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UFC 254: Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Justin Gaethje odds, picks and prediction

Joe Williams
Sportsbook Wire

In a lightweight title fight in the main event, Khabib Nurmagomedov and Justin Gaethje meet at UFC 254 Saturday at the UFC's Fight Island facility in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The early prelims kick off at 11 a.m. ET on ESPN+, followed by the main card set for 2 p.m. ET on Pay-Per-View.

Nurmagomedov (28-0) will look to hang onto his strap against the interim champion Gaethje (22-2) in what should be a memorable bout.

First, about Nurmagomedov's hat. On Twitter, many ask why he wears a "silly wig" or "hair" in weigh-ins, the pre-fight walk, etc. … It is called a papakha, and is a traditional hat in his native land of sheep's skin and wool.

Nurmagomedov will look to get Gaethje to the canvas as quickly as possible. Khabib is ridiculous when he gets the opposition on the mat or pinned against the fence. He is a relentless wrestler with no let up until that hand comes out to tap. That's what happened to Dustin Poirier last time out at UFC 242 in the third round. Even Conor McGregor was no match at UFC 229, tapping out in the fourth. But Nurmagomedov has done it a number of ways, too. He topped Al Iaquinta for the belt at UFC 223 with a unanimous decision win, and he has a couple of KO/TKO wins in his 12 fights at the UFC level, including a knockout of Darrell Horcher just six fights ago. So, don't discount his punching ability, either.

Gaethje might be the most dangerous opponent Khabib has faced, as he is a championship wrestler in his own right. Yes, it's a while ago now, but he is a two-time state wrestling champion, and he was an All-American at Northern Colorado University. His 80-percent takedown defense will be huge against Nurmagomedov. While Gaethje can wrestle, he isn't quite in the league as his opponent, so his preference will be to keep the fight upright. Gaethje can bang, too. He dropped Tony Ferguson with a fifth-round knockout at UFC 249 to claim the interim strap, his fourth straight KO/TKO victory. Gaethje's knockouts aren't cheapies. The wins in his streak are against Ferguson for the title, Donald Cerrone, Edson Barboza and James Vick. That's a who's who of the class. In fact, all six of Gaethje's UFC level fights have ended by way of KO/TKO (4-2), and 11 straight pro fights overall via knockout.

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Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Justin Gaethje betting odds

Odds via BetMGM; access USA TODAY Sports' betting odds for a full list. Lines last updated Friday at 8 p.m. ET.

Nurmagomedov (-334) is too expensive on the 2-way line. In fact, if anything, Gaethje (+250) might be worth a small-unit play. He has 7.74 significant strikes landed per minute, with a 59.18 percent significant-strikes accuracy. If he can catch Khabib early, he might be able to erase that goose egg from the champ's column. I am not predicting that, though.

I do like OVER 2.5 ROUNDS ( -129), as Gaethje has enough to hang with Nurmagomedov, even if the fight gets to the canvas early on. NURMAGOMEDOV BY SUBMISSION ( +160) on the 7-way line is the reasonable and most safe choice on the board. Oddly enough, if you do not get fighter specific, and just take the generic fight finish result, you can specify by SUBMISSION ( +185) for a better payout. That's a strange quirk in the system, but take advantage. You get the possibility, albeit a small one, of a Gaethje submission win, too, and it pays more.

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