UFC president Dana White was asked if could guarantee an exciting UFC 254 main event before Justin Gaethje cut off the question. The interim lightweight champion's response emphasized the widely-held notion that a lack of action won't be a concern when he squares off against undefeated sitting champion Khabib Nurmagomedov in the main event of UFC 254 on Saturday. Their highly-anticipated unification match anchors the UFC 254 fight card from Fight Island, with the main bouts set for 2 p.m. ET. The matchup features a classic mix of styles, with a relentless striker in Gaethje facing down a world-class wrestler and submission artist in the undefeated Nurmagomedov.
Nurmagomedov is a -360 favorite (risk $360 to win $100), while Gaethje is a +280 underdog in the latest Khabib vs. Gaethje odds from William Hill. In the co-main event, Jared Cannonier is -120 in the UFC 254 odds as he takes on Robert Whittaker (+100) in an important middleweight battle. Before locking in your UFC 254 picks, make sure you see what SportsLine MMA expert Brandon Wise has to say.
Wise specializes in picking main-card fights for UFC, which has enabled him to be profitable for five consecutive years. In fact, Wise went a perfect 5-0 at UFC 239 and was 4-1 at both UFC 245 and UFC 249. He also nailed Nurmagomedov's destruction of Conor McGregor in 2018, Stipe Miocic's defeat of Daniel Cormier, Max Holloway's downfall in 2019 and Gaethje's TKO victory over Ferguson in May.
Since the UFC returned following a period of inactivity due to the coronavirus pandemic, Wise has gone 52-32-1 while nailing the method of victory 35 times. At UFC 253, Wise accurately called an upset victory for Jan Blachowicz (+220) against Dominick Reyes (-260) in their co-main event clash for the vacant light heavyweight title. He told SportsLine members that Blachowicz's power would likely be the difference in the fight, and was proven correct when a clean combination led to a stoppage of Reyes in the second round. Anyone who has consistently followed Wise is way up.
Now, with UFC 254 fast approaching, Wise has carefully studied every matchup on the main card, identified the best value in the UFC 254 odds and released his MMA picks for each fight. He's only sharing those selections here.
Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Justin Gaethje expert preview
Wise knows many MMA observers believe Gaethje will offer the most viable threat of ending the Russian champion's undefeated record and reign over the lightweight division.
Nurmagomedov (28-0), 32, is famous for his relentless ground game in which he uses takedowns and grappling to subdue his opponents before beating them into oblivion.
Critics once questioned the overall level of competition on his resume, but those concerns were quelled by submission wins over former champions Conor McGregor and Poirier in his last two fights.
Gaethje (22-2), also 32, is considered a more dangerous foe than most of Nurmagomedov's opponents because of his own accomplished background in wrestling. He was an All-American at Northern Colorado but has rarely tapped into that skill set while inside the Octagon.
That's because his ruthless brawling has served him well. His brutal stoppage of Ferguson ended a 12-fight win streak that spanned seven-plus years for "El Cucuy." You can see Wise's coveted Nurmahomedov vs. Gaethje picks here.
Top UFC 254 predictions
We'll share one of Wise's UFC 254 main-card selections here: He is backing Lauren Murphy (-240) to get her hand raised against Liliya Shakirova (+200) in a matchup of women's flyweight prospects.
The fifth-ranked Murphy was originally scheduled to face Cynthia Calvillo, who soared to No. 4 in the rankings following her June win over Jessica Eye in a UFC Fight Night main event. But Calvillo had to withdraw because of a positive COVID-19 test, and Shakirova stepped in on relatively short notice.
The 37-year-old Murphy (13-4) seeks her third win of 2020 following decision victories against respected veterans Andrea Lee and Roxanne Modafferi. She is fighting for the third time in a calendar year for just the second time in her MMA career. She fought four times in 2013.
Shakirova's UFC call-up comes on the heels of a three-fight winning streak that includes two finishes. She stopped Aygul Abduvakhid in October of last year.
"Murphy may not be a dynamic or flashy striker, but she wins these kinds of fights," Wise told SportsLine. "Her pro losses have only come against higher-ranked opponents since 2014. Look for Murphy to get her fourth straight win."
How to make UFC 254 picks
Wise also has strong picks for Nurmagomedov vs. Gaethje and every other bout on the main UFC 254 card. He's also backing one fighter who is getting plenty of value given his current odds. You can only see those selections here.
Who wins Khabib vs. Gaethje at UFC 254? And how exactly does each main-card fight end? Visit SportsLine now to get detailed picks on every fight on the UFC 254 main card, all from the accomplished expert who has been profitable for five straight years, and find out.
UFC 254 main-card odds (via William Hill)
Khabib Nurmagomedov (-360) vs Justin Gaethje (+280)
Jared Cannonier (-120) vs. Robert Whittaker (+100)
Alexander Volkov (-155) vs. Walt Harris (+135)
Phil Hawes (-265) vs. Jacob Malkoun (+225)
Lauren Murphy (-240) vs. Liliya Shakirova (+200):
Magomed Ankalaev (-275) vs. Ion Cutelaba (+235)