UFC 254 Betting Pick: Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Justin Gaethje

And now, the moment you have all been waiting for…

The main event of the evening features the pound-for-pound number one fighter in the world not named Jon Bones Jones, Khabib Nurmagomedov defends his lightweight World Championship against American, Justin Gaethje.

Seriously, though, guys, I do not want to rate John Jones higher than Khabib on the pound-for-pound list because look how much he struggled in his last two fights.

The Dagestani Eagle isn’t struggling at all!

Khabib has dominated everyone he has fought with the exception of Gleison Tibau who is one of the biggest lightweight fighters of all time and a very strong grappler. This was early in Khabib’s UFC career and I’m sure if these two did once more, there is no question in my mind that the Eagle would soar.

That brings me to the resume of Khabib Nurmagomedov. It’s been pretty good over the past few years. There is no doubt about that. To be up there with guys like Jon Jones and in the talk of the greatest fighter of all time with the likes of George St-Pierre or Anderson Silva, you need more time and more fights.

If you remember correctly, which you probably do, Khabib Nurmagomedov has had to pull out of a lot of fights and most of the cancellations were for reasons under his control like his weight.

It’s just not a good look if you want to be considered as one of the greatest of all time.

Soundly defeating Justin Gaethje this Saturday night at UFC 254 on Fight Island is a massive step towards claiming that pound-for-pound title in the future. I did just hear that Jon Jones could be fighting Francis Ngannou for the Interim UFC Heavyweight World Title because Stipe Miocic is hurt.

I am really torn on who I want to win this fight as a fan because I like Justin Gaethje and Khabib is okay. I am an American, though, and I have already rooted against my country more than enough as an Anderson Silva fanatic.

So, why not pull for Old Glory here?

I want to see George St-Pierre return to the Octagon and fight Khabib Nurmagomedov.  I know it is just rumored right now but I really think this one is going to happen if The Eagle can dispose of his prey at UFC 254 on Fight Island.

Said “prey” is 22-2 in his mixed martial arts career. Not too shabby. A former World Series of Fighting Champion at 155 pounds, Justin Gaethje is hell on wheels.

A rolling ball of fury.

These aren’t coolest names but that is how I see him with a low center of gravity with an athletic build with short limbs.

He can crack and according to the NCAA, Justin is a pretty gnarly wrestler as well.

The Highlight’s head coach, Trevor Wittman, is one of my all time favorite martial arts minds. I have never had the pleasure of training under him but I will one day.

I have 100% confidence that he will have the most advantageous game plan laid out for his fighter at UFC 254 this Saturday.

Will that be enough, though, so keep potentially the most dominating force we have ever seen off of him in a 5 round fight?

Let’s take a look at the measurables and discuss the fight records of each man in order to get us closer to solidifying a prediction for the UFC 254 main event on Fight Island this Saturday night.

Khabib Nurmagomedov Justin Gathje
Fight Record: 28-0 Fight Record: 22-2
Age: 32 Age: 31
Height: 5’10” Height: 5’11”
Reach: 70” Reach: 70”
From: Dagestan, Russia From: Safford, Arizona
Fight Camp: Eagles MMA/American Kickboxing Academy Fight Camp: Elevation Fight Team

These two men are actually only two months apart in age. Khabib just turned 32 years old last month and Gaethje will hit that mark on the 14th of November.

Each fighter has been wrestling since age 4 or younger. I don’t think Justin was wrestling yearling bear cubs as a youth like Khabib but the way he fights, I don’t doubt the man could have been raised by a pack of wolves.

I love the stylistic wrestling matchup, in particular, you get with these two men because they each have a different way of wrestling. You can tell that Justin is much more twitchy and Khabib is widely known as pound-for-pound probably the strongest person in the UFC.

He has the incredible squeeze, the slow-twitch muscles all throughout his entire body.

I’m a very twitchy guy myself and I find that the guys who give me the hardest time on the mat are the ones who roll slowly. You would think I would be able to use my speed advantage because they’re going slow and I’m kind of fast but that may be the way it works in the striking realm, but not on the mat.

Now, I’m not a collegiate wrestler like Justin Gaethje and I’m sure he is confident that he can explode out of some spots but this is becoming an old story. Everybody is confident before they step in the ring with Khabib.

Well, maybe not everyone is 100% confident. I know some guys are intimidated but there is definitely a downtick in self-belief for most just a few seconds after the Dagestani superstar gets a hold of them.

I am definitely guilty of saying this myself but I am tired of hearing it from everyone else. Yes, Khabib Nurmagomedov has never faced a wrestler the caliber of Justin Gaethje but guess what, Justin has never faced a wrestler the caliber of the champion.

I don’t doubt that Justin can defend some of Khabib’s takedowns. Cool story, bro.

Now what?

He’s just going to shoot again or he’s just going to back you up against the cage. Justin Gaethje does like to circle a lot lately instead of just pressing forward like he did when he first came into the UFC.

I think the old Justin Gaethje, at least the way he fought, would match up better with Nurmagomedov.

As I mentioned, his coach is on another level and I’m sure if he thinks that pressing forward is going to put his fighter in the best position to win, then that will be part of the game plan.

I think he has to do that. He can’t play the fence-fighting game with Khabib. Nobody can. I do worry about Justin Gaethje getting frustrated mentally in this fight. He is a fighter through and through this man welcomes getting hit if it means he can hit you.

I think it would be intelligent of Khabib and his team to employ a game plan in the first couple of rounds that isn’t very offensive. He doesn’t try to finish the fight. The champion just wears on the challenger and tries to trick him into believing that this is the plan for the entire fight.

If it’s apparent that your opponent has no interest in trying to finish you but just wants to control you and they are already controlling you, that’s when guys start to break.

They think this dude isn’t even trying to fight me anyway, so why am I going to fight?

That’s one nail in the coffin. You want another?

Let’s look at the betting odds for this one and then we can make our pick for UFC 254’s main event, the Lightweight World Championship fight between the champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov, and the challenger, Justin Gaethje.

Moneyline

  • Khabib Nurmagomedov (-335)
  • Justin Gaethje (+275)
Round Total

  • Over 4.5 (+165)
  • Under 4.5 (-190)
Decision Prop

  • Fight goes (+159)
  • Fight doesn’t go (-205)

Wow, Khabib is a big favorite here. I understand that but I will tell you right now, I am not one of those guys who are going to tell you to lay that much juice on anyone.

Is Justin live here?

Absolutely. Let’s dig a little deeper into the prop bets, though, and see if there is a method of victory prop for the champ that we like.

You can get Khabib to win by decision for (+250), by TKO for (+465), and by submission at (+165) at BetOnline.AG.

Justin is an action fighter and I see him going out on his shield in there if he has to. The submission is not a bad call. That is the way Khabib has been finishing people lately. He hasn’t got a TKO win since Darrel Horcher more than 4 years ago.

He has said that the game plan is to take Justin down, tire him out, and choke him.

Everyone is sleeping on Khabib’s striking. I know Justin is pretty good in that area but he was rocked and TKO finished by both Dustin Poirier and Eddie Alvarez. Neither fighter is known for their punching power.

Nurmagomedov cuts weight down from 190 pounds or more to 155 while his opponent, Justin Gaethje, has stated that he isn’t that big of a guy and only cuts a minimal amount.

I believe there will be a size difference of up to 15 pounds. Even if Justin Gaethje can prove to us that he is the equal wrestler in skill, add the size difference in there, and he can say goodbye to equality.

I also rank Khabib’s submission grappling game higher than Justin’s.

Path to Victory

Khabib Nurmagomedov

The Eagle can definitely hurt Justin Gaethje on the feet. We have seen the man rocked several times throughout his career. A big part of that is his uber aggressive fighting style.

If he abandons this style then his opponent has an advantage before they even step in the cage. You can’t limit yourself like that. at the same time, coming out guns blazing against probably the best takedown artists in the history of MMA is not a great idea either.

Khabib’s clearest path to Victory is walking Justin back to the cage, clinching, tripping him to the floor, and grinding away from there.

It’s no secret. What you see is what you get but don’t be surprised, folks, if Khabib is able to hurt his opponent in the striking realm.

Justin Gaethje

I don’t think Justin Gaethje has as many options as his opponent in this fight. I guess it’s possible he comes out there and shoots a double leg, grounds The Eagle, and rains down ground-and-pound until the referee saves Khabib from certain concussion.

His most likely path to victory, though, is a mix of forward pressure and standing his ground while out-striking the champion and either winning a decision or finishing Khabib off by TKO.

Prediction

I am going with Khabib Nurmagomedov by submission.

We are getting plus money on it. I don’t think this fight goes 25 minutes. I just don’t. Justin has finished about 90% of his professional wins and has been finished in both of his losses.

I am tempted to take a flyer on the TKO line.

Nearly 5 to 1 is pretty rad but I think he will stick to his late father’s plan. Abdulmanap Nurmogomedov passed away from complications from an infection earlier this year.

I believe that Khabib submits Justin Gaethje about 67% of the time and we are getting betting odds with an implied probability of 37%.

Prediction
Nurmagomedov by Submission!

In Conclusion

Watch Khabib sleep him in the middle of the Octagon with an overhand right off of the level change. That would be just my luck. I see several of my colleagues are picking Justin Gaethje to win this fight and with betting odds of (+275), why not?

This looks like a great fight and I hope we get a back-and-forth war that cements a UFC Hall of Fame induction not just for Khabib but for Justin Gaethje as well.

  • I love the slow twitch vs. fast twitch matchup. It’s also great to see a fighter who was not known for his IQ inside of the Octagon to reform himself and then go out and do something to Tony Ferguson that no one in history has been able to do.
  • Justin Gaethje is a new fighter now but I think he is going to have to take the fight to Khabib by holding the center of the Octagon, keeping his level low with his knees bent, and stinging the Russian with punches as well as chopping away with low leg kicks to the calf.

I just can’t bet against Khabib Nurmagomedov. if I’m wrong, I’m wrong but he is undefeated for a reason.

Give me the submission prop at (+165) and let’s enjoy UFC 254.
Mike Pruitt / Author

Mike has been covering sports professionally since 2017 but on the amateur scene for 25 years since when he was 12. Before the internet changed the world, he would keep detailed statistical box scores of NFL and NBA contests, write recaps, and voluntarily commentate games and fights alone in his room. Mike's military experience, Bachelors Degree, and employment thereafter were always rooted in engineering, science, and teaching. Now he enjoys being able to express himself through writing about football, golf, and car racing among other sports but most of all fighting as his life has been rooted in mixed martial arts including competing and teaching for the past 15 years.