The UFC’s second stint in Abu Dhabi ends this weekend with the biggest fight of the year. UFC 254 is headlined by a lightweight title unification bout between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Justin Gaethje.
Nurmagomedov is undefeated and has only officially lost one round in the UFC. Many are eager to see whether Gaethje’s power, paired with his wrestling acumen, will be his kryptonite.
Does Gaethje have the answer?
Khabib Nurmagomedov (-335) vs. Justin Gaethje (+275)
Twenty-eight fighters have tried to defeat Nurmagomedov and all have failed. Will Gaethje be the first to score a win over the UFC’s most dominant fighter? Or will Nurmagomedov be able to do to what he has done to his previous opponents, neutralizing Gaethje’s best weapons and overwhelming him with his elite grappling?
Nurmagomedov has been a sizable favourite in all but his first two UFC bouts and it’s easy to see why. He handles his opposition with relative ease, and it’s never a safe bet to wager on his opponents.
Most who believe that Gaethje will win trust that his wrestling will be able to keep him off the ground for some of the time. That will allow for some duration of the fight to take place on the feet, where Gaethje is at his absolute most dangerous.
If you feel that Nurmagomedov is going to win, I believe that the highest value route is to look at the Nurmagomedov by decision prop at +255. Nurmagomedov’s finishing rate in the UFC is just 50 per cent and Gaethje is tough and versatile. Should Nurmagomedov be able to neutralize him, he would do so by landing takedowns and remaining in top position.
The best value for Gaethje, if you believe that he has a chance to win, is the Gaethje (scorecards = no action) prop bet at +250. With the odds on Gaethje being +275, having an insurance plan for if Nurmagomedov wins by decision and only giving up some of your return is worthwhile, given that the chances of a Gaethje decision victory against someone who has only officially lost one UFC round is highly unlikely.
Who’s Next at Middleweight?
Jared Cannonier (-115) vs. Robert Whittaker (-105)
Champion Israel Adesanya has called Cannonier “the dark horse of the middleweight division,” and he will have the opportunity to prove it on Saturday when he faces the top-ranked former champion Whittaker.
This is a complicated bout to get a read on, but it is surprising that Whittaker is the underdog.
While it is difficult to remove the image of Whittaker getting knocked out by Adesanya, it seems that he has a renewed joie de vivre when it comes to mixed martial arts.
Cannonier has been on a tear in the middleweight division and has captured the attention of both the champion and the avid UFC viewer as a fighter on the rise.
There are a few things to consider. Whittaker has faced the higher level of competition and has been successful against many of the top middleweights, while Cannonier has beaten just one legitimate contender in Jack Hermansson.
While Whittaker is the more familiar name, it’s important to note that he is also six years younger than Cannonier and in his prime.
Cannonier has the momentum, but I feel like the safer side is on the known in Whittaker versus the unknown in Cannonier.
Magomed Ankalaev (-320) vs. Ion Cutelaba (+260)
When Ankalaev and Cutelaba met in February, it was fireworks for as long as it lasted. After 38 frenetic seconds of back and forth striking, it was over, but not without some controversy.
Cutelaba absorbed a strike from Ankalaev and pretended that he was rocked so that he could fire back. His act was very convincing as it fooled the referee, who stepped in to stop the fight.
Now they look to run it back, with Ankalaev a bigger favourite than last time. This time around, I believe that the fight plays out differently.
While Ankalaev is a solid striker, his best asset is his wrestling. It would be in his best interest to slow this one down, utilize his wrestling, tire Cutelaba out and look for either a late finish or a decision.
For that reason, I believe that there is some value on the over 1.5 rounds prop in this one.
Cutelaba may come out fast and furious again, but I believe that Ankalaev will be looking for the takedown this time around rather than engaging him on the feet.
Odds and Ends:
- Alexander Volkov is 3-1 as a favourite in the UFC with the lone loss coming in the final seconds of his bout against Derrick Lewis, where he was ahead on the scorecards.
- Lauren Murphy is 1-2 as a favourite in the UFC.
- Nathaniel Wood is the betting underdog for the first time in his MMA career.
- Sam Alvey is the underdog for the fourth straight time and went 0-3 in the previous three.
Odds courtesy: Bestfightodds.com