Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is set to put a bow on its final trip to “Fight Island” this year, as UFC 254 will down down today (Sat., Oct. 24, 2020) inside Flash Forum, located on “Fight Island” in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Headlining the ESPN+-streamed pay-per-view (PPV) event will be a highly-anticipated Lightweight title unification bout between division king, Khabib Nurmagomedov, and interim title holder, Justin Gaethje. In the co-headlining act, Robert Whittaker takes on Jared Cannonier in a pivotal Middleweight affair.
The highly-anticipated return of Khabib is finally upon us, competing in career professional fight No. 29 when he faces off against the always-dangerous Justin Gaethje. This will be Khabib’s first fight since the death of his father, Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, who passed away earlier this year as a result of multiple complications due to COVID-19. Khabib’s father has been by his side from the jump, starting him off by wrestling bear cubs as a child in Dagestan, paving the way for him to eventually reach the pinnacle of mixed martial arts (MMA). It was a truly special bond, beyond that of pupil and coach, father and son, it was true friendship at its core. Many felt Nurmagomedov could’ve walked away from the sport following his father’s passing, but “The Eagle” opted to put on his boots and get to work. And he will have to work overtime to remain undefeated as he is taking on one of the most dangerous — and violent — fighters the sport has ever seen.
Gaethje’s resume speaks for itself, as does his “Highlight” reel, with the power-packing pugilist leaving behind a trail of destruction on his way to the top. He even ruined the latest opportunity for us to finally see Khabib versus Tony Ferguson, dismantling “El Cucuy” at UFC 249 like no one else has done before. While Gaethje’s power and striking accuracy is well-documented, the real question is whether or not he can remain on his feet long enough to land a championship-winning blow. Khabib has been tagged before — not very often — and his stand up game has improved over the years. That being said, his bread and butter is still his wrestling ... and it always will be. He makes no bones about it, he tells you what he is going to do and he goes out and does it. And while he’s pummeling an opponent’s face he often reminds him of why he’s doing it.
And sometimes it is more than “just business.”
It’s a highly-intriguing affair for many reasons as we get to see whether or not Gaethje has enough grappling skills to stall Khabib’s takedowns long enough to get a few licks in and perhaps the homerun shot. Because once it hits the ground, well, you’ve seen this story many times before. For Nurmagomedov, it’s one step closer to all-time greatness as he continues his goal of trying to remain undefeated before he retires. Just don’t expect it to happen anytime soon. It also gets us closer to a potential fight between Khabib and Georges St-Pierre.
It wasn’t for a lack of trying, but one more big fight would’ve put this card over the top. Because let’s face it, it’s not the most stacked event of the year. That being said, the promotion did try to lock down a fight between the aforementioned Tony Ferguson and Dustin Poirier as co-headliner, but contract negotiations stalled those efforts. Michael Chandler also wanted to compete on this card against either “El Cucuy” or Diamond,” but once again money issues were at the core of fight fans not seeing a great battle.
Original Card Vs. Actual Card:
Rafael dos Anjos was in line to face off against Islam Makhachev before COVID-19 once again reared its ugly head, prompting “RDA” to withdraw after testing positive for the coronavirus. Despite his best efforts to lock down another opponent, Makhachev will have to settle for being a spectator at UFC 254 and will now face “RDA” in a few weeks. Cynthia Calvillo was also forced out of her fight against Lauren Murphy after she tested positive, which ultimately lead to the promotion booking Liliya Shakirova to step in and take her place. And finally, Umar Nurmagomedov was forced out of his scheduled fight against Sergey Morozov due to an illness. As a result, Morozov was pulled from the event altogether, as well.
Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos was forced to pull out of his scheduled bout against Shavkat Rakhmonov with a knee injury. In his place, Alex Oliveira stepped in to fill the void though he did miss weight by two pounds. Aside from all of the canceled bouts caused by COVID-19, this was the only major injury announced for this event.
Shavkat Rakhmonov will bring his undefeated record (12-0) to the Octagon when he faces Alex Oliveira, who took the bout on short notice. The former M-1 standout is a talented prospect who has finished every single one of his opponents (seven knockouts, five submissions), seven of them in the very first round. He will have a tough challenge in his first UFC fight — Oliveira is as seasoned as they come. If he can get through “Cowboy,” it will be a great way to break ground on his UFC career.
Phil Hawes will make his official UFC debut when he takes on fellow newcomer, Jacob Malkoun. Hawes is coming in fresh off a first-round knockout win over Khadzhimurat Bestaev on “Contender Series.” Winner of four straight, Hawes is looking to make some waves at 185 pounds. In his way, though, is an undefeated stud (4-0) who has big plans of his own. There isn’t much tape on Malkoun since he only has four pro fights so far. Nevertheless, UFC matchmakers liked what they saw since they gave him the bump up to the main card following the cancelation of dos Anjos versus Makhachev.
Liliya Shakirova got the call up to the big show after Cynthia Calvillo was forced out of the fight against Lauren Murphy due to COVID-19. Winner of three straight, Shakirova owns an impressive 8-1 record. Though not much is known about her, Shakirova looks to make a name for herself from the jump by taking out one of the more experienced female fighters (six years) under the UFC banner.
Miranda Maverick will make the jump up from Invicta FC to take on Liana Jojua. Maverick is currently on a three-fight win streak and has a win over former UFC veteran, Pearl Gonzalez. Jojua, meanwhile, picked up her first win inside the Octagon earlier this year on “Fight Island” by defeating Diana Belbita.
How The “Prelims” Look:
Headlining the under belly of the event will be a Heavyweight bout between Tai Tuivasa and Stefan Struve. “Skyscraper” is coming off a loss to Ben Rothwell, which happened nearly one year ago, his fourth loss in five attempts inside the Octagon. Struve came in to the promotion with promise, but has failed to live up to any type of expectations many had of him, cobbling together an up-and-down career throughout his tenure under the UFC banner. Tuivasa, meanwhile, has lost three in a row, so he needs a win badly here. The hard-hitting combatant is always entertaining and has personality for days, but he needs to start collecting some wins or else it could be a wrap for his UFC career. Perhaps his move to American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) will prove to be the difference.
Oliveira was one of the few who actually threw his name in the hat to face Khamzat Chimaev, but the promotion ultimately ignored his calls. As a result, “Cowboy” decided to step in on short notice to face Shavkat Rakhmonov with Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos hurt. Oliveira has turned it around nicely after three straight losses, defeating Max Griffin and Peter Sobatta in back-to-back outings. He is in for a tough challenge as Rakhmonov has won all 12 of his pro fights thus far.
Nathaniel Wood and Casey Kenny agreed to take part in a Catchweight bout of 140 pounds a few weeks ago to give the card a much-needed boost. Kenny is on a two-fight win streak and was most recently seen taking out Heili Alateng at UFC Fight Island 4 earlier this month. Wood, meanwhile, defeated John Castaneda last July — also on “Fight Island — putting him back on the winner’s podium after having his eight-fight win streak snapped by John Dodson, who is no longer with the promotion.
Lightweight prospects Joel Alvarez and Alexander Yakovlev will collide in the opening fight of the night. Alvarez has won two in a row and is 2-2 so far in his UFC career. Coming into the promotion, Alvarez had won 10 in a row and 15 of 16 overall before losing to Damir Ismagulov in his UFC debut. He did, however, fail to make weight, coming in 3.5 pounds heavy. Yakovlvev, on the other hand, has had a very subpar career so far inside the Octagon, going just 3-5 in eight bouts.
Who Needs A Win Badly:
Sam Alvey has lost four straight fights with his last win coming in mid-2018. “Smile’n Sam” has always been a true company man and tough draw, but his tenure with the promotion could come to an end if he loses against Da Un Jung, who is the proud owner of a 12-fight win streak. While Alvey has always been game, the promotion will have no issues in cutting him after five straight losses — just ask this guy — since it is still trying to trim off as much fat as possible from its bloated roster.
Interest Level: 9 of 10
The main event itself is worth the price of admission. And while we were hoping to get another intriguing Lightweight bout added to the docket, it never came to be. Nevertheless, the co-headlining act is still great, as former Middleweight champion Robert Whittaker will look to once again punch his ticket to the big dance with a win over Jared Cannonier.
UFC President, Dana White, has stated numerous times that this bout is a No. 1 contender fight, which means “The Reaper” could get his chance to avenge his loss to current champion, Israel Adesanya. Speaking of Adesanya, he has gone on record to proclaim his desire to face Cannonier, saying that he really digs his vibe and the fresh challenge is very welcomed. Of course, “Killa Gorilla” still has to get the job done against Whittaker before he gets his first taste of a UFC title fight. He is currently on a three-fight win streak with wins over David Branch, Anderson Silva and Jack Hermansson, so his position is well-deserved. As for Whittaker, he got back on track by defeating Darren Till earlier this year.
In further main card action, Alexander Volkov and Walt Harris will collide in a Heavyweight battle. Both men are in search of a win as Harris was knocked out by Alistair Overeem in his last outing, while Volkov was wrestled to death by Curtis Blaydes earlier this year. It’s a must-win for both if they want to make a move up the 265-pound ladder, which has one more contender to deal with in Jon Jones. Expect an all-out stand up affair in this one.
After several failed attempts to stage a rematch between Magomed Ankalaev and Ion Cuțelaba, the two talented 205-pound fighters will finally get to settle their business inside the Octagon once and for all. But we almost lost the fight again after one of Cutelaba’s cornermen tested positive for COVID-19. The duo first met at at UFC Fight Night 169 this past February, which ended in confusing controversy after Cutelaba’s rope-a-dope strategy tricked the referee to put an end to the fight (see it here). Cutelaba acted as if he was rocked, prompting Ankalaev to ramp up his attack on “The Hulk.” Though he was never really hit with anything, Cutelaba continued his act which ultimately proved to be his downfall. You can rest assured he won’t be doing that this time around.
Enjoy the fights!
Full Fight Card:
UFC 254 PPV Main Event on ESPN+:
155 lbs.: UFC Lightweight Champion Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. UFC Interim Lightweight Titleholder Justin Gaethje
UFC 254 PPV Main Card on ESPN+ (2 p.m. ET):
185 lbs.: Robert Whittaker vs. Jared Cannonier
265 lbs.: Walt Harris vs. Alexander Volkov
155 lbs.: Phil Hawes vs. Jacob Malkoun
125 lbs.: Lauren Murphy vs. Liliya Shakirova
205 lbs.: Magomed Ankalaev vs. Ion Cutelaba
UFC 254 Late “Prelims” Undercard on ESPN 2/ ESPN+ (12 p.m. ET):
265 lbs.: Stefan Struve vs. Tai Tuivasa
170 lbs.: Alex Oliveira vs. Shavkat Rakhmonov
205 lbs.: Sam Alvey vs. Da Un Jung
135 lbs.: Casey Kenney vs. Nathaniel Wood
UFC 254 Early “Prelims” Undercard on ESPN+ (10:30 a.m. ET):
125 lbs.: Liana Jojua vs. Miranda Maverick
155 lbs.: Joel Alvarez vs. Alexander Yakovlev
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 254 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN 2/ESPN+ at 12 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 2 p.m. ET on ESPN+.
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