This week in Abu Dhabi, Khabib Nurmagomedov has fielded questions about everything from a potential rematch with Conor McGregor to speculating on his legacy in mixed martial arts. For the most part, the undefeated lightweight champion has brushed aside inquiries that don't pertain to his Saturday showdown against Justin Gaethje in the UFC 254 main event. Their title unification bout tops the marquee from Fight Island, and the main UFC 254 fight card is scheduled for 2 p.m. ET. Nurmagomedov told the media he's confident the future will take care of itself and he was turning his focus entirely to the dangerous Gaethje, who earned the fight with a stoppage of former interim champion Tony Ferguson in May.
Nurmagomedov is a -360 favorite (risk $360 to win $100), while Gaethje is a +280 underdog (risk $100 to win $280) in the latest UFC 254 odds from William Hill. In the co-main event, Jared Cannonier (-120) faces Robert Whittaker (+100) in a battle of ranked middleweight contenders. Before making any UFC 254 picks, make sure you see what SportsLine MMA analyst Kyle Marley has to say, considering the epic run he's on.
Over the past 20 months, $100 bettors who have followed Marley's picks are up more than $20,000. The accomplished MMA analyst has been on a rock-solid run in 2020 as he has connected on 22 of his last 28 main-event selections, a stretch that included a streak of five straight underdogs.
At UFC Fight Night last week, Marley correctly called a dominant performance for Jessica Andrade (-145) over Katlyn Chookagian (+125) in the women's flyweight co-main event. He told SportsLine members that the skill gap between the fighters was much wider than the price suggested, and was proven correct when a late first-round flurry resulted in a stoppage win for Andrade. Anyone who has consistently followed Marley is way up.
Now, with UFC 254 fast approaching, Marley has carefully studied every matchup on the card, identified the best value in the UFC odds and released his MMA picks for every fight. Those selections are only available here.
Khabib vs. Gaethje preview
The MMA analyst knows the main event represents a major turning point in the careers of both fighters. Nurmagomedov (28-0) has made no secret of his desire to retire as an undefeated champion. He also plans on doing so fairly soon and has spoken of taking perhaps one more fight after Saturday's Khabib vs. Gaethje main event, with the goal of walking away from MMA a perfect 30-0.
In order to do so, he must first get past a rugged opponent in Gaethje (22-2), who has ascended from a fan-favorite novelty to one of the most skilled fighters in the promotion.
Nurmagomedov was originally scheduled to fight longtime rival Ferguson in April, a bout that has now been scheduled and canceled five times for an assortment of reasons. This time, the coronavirus pandemic restricted travel and the champion was unable to leave Russia in order to make the fight.
The UFC eventually booked Ferguson and Gaethje for an interim belt, with the winner getting the first shot at Nurmagomedov. The power-punching Gaethje dominated from the outset and eventually stopped the resilient Ferguson, who saw a 12-fight win streak come to an end.
Gaethje's power and relentless style had MMA fans anticipating his move to the UFC from the World Series of Fighting, where he was a champion. But he started off 1-2 in the promotion and it appeared his lack of diverse skills would be an issue against top-tier competition.
However, the 31-year-old Arizona native dedicated himself to improving everything from his conditioning to defense and footwork, and it paid off. He has stopped four straight opponents, with the win over Ferguson being the flashpoint on his resume. You can see Marley's coveted Nurmagomedov vs, Gaethje picks here.
Top UFC 254 predictions
We'll share one of Marley's UFC 254 predictions here: He is backing Miranda Maverick (-350) to get her hand raised against Liana Jojua (+290) in a matchup of women's flyweight prospects.
Maverick (7-2) will make her UFC debut on the strength of a standout run through the Invicta FC promotion, where she has recorded all seven of her professional MMA victories. The 23-year-old Virginia native has finished two of her last three opponents and is coming off a decision victory against Pearl Gonzalez in February.
Jojua (8-3) has split her first two fights under the UFC banner. The 25-year-old Russian fighter lost her debut at UFC 242 with a stoppage loss to Sarah Moras, but bounced back with a decision win against Diana Belbita in July.
"Maverick is the better wrestler-grappler, so she should win most grappling exchanges and win the striking exchanges as well," Marley told SportsLine.
How to make UFC 254 picks
Marley also has strong picks for Khabib vs. Gaethje and every other bout on the UFC 254 card. He is also backing a fighter who is the "better all-around striker" to cruise to a victory by decision. Those selections are only available here.
Who wins Nurmagomedov vs. Gaethje? And how exactly does each fight end? Visit SportsLine now to get detailed picks on every fight at UFC 254, all from the incomparable expert who's up more than $20,000 on MMA bets and has nailed 22 of the last 28 main events, and find out.
UFC 254 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)
Magomed Ankalaev (-275) vs. Ion Cutelaba (+235)
Phil Hawes (-265) vs. Jacob Malkoun (+225)
Stefan Struve (-115) vs. Tai Tuivasa (-105)
Alex Oliveira (-150) vs. Shavkat Rakhmonov (+130)
Da Un Jung (-360) vs. Sam Alvey (+300)
Casey Kenney (-185) vs. Nathaniel Wood (+165)
Lauren Murphy (-240) vs. Liliya Shakirova (+200)
Miranda Maverick (-350) vs. Liana Jojua (+290)