1. #1
    Hman's Avatar Moderator
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    Best bets for UFC 254: Khabib vs. Gaethje 👊

    Best bets for UFC 254: Khabib vs. Gaethje


    The UFC's second stint on Fight Island culminates with UFC 254, featuring a title unification bout at lightweight. Fittingly, the region's top star, Khabib Nurmagomedov, will get to compete at a time more palatable to his fan base. That means a break from the usual UFC broadcast time optimized to North American audiences, so U.S.-based audiences will see the crowning of the true undisputed king of the lightweights well in time for dinner.

    The card also features important matchups across other weight classes. The odds are steep for the main event, but several key matchups are seeing close odds where there could be some value.

    Early prelims begin at 10:30 a.m. ET Saturday on ESPN+ and prelims start at noon on ESPN2/ESPN+. The main card begins at 2 p.m. ET on PPV.

    Odds courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill.

    Lightweight title fight: Khabib Nurmagomedov (-340) vs. Justin Gaethje (+280)

    Tale Of The Tape

    Last fight weight class Lightweight Lightweight
    Age 32 31
    Height 70 71
    Reach 70 70
    Stance Orthodox Orthodox
    Analyzed minutes 165 48
    Stand-up striking offense
    Total knockdown ratio (scored:received) 2:0 3:1
    Distance knockdown rate 1.9% 1.5%
    Head jab accuracy 33% 36%
    Head power accuracy 28% 40%
    Total stand-up strike ratio 1.0 0.7
    Striking defense
    Total head strike defense 77% 63%
    Distance knockdown defense ("Chin") 100% 100%
    Wrestling and grappling
    TD attempts per min standing/clinch 1.31 0.02
    Takedown accuracy 48% 0%
    Advances per takedown/top control 0.9 NA
    Opponent takedown attempts 13 10
    Takedown defense 85% 80%
    Share of total ground time in control 98% 51%
    Submission attempts per trip to ground 0.13 0.00
    The stylistic matchup is arguably the most interesting one so far for a Khabib fight, where normally opponents don't have a clear path to victory, nor a viable escape plan from the champ's wrestling.

    However, Gaethje is a former high school wrestling champion and NCAA Division I All-American who also trains at altitude. Even though Gaethje has never landed a takedown in the UFC, he will be the first D-1 wrestler to take on Nurmagomedov in the UFC. Although we likely won't see him deploy offensive wrestling in the matchup, it's Gaethje's defensive wrestling that will decide whether he has a chance to dethrone the lightweight king and No. 2-ranked UFC pound-for-pound best.

    Gaethje's takedown defense stands at 80% against just 10 takedown attempts. Even having been taken down twice, he has bounced back to his feet quickly, recording just 1% of all his Octagon time on the mat. That stands in sharp contrast to Nurmagomedov, who has spent 43% of his Octagon time on the ground, with virtually all of it being in a position of control. Both these trends cannot remain true after Saturday, so the question is: Which one can we put more stock into?

    While we've already noted that Khabib has yet to face a decorated wrestler, the same would also be true of Gaethje. He has yet to be tested by serious offensive wrestling to date, and this will be the toughest wrestling matchup possible in the sport. And one has to wonder why Gaethje would fail to ever use his wrestling if it was still sharp, even when he was hurt and down on rounds.

    It's important to concede that while standing, things will get interesting. Khabib uses a measured striking pace, with conservative yet unremarkable performance metrics. Gaethje is much more accurate, with a higher total pace, but also has sloppier defense. The biggest difference is that Gaethje swings with power much more often and also uses an abnormally high mix of leg kicks. If the fight were to spend significant periods at a distance, cumulative damage would favor Gaethje. But that's a big "if." The gift of aggression that has propelled Gaethje to this point could become a liability against a stifling grappler like Khabib. Whether Gaethje is trying to unload heavy counters or use his thundering mix of leg kicks, these will all be opportunities for Khabib to shoot for takedowns. And as we've seen, even if Khabib doesn't land the first attempt, he can string together takedowns or use the cage to close the distance and position his opponent for the inevitable.

    Once on the mat, Khabib keeps his opponents there for an average of 1.7 minutes with each takedown landed. And that stat is even deflated due to all the times he ended a round on the mat and was forced to reset for the next round. The bottom line is that while Gaethje presents a new and interesting skill set that poses some threats, he will have to do something no one has ever done -- against the best wrestler he's ever faced in the cage -- all just to give himself an opportunity to use his striking to win a round.

    This all seems like a tall order, and a lot will be learned in the first few scrambles. In the end we must side with the numbers that Khabib will find a way to utilize his strengths enough to the win the fight one way or the other -- and in deep waters if he must.

    E+ recommends: Money line play on Nurmagomedov. Given the low return on his current price, consider using him as a parlay anchor.

    Best bets elsewhere on the card

    One of the two heavyweight bouts on the card features two top-10 ranked fighters, each trying to rebound from a loss to remain in contention for a future title shot. In his last fight, we leaned Walt Harris (+150) against Alistair Overeem, only to see Harris drop his opponent but then succumb to strikes in an Overeem rebound. In Alexander Volkov's (-170) last fight, we heavily leaned towards his opponent, Curtis Blaydes, who indeed went on to land 14 takedowns on the way to a unanimous decision over Volkov.

    Yet, here we are having learned a thing about each man's weakness from their summer losses. Volkov, who is a highly precise striker, is susceptible to a persistent wrestling attack. Meanwhile, Harris, if he doesn't get an early finish, has never won in a fight going past the second round. This combination of factors heavily favors Volkov, who seems to pick up steam as the fight goes on and should have hopefully learned from prior mistakes against power strikers. And Harris does not offer the same aggressive control game that stifled Volkov in the past.

    E+ recommends: Money line play on Volkov.

    The other of the two heavyweight bouts features two fighters desperately in need a win. Both Stefan Struve (-115) and Tai Tuivasa (-105) are capable of big finishes, but in entirely different ways. Struve has recorded the majority of his wins by submission, while Tuivasa has won almost exclusively by strikes. And the strength of each man also corresponds to the weakness of the other. While the numbers are as close as the nearly pick 'em odds, the conclusion is that there is a lot of finishing potential between the two.

    E+ recommends: Money line lean on Struve-Tuivasa doesn't go the distance.

  2. #2
    It's not what they bring...
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    Remember guys this thing starts at 2pm eastern time with the prelims starting about noon eastern.

    The early prelims will start around 11 am eastern

    It's an early one.

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  3. #3
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    Thinking Cannonier has improved greatly over his last few fights. I like bobby knuckles but he might have peaked and never was as good as I initially thought. He beat a 37 yr old Jacare and Yoel Romero has always been a great athlete who seems to take off large portions of his fights. Thinking Cannonier might be a play at close to even money.

  4. #4
    JAKEPEAVY21's Avatar SBR PRO
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    Quote Originally Posted by fudy213 View Post
    Thinking Cannonier has improved greatly over his last few fights. I like bobby knuckles but he might have peaked and never was as good as I initially thought. He beat a 37 yr old Jacare and Yoel Romero has always been a great athlete who seems to take off large portions of his fights. Thinking Cannonier might be a play at close to even money.
    We are thinking along the same lines...
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