The time for talking is over. The cage door is about to be locked on the main event from Fight Island where a lightweight unification bout headlines UFC 254. Champion Khabib Nurmagomedov will look to unify for a second time when he takes on new interim champion Justin Gaethje in one of the most anticipated showdowns of the year. It all goes down at a special start time as well.
Nurmagomedov is undefeated in 28 career fights and has successfully defended the lightweight title twice since winning the belt in April 2018. With little trouble in any of his recent fights, the champ will be out to continue his dominant run and draw closer to his goal of retiring unbeaten at 30-0.
Gaethje, meanwhile, is coming off the biggest win of his career, defeating Tony Ferguson at UFC 249 in May by fifth-round TKO after dominating almost every minute of the fight. That derailed the plan to try for a sixth time to make a bout between Ferguson and Nurmagomedov, but it did set up a compelling showdown of Gaethje's power striking and defensive wrestling against the dominant offensive wrestling game of Nurmagomedov. Gaethje has won four straight by knockout, including three first-round finishes over James Vick, Edson Barboza and Donald Cerrone.
Plus, the co-main event sees a de facto middleweight title eliminator take place as former champ Robert Whittaker takes on veteran Jared Cannonier. Whittaker rebounded nicely from his TKO loss to Israel Adesanya with a decision win over Darren Till earlier this summer. Cannonier, meanwhile, has won three straight since dropping to 185 pounds, but none of his opponents have been the level of Whittaker.
There's fun fights up and down this card on Saturday, featuring a few fighters fans haven't seen in a while. Among them are a pair of heavyweights set to thrown down on the prelims. Stefan "Skyscraper" Struve is back when he takes on Tai Tuivasa. The Aussie has been out of action since October 2019 where he lost his third consecutive bout. Tuivasa changed training camps and hopes it will change his results. Struve, meanwhile, is 1-4 in his last five and is coming off a TKO loss to Ben Rothwell in December 2019. The 7-footer said he would retire after beating Marcos Rogério de Lima in February 2019, but could spark another run with a win here.
Buckle up, it's going to be a wild ride. Let's take a closer look at the rest of the card with the latest odds from William Hill Sportsbook.
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UFC 254 fight card, odds
- Khabib Nurmagomedov (c) -310 vs. Justin Gaethje (ic) +250, lightweight title
- Jared Cannonier -115 vs. Robert Whittaker -105, middleweights
- Alexander Volkov -180 vs. Walt Harris +155, heavyweights
- Phillip Hawes -260 vs. Jacob Malkoun +210, middleweights
- Lauren Murphy -195 vs. Liliya Shakirova +165, women's flyweights
- Magomed Ankalaev -330 vs. Ion Cutelaba +260, light heavyweights
- Tai Tuivasa -125 vs. Stefan Struve +105, heavyweights
- Shavkat Rakhmonov -135 vs. Alex Oliveira +115, welterweights
- Da-Un Jung -360 vs. Sam Alvey +280, light heavyweights
- Casey Kenney -170 vs. Nathaniel Wood +145, catchweights
- Miranda Maverick -400 vs. Liana Jojua +310, women's flyweights
- Joel Alvarez -170 vs. Alexander Yakovlev +145, lightweights
With such a massive main event on tap, the crew at CBS Sports went ahead with predictions and picks for the main card. Here are your pick makers: Brent Brookhouse (Combat sports writer), Brian Campbell (Combat sports writer, co-host of "Morning Kombat"), Matthew Coca (producer), Jack Crosby (editor) and Michael Mormile (producer). Plus, Luke Thomas, co-host of "Morning Kombat" gives you a main event pick and prediction.
UFC 254 picks
|Khabib (c) vs. Gaethje||Gaethje||Khabib||Gaethje||Khabib||Gaethje|
|Cannonier vs. Whittaker||Whittaker||Whittaker||Whittaker||Whittaker||Cannonier|
|Volkov vs. Harris||Harris||Harris||Volkov||Volkov||Volkov|
|Hawes vs. Malkoun||Hawes||Hawes||Hawes||Hawes||Hawes|
|Ankalaev vs. Cutelaba||Cutelaba||Ankalaev||Ankalaev||Ankalaev||Ankalaev|
Campbell on why Gaethje will win: Until we actually see Nurmagomedov badly damaged or forced to rally from behind, it's hard to imagine him ever losing inside the Octagon. If someone is equipped to do it, however, it might just be Gaethje. His extreme lack of care for acquiring damage in order to be able to instill it onto his opponent is certainly a big part of it, as is his one-punch knockout ability and damaging kicks. But it's his physicality and amateur wrestling background, which could become key should he prove able to get up once Nurmagomedov inevitably takes him down, that could be the deciding factor in pulling an upset.
Thomas on why Khabib will win: [Gaethje's] a live dog. If you wanted to take a flyer on Gaethje for betting purposes, I would get it. But I'm going to take Nurmagomedov. The reason why is when he has tough weight cuts or he has opponents with tough takedown defense, he still finds a way to win. I'm gonna go back to that work rate. Gaethje has said in interviews previously that the reason he doesn't wrestle unless he has to is it makes him tired. That is a little concerning to me, especially in a 25-minute fight. I think someone like Nurmagomedov, he can wrestle even when he's not getting the upper hand almost the entire time. Gaethje might get a couple of rounds early, but if the fight goes late, he's just not going to be the same fighter anymore.
Brookhouse on why Khabib will win: Gaethje deserves a ton of respect as an opponent and is the very definition of a live dog entering the fight. That said, everyone talks about how they know how to beat Nurmagomedov, and while Gaethje's wrestling background is a legitimate tool entering this fight, Nurmagomedov's MMA wrestling is a different animal. Gaethje is going to stuff a few shots, but Nurmagomedov is relentless and once he starts forcing Gaethje to the cage -- which Gaethje insists will not happen -- then he's going to dominate the fight.
Brookhouse on why Whittaker will win: Cannonier has been hot since dropping to middleweight, but his opponents have not been on Whittaker's level. As long as Whittaker can avoid getting hit clean with a big Cannonier power shot, he should be able to work a patient, technical striking game that is simply too much for Cannonier to keep up with. Whittaker is also proven as someone who can go the distance at middleweight and dragging Cannonier into deeper waters could tire out the bigger man.
Campbell on why Harris will win: Harris appeared to be on his way to handling Alistair Overeem and scoring an emotional victory in the wake of his step daughter's death until a mistake cost him a fight that would've announced him as the next heavyweight title contender. While being served a difficult out like Volkov is no picnic, the tall Russian has proven susceptible to being controlled by wrestlers. Harris will certainly need to get inside Volkov's ability to command distance with stiff strikes from the outside. But if he does, this is a fight Harris can win and he'll be plenty motivated following such a disappointing ending against Overeem.
Who will win Nurmagomedov vs. Gaethje, and how will every 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 and has nailed 22 of the last 28 main events.