The UFC concludes its current stint at Fight Island with arguably the most anticipated event of 2020, this Saturday, October 24th, with UFC 254: Khabib vs. Gaethje. Khabib Nurmagomedov will attempt to defend UFC Lightweight gold for the third time as he makes his first appearance of 2020. Khabib last fought Dustin Poirier at UFC 242 back in September of 2019 (also in Abu Dhabi), but has been on hiatus due to the pandemic and the subsequent loss of his father. Follow along as we look at each of this Saturday’s main card matchups, give the current betting odds, and give our picks and predictions for how we see each of those fights going down.
Magomed Ankalaev (13-1) vs. Ion Cuțelaba (15-5-0, 1NC)
Bovada betting odds as of 10/18/20: Ankalaev (-280), Cutelaba (+220)
Rona be damned, Magomed Ankalaev and Ion Cutelaba are scheduled yet again to run this one back, and if they’ve got to duke it out in hazmat suits then so be it! This fight has been scheduled and postponed so many times, fight fans are starting to believe that the matchup is as cursed as Khabib vs. Tony. Ankalaev and Cutelaba first met back on February 29th, resulting in a controversial first-round stoppage win for Ankalaev. If you remember, Ankalaev landed a few head kicks early, and Cutelaba played a little hookie to try and draw Anakalaev in. Referee Kevin MacDonald, who’s typically as good as they come, stepped in and called the fight, with Cutelaba immediately in protest (I believe that was the last time we’ve seen MacDonald officiate a UFC fight). Although this is the first fight on the main card, it’s as exciting an opener as they come! Ankalaev is 14-1, and after losing his UFC debut to Paul Craig, has racked up 4 straight. Cutelaba is 15-5 (4-4 in the UFC) and it just seems like he can’t get that defining victory that he needs over a named opponent, having lost his cracks at Misha Cirkunov, Jared Cannonier, and Glover Teixeira.
Our pick: Ankalaev, 2nd-round KO/TKO
Lauren Murphy (13-4) vs. Liliya Shakirova (8-1)
5Dimes betting odds as of 10/18/20: Murphy (-350), Shakirova (+260)
With Cynthia Calvillo testing positive for the Rona two days back, Lauren Murphy will now face the Uzbek Liliya Shakirova in her UFC debut. Shakirova is 8-1, and she is entering the UFC on a 3-fight win streak. Her nine fights have all been either in Uzbekistan, China or Russia, and she understandably enters this fight as the sizeable underdog. Lauren Murphy also enters this one on a 3-fight win streak. Murphy, however, will be making her 10th walk to the Octagon. She is 5-4 in the UFC, and her last 2 fights have been notable wins over Andrea Lee and Roxanne Modafferi.
Our pick: Murphy, decision
Jacob Malkoun (4-0) vs. Phil Hawes (8-2)
Bovada betting odds as of 10/18/20: Hawes (-275), Malkoun (+215)
In the third act of the main card, we’ve got 2 guys making their UFC debuts in Jacob Malkoun vs. Phil Hawes. Malkoun is an undefeated Aussie prospect who’s on a 6-fight win streak counting amateur and professional fights combined. Hawes is riding a 4-fight win streak, and he’s coming off of a spectacular first-round finish on the Contender series back in September. Of Hawes’ 8 professional wins, at least 4 have been by 1st-round stoppage, and that includes 3 out of his last 4 W’s. Hawes has a serious edge in experience here, and Vegas has him as a pretty safe betting favorite entering this fight.
Our pick: Hawes, 1st-round KO/TKO
Alexander Volkov (31-8) vs. Walt Harris (13-8-0, 1NC)
Bovada betting odds as of 10/18/20: Volkov (-200), Harris (+160)
In the first and only Heavyweight fracas of the main card, Alexander Volkov faces Walt Harris. After a 9-fight stint in Bellator, Alexander Volkov joined the UFC in late 2016. He won his debut, and in his next 3 he defeated Roy Nelson, Stefan Struve and Fabricio Werdum to amass a perfect 4-0 UFC record. Since then, Volkov has gone 1-2, with losses to Derrick Lewis, and most recently Curtis Blaydes back in June. Walt Harris will be making his 14th UFC appearance since 2014. With a record of 6-5-0, 1NC, Harris has had a bumpy ride with the UFC. However, including the no contest against Andrei Arlovski that was originally ruled a split-decision win, Harris has lost only 1 fight in his last 5, a 2nd-round TKO from Alistair Overeem back in May.
Our pick: Volkov, 2nd-round KO/TKO
Robert Whittaker (22-5) vs. Jared Cannonier (13-4)
Bovada betting odds as of 10/18/20: Cannonier (-125), Whittaker (-105)
In the co-main event, we’ve got what could be the fight to determine who gets the next crack at Israel Adesanya and UFC Middleweight gold. Ex-champ Robert Whittaker lost the belt to Adesanya at UFC 243 almost exactly 1 year ago. Whittaker was on a 4-year, 9-fight win streak before that slip up, however, and he’s coming off of a decision win over Darren Till in July, helping solidify “Bobby Knuckles” as a top Middleweight contender. Jared Cannonier will be making his 11th walk to the Octagon. He’s 6-4 with the UFC, but he’s currently riding a 3-fight win streak. Cannonier fought his first two fights with the UFC as a Heavyweight, going 1-1. He then dropped down to Light Heavyweight, where he lost 3 out of his 4 fights in that division, to Glover Teixeira, Jan Blachowicz and Dominick Reyes, respectively. Cannonier is undefeated as a Middleweight, however, and his current run has him in title contention. A win over Whittaker this Saturday would almost guarantee Cannonier a date with Adesanya for the UFC Middleweight title.
Our pick: Whittaker, decision
Khabib Nurmagomedov (28-0) vs. Justin Gaethje (22-2)
Bovada betting odds as of 10/18/20: Nurmagomedov (-335), Gaethje (+255)
In the main event, Khabib Nurmagomedov makes his return to defend the UFC Lightweight title for the first time since the death of his father and coach Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov. Khabib, the 28-0 undefeated Dagestani combat sambo world champion, is the sizeable -335 betting favorite entering fight week. He is, however, probably facing his toughest competition yet in Justin Gaethje. Gaethje, the NCAA Division I All American wrestler, was a perfect 18-0 following his UFC debut. He then lost his next 2 fights to Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier, before racking up the impressive 4-fight win streak that Gaethje is currently riding. This will undoubtedly be the biggest challenge that Gaethje has ever faced in his career, and the fight could be a lot closer than what many people are expecting. Gaethje is an accomplished grappler himself, and he’s known for being one of the most violent standup fighters in the UFC. That being said, until Khabib loses (if he ever does), it’s almost impossible to bet against him.
Our pick: Nurmagomedov, 2nd-round submission
Tell us what you think! Where do we have it right, and where do you think we got it wrong? Comment with your picks, and don’t forget to bookmark our page and check back often for more predictions and fight coverage. If you like what you see, go ahead and give our Facebook page a like and follow us on Twitter & Instagram @fightsportfocus. Also, subscribe to the Fight Sport Focus podcast on Anchor.fm, Spotify, iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts!