Best bets for UFC 254: Nurmagomedov-Gaethje

By Lou Finocchiaro  (VSiN.com) 

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The highly anticipated UFC 254 from Fight Island in the United Arab Emirates drops this weekend. Preliminary bouts begin at 10:15 a.m. ET Saturday (7:15 a.m. PT), with the main card set for 2 p.m. ET (11 a.m. PT).

The UFC altered the start time to accommodate the sea of fight fans from the other side of the world who support Khabib Nurmagomedov passionately. The UFC believes this new time setup will account for more pay-per-view buys than if it would have tried to accommodate Western markets in prime time.

Fighters from 11 countries compose the highly competitive 12-fight UFC 254 production.

Khabib Nurmagomedov -345 vs. Justin Gaethje + 285, lightweight (155 pounds), championship

Nurmagomedov was born and bred to fight. The tools of his trade include world-class expertise in Russian sambo, judo, wrestling, BJJ, boxing and pankration, an ancient form of grappling, wrestling and striking. He is undefeated in 28 professional fights and has dominated the top seven fighters in the division.

Nurmagomedov is unrelenting in employing forward pressure that causes opponents to wilt, some early and some late. But at the end of the event, Nurmagomedov’s hand is the one that has been raised, and usually in submission fashion.

Gaethje represents the greatest challenge of “the Eagle’s” career. Gaethje is from a small mining town in Arizona who wrestled Division I in college. His wrestling base is stellar, though it has been underutilized for years as Gaethje prefers to batter opponents with lethal kicks and damaging head strikes. Gaethje walks opponents down, backs them up, then barrages them with strikes that range from numbing calf and ankle kicks to destructive elbows and fists.

Gaethje averages a plentiful 7.74 strikes per minute landed. He also has a chin made of granite, which is important because that is his main form of defense. Gaethje has been able to overcome 8.4 significant strikes from opponents because he is tough as can be. But over time and in world-class competition, shoddy defense is never an asset.

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