Odds courtesy of OddsShark.com
The UFC finishes up about a month-long stay at its Fight Island facility in Abu Dhabi this Saturday with one of the most anticipated bouts of the year as a lightweight title fight between unbeaten champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and interim champion Justin Gaethje highlights UFC 254. The main card starts much earlier than usual at 2 p.m. ET and is available via pay-per-view.
The 32-year-old Khabib, from Russia, is 28-0 – the longest active unbeaten streak in mixed martial arts – and ranked as the UFC’s No. 2 pound-for-pound fighter behind Jon Jones (who may or may not fight in the organization again). “The Eagle” won the lightweight title in April 2018 over Al Iaquinta but really became a household name in North America in another title bout against Conor McGregor in October of that year at UFC 229. Khabib won by fourth-round submission. There was a brawl after that bout that led to a six-month suspension for Khabib.
He hasn’t been in the Octagon since September 2019 when he defended the belt again with a third-round submission of then-interim champion Dustin Poirier. Khabib and Gaethje were originally to meet in September, but Khabib’s father, Abdulmanap, passed away from health complications after having contracted COVID-19. Khabib also was set to defend his belt in April against Tony Ferguson, but Khabib was not able to leave Russia during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gaethje, a 31-year-old from Arizona, is 22-2 and a former World Series of Fighting lightweight champion, eventually vacating that to sign with the UFC. His two losses came in back-to-back fights against Eddie Alvarez and Poirier, and he is ranked as the No. 7 pound-for-pound fighter.
With Khabib sidelined for so long, the UFC put the interim lightweight belt up for grabs when Gaethje faced Ferguson this past May. “The Highlight” won by fifth-round TKO (punch) to end Ferguson’s 12-fight winning streak.
Even though Gaethje was an NCAA All-American in wrestling at the University of Northern Colorado, he prefers to fight standing up and that usually leads to entertaining bouts that rarely go the distance. Nineteen of his 22 wins are by KO/TKO and just one by submission. Khabib, meanwhile, is a master on the ground and has 10 wins by submission but also 10 by decision and eight by KO/TKO.
Khabib is a -335 favorite for Saturday with Gaethje at +255, but Gaethje is used to being an underdog as he has been in four of his past five fights (he was at +175 against Ferguson).