UFC 254 Main Card Preview
Saturday, we have UFC 254. Here is the Shooting the Sports Ish preview of the main card for this Saturday’s six-fight card. Reminder UFC 254 has a different start time at 2 PM EST/11 AM PST for us here in America. Dana White stated this event is trending bigger than Conor vs. Khabib. So, this fight is undoubtedly one you don’t want to miss.
Light Heavyweight Bout
Magomed Ankalev vs Ion Cuțelaba
We have a rematch to kick off this Saturday’s event. Magomed and Ion fought earlier in February, but unfortunately, what looked like it would be an entertaining affair was stopped before due to a horrible referee stoppage.
This stoppage caused even a look at an appeal to get this to a no contest. It didn’t work for Ion though both men agreed to do a rematch. Magomed has looked incredible since his UFC debut, and his only loss came from a last-second submission attempt. Magomed is the favorite here. Ion is a nice fighter than can catch you with surprising power, but Magomed is poised as one of the next top guys of the Lightheavyweight division. I don’t see this train stopping Saturday.
Prediction: Magomed via 2nd Round KO
Women Flyweight Bout
Lauren Murphy vs. Liliya Shakirova
The UFC Flyweight Division has been on a roll with talent and fights as a late. Though with a dominant champion Valentina Shevchenko at the helm, many people are skeptical of how these women will beat her. Lauren Murphy, the veteran, has been on a three-fight win streak and was looking to test it against top contender Cynthia Calvillo. Unfortunately, Calvillo pulled out of the fight due to a positive COVID-19 test, and Lauren still wanted to fight, and she is facing promotional newcomer Liliya Shakirova.
Liliya maybe a newcomer to the UFC, but she has been on a tear with an impressive 9-1 record. The first woman Uzbekistan fighter looks to use her strong ground game to make this fight uncomfortable for Murphy. Murphy looks to be a clear favorite, but anything can happen in the women’s Flyweight division. Lauren should win as much as I want to make a bold pick here. I have only seen two Shakirova fights, and that was when she was first starting. She was wearing more giant gloves than the ones in the UFC. As much as I like her talent, I have to go. You know what nope going to go with my gut here.
Prediction: Shakirova via UD
Phil Hawes vs Jacob Malkoun
Sometimes Dana will put these fights on a card, and you’re like, who are these people? Dana has a good feeling about these two young men and expects this fight to be fireworks. Phil Hawes was on the Dana White Contender series but got knocked out by Julian Marquez in 2017. Hawes took a break at that time, and after a very active 2019, he was given a second chance by Dana White. White brought him back on the contender series in 2020, and he delivered. Not only in that performance but his most recent one as well with a huge knockout win.
Malkoun trains with Robert Whittaker. Whittaker has nothing but positive things to say about the undefeated fighter making his promotional debut. He has a well-rounded skill set and a great boxing background that will undoubtedly lead to a fun fight between the two men. Hawes, though, is the fighter who lives by the sword and dies by the sword. He instead gets taken out then leave it to the hand of the judges. It should be a fun one, and I hope for a great fight between these two men, as for my prediction.
Prediction: Hawes 2nd RD KO
Walt Harris vs. Alexander Volkov
Walt Harris suffered a devastating loss last time against MMA legend Alistair Overeem. Harris was fighting for more than himself as it was the first fight since the death of his step-daughter Aniah Blanchard whose disappearance was a heartbreaking story. Though Overeem is a legend, many were rooting for Harris, who had two exciting wins. He had a third seemingly in the bag stunning the legend, but Overeem has been there before and weathered the early storm and finished Harris himself. The arena was empty in Jacksonville, but you can feel the air leave the building. People were hurting for Harris, who had to go through so much. He showed a lot of toughness to get in the cage with one of the best.
Alexander Volkov’s ranking is deceiving. He is ranked number 7, and I am sure most remember him for his Derrick Lewis loss, but Volkov was one win away from potentially fighting Daniel Cormier for the UFC Heavyweight title. However, Volkov is a nifty fighter and a dangerous striker. Ask Curtis Blaydes, who wanted no part of Volkov’s stand up in their fight. This fight feels like someone can go at any minute with the power of both men. It is hard, but in an overall skill sense, Volkov is a much better fighter than Harris. Volkov is a polished fighter while Harris is still learning even though he has been doing this since 2011. He is still learning how to fight the top-level guys and be a complete MMA fighter. It will be interesting to see what lessons Harris has learned this fight. This fight, I won’t go with my gut.
Prediction: Volkov via Unanimous Decision.
Robert Whitaker vs. Jared Cannonier
Former middleweight champion Robert Whitaker is back after the tremendous win over Darren Till. Whitaker now looks to cement himself as the number one contender to his former title. Though I think current Israel Adesanya is interested in fighting Robert Whitaker again any time soon. Israel is looking at Robert’s opponent.
Jared Cannonier is a middleweight with a heavyweight build and power. Cannonier has had a unique UFC career. He started off fighting as a heavyweight in the UFC. Went down to Light heavyweight due to his smaller frame and saw mixed results. Cannonier saw mixed results ending up not being able to best the top of the top at the light heavyweight division and was at a crossroads. Though the man has something most fighters don’t, and that is limitless potential. UFC saw flashes of greatness in Cannonier. They knew that this guy could be something special. Cannonier has been a fighter they have been patient on.
In 2018, patience paid off as Cannonier ended up upsetting David Branch and cementing himself as a middleweight division threat. Ever since in this three-fight win streak, Cannonier has passed every test and looked good doing it. Is he ready for Robert Whittaker?
Minus the champion Adesanya Whittaker has to be one of the best strikers in the division. We know Cannonier has the power to finish anyone. However, in previous bouts with good strikers such as Jan Błachowicz and Dominick Reyes, Cannonier struggled to keep up with their pace and the faints they provided. Cannonier has lived up to his potential. He has looked great at Middleweight, but this is the ultimate test facing a fighter like Robert Whittaker, who has the toughness to match his skill. This fight could be a technical showcase of striking talents or a slugfest best part is we will enjoy it either way. Alas, I don’t think Cannonier will get through this test. Whittaker looked great against Till. Whittaker is recharged and ready to once again challenge for that title. I expect a technical bout with the Reaper getting the win.
Prediction Robert Whittaker via UD
Khabib Nurmagomedov © vs Justin Gaethje (ic)
Champion vs. Champion is the tag line. A fight that will test both men as each seems like the perfect counter towards each other. The UFC cold open said it best “Something has to give.” The question is, who will give?
Khabib Nurmagomedov is a force of nature. I have him only losing two rounds in his entire UFC career, Round 3 vs. Tibau and Round 3 vs. Conor McGregor. Other than that, the man has been dominant. Is the resume most impressive? No, it isn’t, but it doesn’t matter when Khabib can answer any question you put in front of him.
You have Justin Gaethje, Gaethje hasn’t answer every question, but the man nicknamed “The Highlight” has lived up to his nickname. Even before the UFC, Gaethje has been putting on the fight of the year quality fights. He was a UFC signing from the World Series of Fighting, and his wars there made people excited, and since he arrived, he delivered. So what question has Geathje not answered in the UFC? I mean, after a two-fight skid, the guy came back with an impressive 4-0 record. What more does Geathje have to answer? Well, we know his NCAA All American status. We don’t know how good his wrestling is compared to Khabib’s
Khabib’s wrestling, it doesn’t matter if you stuff the takedown. It doesn’t matter if you’re able to slow it down. Khabib finds away to end up on stop and smash you. That’s what Khabib does. Is Justin’s wrestling background the key? Many felt with Ferguson that his ability to fight off his back would be an issue for Khabib. When it comes to striking, everyone gives that edge to Justin.
Khabib has shown in previous fights to get caught or taking unnecessary shots. Sometimes you can hear head coach Javier Mendez yell “FATHERS PLAN!” to Khabib, which means go down and smash them. Though that is the question of how is Justin going to handle the famed Nurmagomedov pressure? How will Justin handle the deep waters that Khabib is going to put him through?
This makes this fight so exciting cause if Justin can take away Khabib’s main strength, it bares to question how will Khabib handle his striking. Will he be like his idol GSP and find a way to beat an opponent at their own game? That is what we will find out. Justin, if he is able to have the crazy famed offense but keep it under control, he has a chance. He can’t wait for Khabib to strike. One thing Khabib has done well and improved on is using his striking to set up his wrestling. Justin can’t counterpunch as he had in his last three fights. He needs to be the attacker. He has the power to knock out anyone. Either way, this fight is going to be great. However, to go with the words of the Great Daniel Cormier.
“There are certain guys you just know are going to win. You can’t pick against them no matter what.”
That is what Khabib is. He is that certain guy, and that is why I have.
Khabib via TKO 4th round