colorado.

When asked if his fight with Khabib Nurmagomedov would be the same as all of the others before him he responded with this.

“No, it will not be the same,” Gaethje said. “Nothing will happen on the cage. We will fight in the center of the octagon. As much as he’s going to want to fight on the edge of the octagon, we’re going to fight in the center. I’m going to throw massive shots, most of them are going to come right through the middle, and I’m going to take chances, throw knees, and if he takes me down that’s fine.”

Justin went on to detail some of the differences in freestyle and folkstyle wrestling and how he plans to use such to out-scramble and wrestle The Eagle.

“The thing about folkstyle wrestling, folkstyle wrestling doesn’t happen anywhere else other than the United States,” Gaethje said. “I only wrestle folkstyle. I very rarely wrestle freestyle. In folkstyle, I think the biggest factor is, you’re allowed to expose your back without giving up points, which means you scramble. So whenever he goes to take me down, I’m going to be flipping and rolling in ways that he’s never felt in his life. That’s folkstyle wrestling, being able to expose your back.

“What he’s done his whole life, these guys could never expose their backs to get out of a takedown because they were giving up points, and that’s the first thing you learn in freestyle is don’t expose your back. So you go straight to your stomach, and you give up a takedown. They also never have to get up. They just lay there for 15 seconds, then they stand them up automatically. In folkstyle wrestling, you get rewarded for getting up and escaping.”

I think this fight is much closer than people think. Just the fact that Khabib’s betting odds have moved from an opening of (-345) to (-240) where he is now should tell you that Justin has a very good chance of upsetting the undefeated champion.

Gaethje isn’t scared, for one. That is something many other Nurmagomedov foes can’t say. He also has the best wrestling on paper of any of the champ’s previous opponents.

Justin isn’t afraid to let his hands go because he is confident in his takedown defense and scrambling ability. Just that confidence alone makes a difference against a fighter as intimidating as Khabib.

I could make a heck of a case for the champ here, just so you know.

I line this fight pretty closely with Khabib as the (-180) favorite and Justin as the (+150) dog.

They have Justin at 33% and we have him at 40%. That is a nice sized edge on the online sportsbooks so let’s make a play on Justin as a 2 to 1 underdog.

Place Your Bets!

In Conclusion

I thought I was excited about this past weekend’s UFC 253.

There were two world title fights in some of the promotion’s biggest weight classes. I suppose the rest of the card wasn’t all that but I would go as far as to say that UFC 254 is the most anticipated event of 2020.

That is other than this ridiculous year finally ending, so the ball dropping in Times Square is the most anticipated event of 2020.

That or the freaking 2020 presidential election. Can we just get that over with and get back to a semi-normal life now?

That would be great.

All I can say is that I am incredibly thankful for Dana White and the UFC. Not only has he helped me with plenty of material for my job but I’m also a sports fan and a superfan of mixed martial arts.

The UFC putting on shows every week and sometimes twice a week just after the lockdown was a thirst quencher for sports fans who were completely parched of competitive and betting action at the time.

Right now, though, the sporting world is buzzing harder as the weeks go by.

Before you know it, October 24th will be here and you will not have even taken the time to read up on Khabib vs Gaethje at UFC 254. Well, you have now. That’s for sure.

Thank you again for sticking with me throughout this article.

Now is the time to get your pick ready if you want to snipe some of these favorites at UFC 254 so that when the betting odds are released, you only have to click and win.