Oct 23, 2020
Oct 23, 2020

UFC 254 preview: Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Justin Gaethje

Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Justin Gaethje betting preview and odds

Khabib and Gaethje stats

Khabib vs. Gaethje predictions: Where is the value?

Khabib and Gaethje's fighting styles analysed

UFC 254 preview: Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Justin Gaethje

The UFC Lightweight Championship is on the line with a unification bout, as Khabib Nurmagomedov and Justin Gaethje are set to face off at UFC 254. Will defending champion Khabib emerge victorious to extend his unbeaten MMA record to 29 fights, or can interim champion Gaethje enjoy a fifth successive win to take the belt outright? Read on to inform your Khabib vs. Gaethje predictions.

Event: UFC 254

Date: October 24, 2020

Venue: Flash Forum, Fight Island (Yas Island, UAE)

Khabib vs. Gaethje: Tale of the tape

Khabib ‘The Eagle’ Nurmagomedov


Justin 'The Highlight' Gaethje




178 cm


180 cm

70 kg


70 kg

178 cm


178 cm


UFC record



Overall MMA record



Striking accuracy



UFC ranking

Interim Champion

This is Khabib’s first appearance in the octagon in just over 12 months, having defeated Dustin Poirier via a rear-naked choke at UFC 242 in his last runout. That represented the second bout at which he successfully defended the UFC Lightweight Championship, after initially winning the vacant title against Al Iaquinta at UFC 223.

Khabib and Gaethje are ranked #2 and #7 in the men's pound-for-pound rankings respectively.

In the last year, his schedule has been largely disrupted. He was slated to face Tony Ferguson at UFC 249, but was forced to pull out when Russia restricted air travel as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. His fight against Gaethje was then originally planned for UFC 253, but moved to this event for undisclosed reasons.

Despite his somewhat lengthy absence, the 32-year-old is still revered as one of the most formidable names in UFC. He is presently ranked #2 in the men’s pound-for-pound rankings and enjoys the longest active undefeated streak in all of MMA. Ahead of the fight, he has exhibited his confidence, stating: “Justin is a very nice guy and a good opponent for me, but he isn’t ready for me. I will take him to the deepest ocean and drown him.”

Meanwhile, this is Gaethje’s first fight since he stepped up in Khabib’s absence to defeat Ferguson at UFC 249, taking the interim UFC Lightweight belt in the process. That was his fourth successive UFC victory and more impressively, the third Performance of the Night award he collected during the same run.

Although he has racked up just seven UFC bouts to date, Gaethje has wasted no time in crafting a reputation as a tricky opponent. He is ranked #7 in the men's pound-for-pound rankings and deservedly revered as an intimidating puncher after earning three first round knockout victories in his first five UFC wins.

Gaethje has suggested that one of his key weapons on the night will be mental intimidation, claiming: “I have a really, really good belief that’s he’s gonna have a really hard time putting me on the fence. I know I’m going to see his blood. I want him to see his blood and I want to see his reaction.”

Analysing the Khabib vs. Gaethje odds

Khabib has just under a 72% likelihood of emerging victorious according to the market at 1.338*, whereas Gaethje is priced at 3.400*, equating to an approximate 28% chance of winning. The Over/Under for rounds is set at 4.5, with 2.390* for over and 1.606* for under.

Gaethje's odds tend to move by larger margins when he is the underdog.

Khabib is priced near the average closing odds for his last five bouts of 1.31. On all five occasions, he opened and closed as favourite and his odds shortened by a small margin. While the largest movement they experienced during this time was by a margin of just 0.2, this suggests that you may enjoy better value by betting on him sooner rather than later.

Conversely, his opponents’ odds tend to significantly lengthen, and all but Conor McGregor of his last five closed by a margin of at least 0.5 higher than when they opened. In fact, movements of over 1 are not uncommon, as both Al Iaquinta (4.85 to 6.30) and Edson Barboza (2.80 to 3.90) can testify. This indicates those confident Gaethje will pull off an unexpected victory should hold off until fight night.

Meanwhile, Gaethje has been set longer than his recent average closing odds of 2.22. He was victorious in three of the last four fights he entered as underdog, most notably against Ferguson (3.11 to 1.40). Gaethje’s odds have moved between open and close by an average margin of 0.21 for his last five fights, although they have endured more substantial fluctuations when he is not favoured to win.

Khabib vs. Gaethje: Fighting styles analysed

As arguably the greatest wrestler that the UFC has ever witnessed, Khabib adopts an orthodox stance dictated by a simple yet incredibly effective approach.

He hurls himself at opponents in a bid to pin them to the ground and then unleashes a flurry of punches at their head, as reflected by the fact that he attempts 5.09 takedowns per 15 minutes, directs 87% of attacks at his competitor’s head, and launches 56% of significant strikes from the ground. He is equally adept when on the receiving end of such moves and successfully defends 85% of attempted takedowns.

Khabib comfortably lands more attacks than he absorbs (4.29 to 1.70 per minute).

As a result, 10 of Khabib’s 28 MMA victories have been achieved via submission and a further 10 were awarded by decision. The vast majority of the latter were on occasions when Khabib’s opponents negated the onslaught of fists, but were unable to respond with attacks of their own due to predominantly finding themselves in the Russian’s clutches.

Khabib’s strong build and versatility both assist his strong defensive abilities, and he comfortably lands more attacks than he absorbs (4.29 to 1.70 per minute). Indeed, he has attempted more strikes than his competitor in each of his last 10 fights, averaging 61.9 to his opponents’ 23.1. This means that despite the fact he records a striking accuracy of just 50%, attacking him on the counter is a task easier said than done.

Gaethje’s approach can also be easily portrayed as straightforward yet relentless, and he attempts to knock out his opponents as quickly as possible. All but three of his 22 MMA victories were achieved via KO or TKO, with four of his last seven coming in the opening round. Gaethje launches 87% of attacks from a standing position and is yet to attempt a submission or takedown in a UFC fight.

He lands a massive 7.74 significant strikes per minute while absorbing 8.37, indicating a firm commitment to all-out attacks and suggesting his striking accuracy of 59% is more impressive than it may first appear. However, his approach lends itself to strenuous stamina requirements and Gaethje has a tendency to become vulnerable if a bout reaches the latter stages, as Eddie Alvarez and Poirier’s victories against him can both testify.

Perhaps worryingly for Khabib, Gaethje can boast a strong takedown defence rate of his own of 80% and is yet to suffer a submission or decision defeat. Gaethje is a nimble fighter who enjoys moving around on his feet quickly during fights and notably, ahead of this bout he has stated that his plan is to keep proceedings in the centre of the octagon as much as possible.

Khabib vs. Gaethje: Where is the value?

This bout could be largely decided by the extent to which Gaethje controls proceedings during the opening rounds. He will likely feel that an early knockout is once again his most proficient route to victory and that bombarding Khabib with attacks will reduce his opponent’s opportunities to wrestle him to the ground.

A late submission win seems the obvious value bet for those confident Khabib will triumph.

As a consequence, if he can repeatedly pierce Khabib’s tight defence with significant strikes while staying upright, he could plausibly cause his opponent enough damage before he has reasonable time to react. However, this will require a near perfect performance, illustrating why Gaethje enters this fight as the underdog.

Khabib’s approach is likely to be more calculated and minimising the amount of time Gaethje spends on his feet will presumably be his primary aim. However, wrestling him to the ground will not be easy task and even Khabib’s renowned ability to avoid taking hits may be vulnerable to the sheer quantity of Gaethje’s attacks.

As a consequence, he may simply attempt to resist Gaethje’s assumed early onslaught before growing in aggression as the fight progresses. Khabib may need to land powerful hits of his own before any attempt to take Gaethje off-balance, although if he is successful in this endeavour it is difficult to look beyond a Khabib victory.

With this in mind, a late submission win seems the obvious value bet for those confident Khabib will triumph, while it is hard to envisage any method of victory beyond an early knockout for Gaethje. Either way, considering the sheer ferocity and power of the fighters involved, this doesn’t appear to be a bout primed to last the distance.

Odds subject to change

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