Betting Guide for UFC 254
UFC 254 is here with one of the biggest fights in the promotion’s history. The undefeated lightweight champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov, looks to extend his record to 29-0 against the interim champion Justin Gaethje, who is fresh off of an upset victory over Tony Ferguson.
A shot at the middleweight championship is on the line as well, with Jared Cannonier taking on former champion Robert Whittaker for the likely number one contender spot.
This fight card is stacked from top to bottom, and FanDuel Sportsbook has plenty of odds: outright winners, method of victory, and more.
Let’s take a look at the best bets to make.
Khabib Nurmagomedov (-330) vs. Justin Gaethje (+265)
The big storyline here is Nurmagomedov fighting for the first time since the loss of his father, and what form he will be in because of that. He has dominated all 12 of his UFC foes, winning all but one round he’s ever been in. The champion averages a whopping 5.35 takedowns landed per 15 minutes, which fuels his prime strategy of mauling opponents on the ground.
That wrestling-heavy approach will be put to the test against Gaethje, a former Division 1 All-American wrestler in his own right. He has not used his wrestling offensively even once since joining the UFC, but does carry an 80% takedown defense rate, arising the big question over whether he can derail Nurmagomedov from his typical strategy. On the flip side, the champion will need to use his high 67% striking defense rate to avoid getting tagged by Gaethje’s heavy striking attack, in which he lands an average of 7.74 significant strikes per minute.
The strategies are simple: Nurmagomedov will be try to keep Gaethje on the ground, and Gaethje will be looking for a knockout. Gaethje has not gone the distance once in his seven-fight UFC career, giving some appeal to the under on 4.5 rounds at -210. But with Nurmagomedov unable to be defeated so far, and priced as such a big favorite, the best value on this fight is at Nurmagomedov to win by KO/TKO or submission at -120.
Jared Cannonier (-122) vs. Robert Whittaker (+104)
This is an interesting matchup between Cannonier, who actually began his UFC career at heavyweight, and Whittaker, who started as a welterweight, before both fighters found their prime at 185.
Both fighters are primarily strikers, with Cannonier averaging 3.72 significant strikes landed per minute, compared to 4.51 for Whittaker. It’s Whittaker who has more wrestling experience, but both fighters average less than 0.5 takedowns landed per 15 minutes, showing that this one is likely to stay standing.
The former champion, Whittaker, has only lost one fight since moving up to the middleweight division but has appeared worn down following his back-to-back 25-minute wars with Yoel Romero. Whittaker absorbed 111 significant strikes in that second fight between the two before going on to lose his belt to current champion, Israel Adesanya.
Cannonier has won all three of his middleweight fights by KO inside the first two rounds since moving down from light heavyweight in November of 2018. He has not fought the same level of competition that Whittaker has and is the older fighter by seven years, but he’s also the fresher fighter after absorbing a total of just 38 strikes over his three middleweight bouts.
As a slight favorite, the smart money is on Cannonier to win this one.
Alexander Volkov (-178) vs. Walt Harris (+150)
Here is another fight that will take place primarily on the feet, which will be a warm welcome to Alexander Volkov after he was taken down 14 times by Curtis Blaydes in his most recent fight. Volkov has the striking edge, averaging 4.65 significant strikes landed per minute at an accuracy rate of 58%, compared to 2.97 and 39% for Walt Harris.
Harris comes out of the gates firing hot, as shown by his two KO/TKOs inside of a minute in his past two wins. He came close to a similar result against Alistair Overeem in his most recent fight, but then we got to see what happens if the fight goes on, as Harris fell by second round TKO.
Outside of that Blaydes defeat, Volkov’s only other loss in the UFC came in the last second of a fight with Derrick Lewis, in which Volkov out-landed his opponent by at least 20 significant strikes in all three rounds.
There is definitely a concern for Harris scoring an early knockout in this one, but the more likely scenario is Volkov winning, and -178 is not enough to put the bet out of reach.
Shavkat Rakhmonov (-116) vs. Alex Oliveira (-102)
We get our first UFC look at the debuting Shavkat Rakhmonov this weekend. He has a perfect 12-0 record and has actually fought very tough competition despite not being in the world’s top promotion — not to mention the fact that he finished all of them inside the distance. He will take on the short-notice replacement Alex Oliveira, who is looking to build on his current two-fight win streak following a string of three defeats in a row.
Oliveira has not exactly been fighting top competition over the past few years and still holds just a 4-4 record over his past eight fights. Rakhmonov opened as the underdog in this fight before smart bettors moved him to the other side of this line. It is always tough to lay money after missing the opening value, but the -116 line is still a fair price for the UFC rookie in this one.