Betfred’s Kevin Tsang previews this week’s blockbuster UFC clash
Khabib Nurmagomedov (above, 28-0-0) against Justin Gaethje (22-2-0) is definitely the headline-grabber at the Flash Forum in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.
The main event will kick off at 7:00pm (BST), which is prime-time for UK fight fans! The card will also feature former middleweight champion Robert Whittaker, who will look to secure a rematch against Israel Adesanya if he gets through a potentially gruelling fight against Jared Cannonier.
We’ll also see Englishman Nathaniel Wood, against Casey Kenney.
- Khabib Nurmagomedov (c) vs. Justin Gaethje (ic), Lightweight
- Robert Whittaker vs. Jared Cannonier, Middleweight
- Alexander Volkov vs. Walt Harris, Heavyweight
- Liliya Shakirova vs. Lauren Murphy, Women’s Flyweight
- Magomed Ankalaev vs. Ion Cutelaba, Light Heavyweight
- Jacob Malkoun vs. Phil Hawes, Middleweight
- Da Un Jung vs. Sam Alvey, Light Heavyweight
- Liana Jojua vs. Miranda Maverick, Women’s Flyweight
- Shavkat Rakhmonov vs. Alex Oliveira, Welterweight
- Casey Kenney vs. Nathaniel Wood, Bantamweight
- Joel Alvarez vs. Alexander Yakovlev, Lightweight
- Stefan Struve vs. Tai Tuivasa, Heavyweight
Where, when and how can I watch it?
UFC 254: Khabib v Gaethje will be held at the Flash Forum in Abu Dhabi, behind closed doors. The prelims will get underway at 5:00pm (BST) on Saturday 24th October, and the main card will commence at 7:00pm (BST). All coverage will be shown live on BT Sport.
Khabib Nurmagomedov (c) vs. Justin Gaethje (ic), Lightweight
On Saturday night, Justin Gaethje (above) will have his opportunity to dethrone the Russian star, Khabib Nurmagomedov. With Tony Ferguson out of the picture & the rematch with Conor McGregor looking very unlikely, this is the only match-up that makes sense for fight fans!
Behind the scenes it’s been an emotional rollercoaster for Khabib. We look back to the build-up to the Conor McGregor fight, unifying the Lightweight division, and his father sadly passing away due to Covid 19 complications in July.
However, he’s now ready to step back into the Octagon. His last fight against Dustin Poirier was a typical, masterful display. Like most of his fights, Khabib starts off slowly, feeling his opponent, looking for patterns of movement, which he can capitalise upon.
And that he certainly did, striking up high and level changing onto the fence and taking his opponent down. To his credit, Poirier did well to get up a few times and even had some Khabib fans worried when he almost pulled off a guillotine choke.
However, experienced on the ground, Khabib stayed composed, rolled onto his side to give himself space and broke the choke. In the end, all that energy used exhausted Poirier, which eventually led to him giving his back and giving Khabib his 10th submission victory.
After suffering back-to-back defeats to Eddie Alvarez & Dustin Poirier, Justin Gaethje has restored his momentum in the lightweight division with a 4-fight win-streak (most notably against Edson Barboza, Donald Cerrone & Tony Ferguson.)
His last performance was particularly impressive, as he dismantled “the boogeyman” with a KO victory. Coming in at short notice to ironically replace Khabib at UFC249, Gaethje put on a striking masterclass as he chopped down the elusive movement of his opponent, which eventually led him to a TKO victory.
Prediction – Khabib Nurmagomedov victory by unanimous decision
The first thing I’ll say is Justin Gaethje will be Khabib’s toughest test to date. We are looking at a fighter who is full of confidence and truly believes he’ll be able to knock out “The Eagle,” at UFC254.
And why shouldn’t he? 19 of his 24 fights have been ended by knockout, and he’s coming off a dominant victory over one of the best lightweight fighters in the world.
If you were watching Gaethje, you’d think he was predominately a brawler/striker. Surprisingly, he has a high-level college wrestling background, which he’ll need to use against Khabib. Gaethje will be aware that he’ll need to avoid those takedowns and use his advantage from fighting on the feet.
However, being aware is one thing but being able to avoid it is another. We’ve seen Khabib’s striking game develop over the years, which offers him more options to his entry to takedowns.
In the end, we all know Khabib will not make any major changes to his game plan, regardless of who he is up against, and you’ll get what you expect. Khabib will fake a level change and throw an overhand right or a looping uppercut, or he’ll get his opponent against the fence and go for double leg.
It’s hard to see him losing this fight based on his experience and his excellent ground game. I also find it difficult to recall a time when he was especially troubled by an opponent. If Khabib sticks to the game plan, pushes Gaethje up against the fence, and slows him down, then I’m sure he’ll get the victory.
Robert Whittaker vs. Jared Cannonier
Although it is not official, this is essentially a title eliminator for the middleweight crown, as the champion Adesanya called Jared Cannonier as his next opponent at UFC253. But I’m sure “The Reaper,” will have something to say about that!
Robert Whittaker (above, 21-5-0) returns to Abu Dhabi with an impressive victory over Liverpool’s Darren Till. His performance reminded me of his first victory over Yoel Romero – explosive, but calculated.
On the other side, we have Jared Cannonier (13-4-0). At 36 years-old it’s safe to say this might be his only chance at a middleweight title. Jared’s last performance came against Jack Hermansson at UFC Fight Night in Sept 2019. From start to finish, he outboxed his opponent, which eventually led to his 9th TKO victory.
Prediction – Robert Whittaker victory by unanimous decision
Since moving down from light-heavyweight to middleweight, Cannonier has been nothing but dominant. Undefeated at middleweight, 3 TKO victories, the weight cut certainly hasn’t taken away any of his power!
However, does he have enough to defeat Robert Whittaker? My answer is sadly no.
Based on what we’ve seen recently, I believe we are looking at a refocused Robert Whittaker looking to get his middleweight title back. As publicly reported, Whittaker was suffering from mental issues, due to family problems, which evidently impacted his fighting mindset against Adesanya.
Later, he was even contemplating retirement. However, after getting his hand raised against Darren Till and looking better than ever, I believe he is in the right mindset to recapture what he lost.
On top of this, Whittaker will be more familiar with the current fighting conditions. This will be Cannoniers first fight in Abu Dhabi, and his first fight with no crowd, so it’ll be unfamiliar territory for him.
Rest of the Card – feat Danny Roberts
We also managed to catch up with UFC Welterweight star, Danny Roberts, who gave us his predictions ahead of UFC254. He predicted
- Khabib victory by submission
- Whittaker by unanimous victory
- Alexander Volkov by TKO round 2
- Nathaniel Wood by TKO round 1
Danny also talks about his surgery, Conor McGregor’s UFC return, Joaquin Buckley’s viral knockout and his top 3 UFC knockouts of all time.
Watch the full video on our YouTube Page
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