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Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Justin Gaethje Odds, Pick & Prediction: Reigning Champ May Be Vulnerable in UFC 254 Main Event

Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Justin Gaethje Odds, Pick & Prediction: Reigning Champ May Be Vulnerable in UFC 254 Main Event article feature image

Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC. Pictured: UFC interim lightweight champion Justin Gaethje.

  • The most anticipated fight of the year is on with Khabib Nurmagomedov set to defend his belt against Justin Gaethje.
  • Will Khabib dominate and maintain his unbeaten streak in the UFC 254 Main Event?
  • Sean Zerillo previews the matchup, including why the odds suggest there's value on the dog.

Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Justin Gaethje Odds

Nurmagomedov odds -315 [BET NOW]
Gaethje odds +255 [BET NOW]
Over/Under 4.5 Rounds (+140/-190) [BET NOW]
Time 4:30 p.m. ET
Venue Yas Island, Abu Dhabi
Channel ESPN PPV

Odds as of Friday and via BetMGM. Get an INSTANT $500 deposit match at BetMGM today or see more offers and reviews for the best online sportsbooks.

In one of the most anticipated fights in recent memory, we get to see the proverbial unstoppable force face the immovable object at UFC 254.

UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, one of the most dominant athletes in mixed martial arts, will put his belt on the line against Interim lightweight champion Justin Gaethje — a man who proved how dangerous he can be in the octagon back in May.

Oddsmakers see Khabib as a pretty big favorite in this matchup, but can he keep his undefeated record in tact after Saturday’s scrap? Below I’ll break down the Khabib vs. Gaethje odds and matchup.

You can find the rest of my projections for Saturday’s 11 other bouts here.

Tale of the Tape

Main Event Nurmagomedov Gaethje
Record 28-0 22-2
Avg. Fight Time 13:47 10:11
Height 5’10” 5’11”
Weight (pounds) 155 155
Reach (inches) 70″ 70″
Stance Orthodox Orthodox
Date of birth 9/20/88 11/14/88
Sig Strikes Per Min 4.11 7.74
SS Accuracy 49% 59%
SS Absorbed Per Min 1.65 8.37
SS Defense 67% 54%
Take Down Avg 5.35 0.00
TD Acc 47% 0%
TD Def 84% 80%
Submission Avg 0.7 0.0

First, we have to talk about the weight cut. Not only did Khabib look surprised that he made weight for Saturday’s main event, but if you actually look at the scale, it’s pretty clear that he was overweight.

Now, by itself, this wouldn’t be overly concerning – Khabib always struggles to get down to 155 a bit – but in the context of Khabib’s 2020, that reaction could shed some light onto his training regimen and overall mindset heading into this fight.

His father and longtime trainer Abdulmanap contracted and passed away from COVID-19 in July. That’s obviously horrible, but it certainly had to affect Khabib’s training – not only in terms of quality after losing his coach and mentor but also in terms of the amount of time he was able to spend in the gym.

We have never seen a relieved Khabib before. Only the stone-cold smasher that plows through and dominates every opponent, seemingly with ease:

Khabib vs. Gaethje Pick

I’m assuming that Khabib is fully prepared for this fight. I wouldn’t expect anything less. But if he is even 99% the fighter that he used to be — if he has taken any sort of half step back rather than making improvements relative to his competition, as he has done in the past — the window opens just enough for his first loss to catch air.

Regardless of the timing, Gaethje is the most dangerous opponent that Khabib has ever faced. And he has coach Trevor Wittman in his corner — one of the sharpest minds in the sport.

Gaethje is the most actively violent fighter in the sport, averaging a record 7.74 significant strikes landed per minute and forcing his opponents to brawl, sending back 8.37. He is a decorated wrestler, but he has only used that wrestling defensively (80% takedown defense), which is obviously one of the key components to this fight.

Gaethje has an advantage on the feet against Khabib, whose striking stats (4.11 landed per minute, 1.65 absorbed) are skewed by his plethora of dominant control time. Khabib has averaged 4.11 takedowns per 15 minutes in the octagon, on 47% accuracy – but he does his best work up against the cage with regards to dragging his opponents down. His grip strength is one of the strongest tools in the sport.

Gaethje needs to refuse to respect Khabib’s power, as he did with Tony Ferguson, stand in the center of the octagon, and make Khabib shoot for legs and try to chain wrestle him backward.

Gaethje will look to spend a ton of time circling and setting up calf kicks and counter hooks, as he did against Tony Ferguson to capture the interim title:

Gaethje went off as a +175 underdog in that fight after taking the fight on late notice, and while the overall striking was close (143 to 136 in significant strikes) Gaethje’s efficiency (72% to 45% accuracy) was off the charts. He owns the highest significant strike accuracy (59.2%) in lightweight history – besting the competition by more than 5%.

On a full camp, Gaethje’s stamina will be even better for this bout, and I expect to see him constantly on his bike. The more time that Gaethje spends in the middle of the octagon Saturday, the more that his chances of winning this bout will continue to increase.

But Khabib will inevitably gain control along the fence, and likely drag Gaethje to the mat. The question is whether Gaethje is able to get back up and if Khabib is able to go to his game plan with success, repeatedly.

Given how tough both of these fighters are, I’m not going to bet Under 4.5 rounds or an inside the distance prop, regardless of projection value.

I don’t think that Gaethje needs to rely on the knockout to win. I probably thought that going in against Ferguson, but he managed his gas tank wonderfully and his power and volume could win the fight on the scorecards against an ironclad opponent like Khabib.

As a result, while Gaethje’s knockout (+375) or inside the distance (+375) props technically offer value too, I would stick to the underdog moneyline at +225 (implied 30.7%) or better – a 5% edge relative to the crowd projection.

I would wait until the day of the fight to place a bet, as we typically see late steam come in on Khabib.

The Pick: Justin Gaethje Moneyline (+250)

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