The long-awaited return of Khabib is almost here.
After 413 days, Khabib Nurmagomedov will return to the Octagon for a UFC Lightweight Championship unification bout against Justin Gaethje at UFC 254 on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi.
We haven’t seen Khabib since he bested Dustin Poirier at UFC 242 to move to 28-0 and unify the lightweight strap for the first time. It was 11 months prior to that when Khabib beat Conor McGregor in one of the most hyped fights in UFC history. Now Khabib will shake off the cage rust and take on Gaethje.
Gaethje is the current titleholder, having beaten Tony Ferguson back on May 9 at UFC 249. Khabib could not travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so Dana White set up a fight for the title with the hopes of unifying it down the line. This is now that fight.
As we look at the odds from DraftKings Sportsbook, Khabib is priced as if he never left with a -335 favorite label. Long layoffs are nothing new for the champ. As mentioned, he went 11 months between the McGregor and Poirier fights. He also went 13 months between fights against Michael Johnson and Edson Barboza in 2016 and 2017.
The fact of the matter is that Khabib is an elite grappler. He’s won 18 times by stoppage and 10 times by decision. When we look at Gaethje, who brings a 22-2 record into this fight, he has 19 wins by knockout. Khabib has never been knocked out before. The lone path to victory for Gaethje is the path of most resistance, which is why this line is as high as it is.
Gaethje is +270, which seems like a great return on a fighter of his caliber, but he has never fought anybody like Khabib. His win over Tony Ferguson was against a fighter that is on the wrong side of his prime, albeit still a very strong opponent. He also beat Donald Cerrone, who is a fan favorite cashing paychecks and putting guys over like it’s the WWE. This is a different kind of test for Gaethje and one that he is unlikely to win.
There are a lot of intriguing fights on this pay-per-view card, including the lead-in to the main event between Robert Whittaker and Jared Cannonier. Whittaker’s only loss in the last six years came against Israel Adesanya, the undefeated middleweight champion who may go down as one of the greatest in the sport.
Whittaker will have to win this fight to maybe get another crack at Adesanya down the line, though it would be hard to see that rematch going any differently. He’ll have to get through Cannonier first, who has had a recent resurgence to his career with three straight wins following a couple of losses. The 36-year-old Cannonier hasn’t fought in 13 months. Whittaker went 25 minutes with Darren Till back in July.
Both fighters are lined at -112 at DraftKings in this toss-up fight, but the more you look at this fight, the more you have to like Whittaker. Cannonier had surgery for a torn pec earlier this year. This will be his first fight since and he is far from a spring chicken at this stage of his career. It does seem a bit concerning that this line has shown money both ways, but Whittaker will likely be the preferred fighter as more people get involved, so you may want to get on this one before the line moves.
Most of the other fights on the card feature big lines, including Da Un Jung at -360 against Sam Alvey and Magomed Ankalaev at -335 in the rematch against Ion Cutelaba after the premature stoppage back in February. As far as straight bets go, you’ll have to pay some chalk or take some big underdogs. You can also bet different props at DraftKings like “in the distance” or “winning method”. There are a lot of ways to wager on UFC at DraftKings.
All eyes will be on the Khabib vs. Gaethje main event, but don’t miss out on chances to win in the early fights as well.