UFC 254 Picks From Our MMA Analyst

The Fight World is Fired up for Khabib vs Gaethje and the Return to Fight Island

This is the grand daddy fight card of the year. UFC 254 features the biggest most anticipated fight of the year. Khabib Nurmagomedov is undefeated in a sport where that’s virtually unprecedented. He’s insanely dominant, having dropped only one round in his entire career. He’s never been dropped, he’s never really been in trouble in his entire career. His opponent Justin Gaethje is the rare breed of fighter who calls himself “The most violent man in MMA” and everyone….sort of agrees. If you haven’t watched Gaethje fight stop reading this and go do so. The guy is beautiful violence, he fights the way you fight in a video game, with no regard for personal safety, longevity or self preservation.

This is not to say he’s an unrefined fighter. Gaethje, especially in his last fight, married his savagery inside the cage with a beautiful gameplan and techniques that fit perfectly. Will Khabib maintain his insane dominance? Will Justin Gaethje upset him through sheer reckless violence? This fight is one of those fights that come along very rarely and should have every MMA fan giddy with anticipation. Let’s break it down.

Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Justin Gaethje

This is a stacked card from top to bottom but the attention is rightfully on the main event so we’ll be focusing mostly on that. Here are 3 bets I like.

Justin Gaethje to win by knockout (+400)

If Justin is gonna pull the upset it’s gonna be by knockout. Like a lot of fights the dynamic will most likely fall into one of two camps. Either Khabib will dominate with his ground game which has proved peerless so far. If that happens we will all look back at this fight and say of course Khabib was going to win that way. On the other hand there’s a chance Justin’s forward aggression and lack of fear is exactly the way to defeat Khabib. Vicious strikers like Mcgregor and Poirier have talked about being too defensive and reactive when facing Khabib. His wrestling is so suffocating fighters get away from their strengths.

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This is partially why this fight is so anticipated. Justin Gaethje is unflappable, he marches forward and tries to take your head off in a way that we’ve almost never seen by a top tier UFC fighter. If that is the key as some people suspect I think Justin wins in devastating fashion. Gaethje is so aggressive he doesn’t usually win by decision. I could see Khabib grinding him out en route to a decision but if you think Justin is gonna win there’s better value in picking him to win by KO.

Fight to end by Submission (+150)

To me this is a sneaky way to bet on Khabib and get some value if you think he’ll take the fight. Currently Khabib is a -371 favorite. He’s also on a streak of 2 straight submission victories. His path to these submissions is not random. Khabib’s whole game is predicated on driving people to the cage and forcing them to either defend his relentless pounding or try to get up to their feet while being hit. It’s an exhausting grinding style that makes fighters choose between two awful options.

Almost every Khabib fight has ended with him making his opponent choose between those two choices. Usually the fighters are so desperate to get back to their feet after a few rounds of this they try to explode back to their feet and get caught in a submission. I think given Gaethje’s insane will to win he’s much more likely to get caught and choked out then he is to turtle up and take strikes until the ref stops it.

Watch our full Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Justin Gaethje Preview on the TPN YouTube Channel.

Will the Fight Go The Distance? Yes (+155)

I think this fight goes the distance. Both these fighters have shown a propensity for insane almost inhuman toughness inside the cage. Justin Gaethje essentially had to be hit with a bat in the later rounds of both of his losses to Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier. Khabib is the toughest fight in the division no doubt but he’s not the striker either of these guys are and when he finishes people it’s usually on the ground.

Gaethje is an NCAA level wrestler. Khabib is a beast but he’s also won a lot of his fights via decision. His game is a suffocating methodical one. Even in his fight with hated rival Conor Mcgregor he was happy to grind on him and ensure victory rather than chase a risky finish. I think this fight could easily play out similar to that fight except Gaethje’s superior cardio and wrestling prevent Khabib from getting the finish but not the victory.

Moneyline Pick: Khabib vs. Gaethje

The Pick- When a fight is this anticipated and exciting it usually means it defies an easy pick. I’m going back and forth on the winner of this fight and probably will until the fight starts. But if I have to make a pick I will bet with my head and not my heart. I would love to see Justin become the champion while retaining his Most Violent Man status. HoweverI think Khabib is just too good. He’s a generational talent who has seized and changed the entire meta game of MMA. I think Khabib’s cage wrestling and never ending pressure leads to a victory. Khabib Numagomedov to win -340 on Fan Duel

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