Duke’s UFC 254 Breakdown and Predictions!!!
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Khabib looked relieved to make weight and received a pretty quick trigger from the official handling the scale. He didn’t look to be super drawn out or anything so I don’t have any worries about his performance. It does not change my prediction for the fight.
2 fighters missed weight
Oliveira weighed in at 173 for a 170 (+1) fight
Alvarez weight in at 159 for a 155 (+1) fight
Both men looked like they’d squeezed every lb out of their bodies. Alvarez in particular looked much bigger than Yakovlev and I’m moving much more towards Alvarez based on this new.
Oliveira/Rakhmonov = no change for me.
Jung looked great. Maverick looked great. There should be 3 good fights to start the card.
Hi! Let’s start here:
THIS CARD STARTS EARLY!! 11AM IS THE FIRST FIGHT. DO NOT OVERSLEEP OR FORGET TO SET/CHECK YOUR LINEUPS.
Now, what a fun way to start our first week together, eh? 9-2 last card AND that included our boy Mullarkey getting absolutely robbed of a win. It should have been 10-1, but we’ll get some of those decisions our way that we shouldn’t at some point down the line…we can’t bitch too much. We can take our hard-earned cash and apply it to what matters to you. Is that a nice date with the spouse? A Harley? A year-long VIP pass to ride with your boy Duke? That’s totally up to you, but hopefully, you guys made out last week just like I did in your DFS contests.
Here’s the other odd part….how in the world did I go 0-3 on bets? Great question and the answer is simple: I got too fine. Take the big underdog Kutateladze. I had him winning the fight, but the main path to victory was through those vicious hands of his and I had him ending the fight inside the bell. That wasn’t his ONLY method of victory, but it was his main method of victory. We bet that, and even though he wins, I lost my bet.
Rinse and repeat for Grishin, who stopped Antingulov at the end of the second after Antigulov got on his little Russian spacecraft and flew around the ring for the entire first to not get hit and survive. It was a strategy that he hadn’t employed until that fight, and while he lasted longer than usual, it’s back to the drawing board for him, and the same for us.
Lastly, what else can be said about the performance of Ortega? He was the better fighter last Saturday, and it looked like he caught the Korean Zombie off guard. I said the line was disrespectful to Ortega and still took Jung like an idiot.
I’ll close my opening remarks with this: we’ll have amazing nights. We’ll try to limit the bad nights, but they’ll show up. We’ll have nights where we pick half the winners but go undefeated on bets. And we’ll have nights like last Saturday, where I had everything nailed down to the last punch, picked nine of 11 fights correctly, and couldn’t make it work at the betting window but crushed DFS.
Find your lane, stick to it. Ride with me, and we’ll fill those pockets, one way or another.
Now, this card is insane. It was a pleasure to break down all of these great fighters for UFC 254. We do have our first fight canceled – Morozov is looking for a new opponent after Umar Nurmagomedov came down with some complications from a staph infection. We’ll see if he’s replaced or if they just scrap the fight. Here are my thoughts about this slate after breaking down each fighter:
UFC 254 SLATE THOUGHTS
I’ll tell you this much, team, this is a tricky card. It’s an awesome card, don’t get me wrong, but there are some dangerous fighters here. There are some dangerous underdogs. There are quality fights from start to finish. Last week, I honestly thought I was going to go 11-0. We ended up 9-2 with one highway robbery. This week, there are far more pick-em type of situations. I’ll release a podcast or video on Friday detailing my confidence level, but please enjoy my fight-by-fight breakdown of UFC 254.
UFC 254 FIGHT BREAKDOWNS
Khabib Nurmagomedov (-335) v Justin Gaethje (+270) |TITLE FIGHT|
Wow. It’s here. What is left for Nurmagomedov? A hard-nosed, tough as nails psychopath who will step forward and throw hands, I guess. The Justin Gaethje we saw against Tony Ferguson was completely on another level to any of his previous fights. It’s like Gaethje is the body and his coach, Trevor Wittman, has little controls in his mind, pushing the right buttons to make Gaethje a devastatingly effective fighter. My hand is up. I completely underestimated Gaethje in the fight. He destroyed Ferguson. Was it because Ferguson cut weight twice? No. Maybe it had a little something to do with it, but no. Come on now. Give Justin his credit. He’s taking coaching so well. After the first round, Wittman tells him to take 10% off his punches. He immediately put that coaching into action and really started shredding Ferguson’s face.
Let’s not forget the leg kicks. They’ll be the main weapon to keep Khabib at distance and take some strength out of the lower half of the champ. Gaethje steps into his leg kicks and had Dustin Porier question his profession at one point in their match. His leg was completely black and blue after just two rounds.
Gaethje has an unbelievable chin. Yes, he was stopped by Poirer and Eddie Alvarez, but he took dozens of shots in each of those matches that would have put almost any other human on their ass. His chin will not be the issue.
Gaethje hasn’t had to use it much, but he has great wrestling. He’s been wrestling since he was four. He was a two-time state champ in Arizona and a D1 All-American at Northern Colorado. This is one bad dude who will keep coming until he’s asleep or his hand is raised.
Justin has only seen the judges’ scorecards once, and it was back against Melvin Guillard when he won a split decision in 2014. He’s a completely different fighter now and ready for this five-round war. If it were anyone else, I’d be all in Justin Gaethje, but it’s Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Arguably, the most dominant competitor the sport has ever seen. Khabib doesn’t just win, he embarrasses you. He talks to you while you’re getting ground and pounded into oblivion. He lets you know he’s better than you. Some people don’t like it. I love it. I love exceptionalism, and Khabib embodies this trait. There is one major issue hanging over his head in this match, the death of his father. Khabib’s father’s influence on his life and career cannot be understated. The two were attached at the hip, and this will be his first fight since his passing. All week with the media, Khabib has put on a brave face and said all the right things, but surely, this will be an emotional match.
What else can you say about the fighter? He’s a freak. His gas tank is never-ending. Khabib’s striking is improving rapidly. His grappling is some of the best the sport has ever seen. His cage awareness is elite. He is the GOAT.
I’ve heard people say, “all Khabib does is wrestle.” Really? All Khabib does is win. 28-0 with 8 KOs and 10 wins by submission. He went to the judges’ scorecards against Al Iaquinta. 50-43, 50-44 and 50-43 were the judges’ scores. Khabib outstruck him 172-43. He had six takedowns. He dominates.
Khabib went to the judges’ scorecards against Edson Barboza. IN A THREE-ROUND FIGHT, the judges scored it 30-24, 30-25 and 30-25. Domination. Most recently, he dispatched Dustin Poirier in the third with a rear-naked choke after going 7-for-8 on takedowns and logging nearly nine minutes of control time. Again, domination.
I’m so freaking nervous about underestimating the power and heart of Justin Gaethje. I know he was a D1 All-American. Realize he has the power to KO anyone in the division. I know he made Tony Ferguson look like a fool. He’s just not Khabib, and I’d rather be wrong backing the GOAT than absolutely kill myself by going with my heart and Justin Gaethje only to see Khabib riding him like a pony for five rounds.
Official Pick: Khabib Nurmagomedov
Robert Whittaker (-106) v Jared Cannonier (-118)
I’m so nervous about this fight. I love both of these guys. How can you not? Whittaker really turned a corner after his loss to Wonderboy and just ran through the division. He’s held the belt, lost the belt, and bounced back with a dominant win over Darren Till. Whittaker has fought big guys, little guys, long guys. He’s turned them all away except for Izzy. While Cannonier has been working his way up the food chain, Whittaker has been dispatching challengers.
Then you have a guy who’s completely reshaped his body to get to the highest level. He debuted at heavyweight. Moved to light heavyweight and has made his way to 185. He has serious power at any division, but at 185, he’s nearly unmatched.
It’s wild to look back at his losses to Dominick Reyes and Jan Blachowicz and think, good lord, he fought those big MFers at 205?? We also found out that these are two of the best 205 lbers in the world. The move to 185 was smart, and he’s seen the success straight away. I don’t want to dismiss the wins over Silva and Branch, but I was really impressed with his progression and win over Hermansson. Cannonier showed great takedown defense and patience on the feet. He caught him with a massive uppercut and finished it with vicious ground and pound. He has three fights at 185 lbs and has scored 93, 109 and 97 DK points.
An interesting aspect of the fight is who will take the center of the octagon. Cannonier was happy to take on the role against Hermansson but was working on the outside against Anderson Silva. Both of these fighters are fine countering their opponent. Do they just stare at each other and wait to see who goes first?
We can all agree Izzy is a class above the rest. This could be a changing of the guard for who’s next in line. Whittaker has dispatched Romero twice. Izzy just made Paulo Costa his bitch. With a win here, Cannonier is in line for a shot at the belt. He’s not a man that needs extra motivation. Whittaker has added a few takedowns to his game and if he feels Cannonier’s power he’ll look to implement those new skills.
Nervous about the fight, and I’m nervous about the call here. I’m afraid I’m being distracted by the shiny new object, but I like Cannonier to get the big W here and continue his ascent up the division.
Official Pick: Jared Cannonier
Alexander Volkov (-170) v Walt Harris (+150)
I’ve loved Volkov, hated Volkov, and then loved him again. He came into the UFC with a ton of hype and proceeded to reel off four-straight wins in the division. He was way up on Derrick Lewis before old ‘my balls are hot’ put him to sleep in the last 30 seconds of the fight.
That would be the hate portion of my relationship with Volkov.
You have to love his skill set. Tall, at 6’7” and long with his 80” reach. Skilled with his hands and feet. He’s a striker, which is great from a DFS perspective, but he’s only broken 100 points once in his UFC career. Do not be guilty of looking at the fight logs and seeing the 31 total strikes over five rounds against Blaydes. Blaydes is a horrible matchup for Volkov and basically just rag-dolled him for 25 minutes. Walt Harris has two takedowns total in his MMA career. This is where Volkov can shine.
The Big Ticket, Walt Harris has some real power in his hands. He had back-to-back first round stoppages before losing to Alistair Overeem. He’s had success of late, but I’m looking through and trying to find a win that makes me get out of my chair and love him. There isn’t one. Oleinik is 50. Spivak is a middling fighter. He drew against Arlovski. Spitz? He’s not on this level. He lost to Godbeer and Werdum. There really isn’t a great win on the resume for Walt Harris. This would be his biggest win, and he certainly has a path.
Harris needs to throw everything he has into the first two minutes to get a stoppage. If this gets out of the first round, I love Volkov. Harris can certainly stop him early but I have Volkov learning from past mistakes, keeping his range and picking Harris apart over the course of the fight.
Official Pick: Alexander Volkov
Phillip Hawes (-270) v Jacob Malkoun (+230)
Hawes comes to this PPV from Dana White’s contender series, where he KO’d Bestaev in just 1:18 in the first. He has big power and looks to finish fights quickly. He’s never seen the third round of a fight, and outside of a two-fight stretch, has been unbeaten. He does rely on that right hand and his wrestling to do most of the damage, and while he’s not young, his game is still evolving. This is another rung on his ladder to success, and the big favorite will look to finish Malkoun.
Malkoun is a young fighter out of Australia, who comes into the cage with a perfect 4-0 record with two TKOs to his name. These two couldn’t have more different body types. Hawes is rocked up, and Malkoun has more of a bar fighter build. He stands behind his jab and uses it to gauge distance well. What I don’t like about him is his willingness to stand in front of his opponent and trade. Credit to him for being tough but the take one to give one strategy might end poorly here. Either Sebastian Temesi, his last opponent, has an iron chin or Malkoun lacks top-end power. He murdered Temesi with clean shots in the first round of their fight in Oct of 2019 but didn’t drop him, ultimately winning a unanimous decision.
This should be a fun, quick fight. Both of these guys will stand and bang. I’ll take that big right hand of Hawes over Malkoun’s stand up. The only hesitation on my end is I haven’t seen Malkoun fight anyone of this quality, or really even be tested, so we are simply projecting how Malkoun will handle the raw power of Hawes.
Official Pick: Phillip Hawes
Lauren Murphy (-240) v Liliya Shakirova (+200)
This fight was originally scheduled against Cynthia Calvillo, a fight I had great interest in, but Cynthia tested positive for COVID and had to withdraw. In steps Liliya for her UFC debut, and it’s not exactly a warm welcome to the promotion.
Murphy is on a nice run and will look to keep it moving, but take a closer look at her wins. She beat Roxanne Modafferi. If you know me at all, you know I think she is a can of tuna wearing a sports bra and knee sleeve. She beat Andrea Lee, who has lost three straight, including one tooooooo, the tuna can, Roxanne Modafferi. He also beat Mara Romero Borella, who’s lost four straight. Not exactly a murderer’s row, so congrats to Murphy on the wins because you can only beat who is put in front of you, but Liliya has to be a gas can to warrant this line.
UPDATE: She is not. Her stand up is sexy. Good bounce and quick hands. She gets in and out in a hurry and carries a mean jab followed by a right over the top that inflicts damage. She has snappy kicks, as well. They aren’t feelers either; they are thrown to cause damage. She does leave her chin on a plate a bit and hasn’t faced very tough competition, but she fights with a passion to get a finish. I love that in my fighters.
I don’t see Murphy having the power to drop Shakirova, and while Murphy has the experience advantage, Shakirova is the better striker. Murphy would be smart to get this to the ground and use her size to keep Shakirova on her back. That is the path to battle because I don’t think she wants to stand and bang with the newcomer.
Official Pick: Liliya Shakirova
Magomed Ankalaev (-280) v Ion Cutelaba (+240)
ABSOLUTE FIREWORKS HERE. What a way to start a PPV. Cutelaba is a certified crazy person, and Magomed looks like they just found him in a melted glacier. Not only that, these two are running back their own fight from February that was stopped just 38 seconds into the fight! That was a win for Magomed, but Cutelaba claims he was playing possum the whole time. I’m not so sure about that, but let’s analyze what each fighter was doing in the 30 seconds that we did get to see.
Ankalaev initially kept his distance with Cutelaba, chasing at range. The fighters’ styles were clearly apparent in the short time in this match. Cutelaba was rushing in with wild haymakers after throwing a few cursory kicks. Ankalaev was popping Cutelaba with short, quick shots and stringing 1-2s together while doing so. Cutelaba was still throwing shots from the moon but was rocked several times. Considering he’s never been KO’d in his career, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, but he’s not the terminator. I have no reason to believe the rest of that fight would be any different than the first 30 seconds.
Cutelaba has one path to victory – be a crazy person in the octagon and land massive KO shots. I’ll take the more technical fighter who can keep his distance and step out of the way of the big punch to deliver his own. Magomed has heavy hands himself, as he proved against Cutelaba in the first fight and by knocking down each of his prior three opponents.
Official Pick: Magomed Ankalaev
Stefan Struve (-115) v Tai Tuivasa (-105)
Both of these fighters stink. This is a freak show. I can see a carnival barker yelling into his megaphone: “COME SEE THE WORLD’S TALLEST MAN TAKE ON A FAT KIWI WARRIOR!!”
No disrespect, of course. And Tai would probably kill me for calling him a Kiwi, considering he’s actually from Australia, but I digress.
This fight is all or nothing. Struve will look to keep his distance and use that massive length to his advantage. He’ll work his low kicks and try to work the jab before going up top to the dome with those long legs.
Tuivasa will look to load up the big right hand and land the one big shot. Ben Rothwell wrote the playbook for Tuivasa in his fight with Struve. Use that big body to push Struve up against the cage. Dirty box and look to land big shots.
Tuivasa has some absolute tree trunks for legs, so chopping those bad boys down will be a tall task for Stuve. To be honest, Tuivasa was a victim of his own early success. He was handed too much too quickly after his win over Arlovski. Junior dos Santos slapped him around. He then faced a southpaw who took him down and Spivac who nearly set a damn record for takedowns in a fight with six before submitting a defeated Tuivasa.
This is it for Tuivasa. He has a big heavyweight who will stand in front of him and exchange. If he can’t get it done here, you have to question his relevance in the division and his longevity in the promotion.
Big tree fall hard.
Official Pick: Tai Tuivasa gets the stoppage.
Nathaniel Wood (+160) v Casey Kenney (-180)
The only blemish on Casey Kenney’s UFC card is a unanimous decision loss to Merab Dvalishvili, who we now know is very game in this division. He was absolutely dominated, but there are levels to this game and these two are not on that level. You know what else happened on that exact card? John Dodson knocked Nathaniel Wood out in the third round. Kenney has looked unbelievable in his two fights since the loss. His leg and body kicks will play a significant role in this fight due to Wood’s style.
Wood stands with a really wide striking base. He has that back foot cocked, ready to go straight up the middle to the midsection and head. His striking is good and strings his combinations together well but he does put his chin on a plate at times.
I like this fight quite a bit. Wood is not a walkover, but Kenney has big goals in this division. He’ll look to keep this standing and pepper shots with all four limbs on the Englishman.
Official Pick: Casey Kenney
Alex Oliveira (-120) v Shavkat Rakhmonov (+100)
I honestly thought Cowboy Oliveira was done with UFC. Or maybe UFC was done with him. He lost three-straight fights from December 2018 through September 2019, and he had to be on his last legs before his last two wins against Sobotta and Max Griffin. He’s fought a who’s who in the division but isn’t the most DFS friendly fighter we’ve seen in the octagon, hitting just over 7x in each of his last two fights. At $8.5k, it’s a tough ask to find Oliveira on a winning GPP lineup.
Contrast that to his opponent, making his UFC debut. Shavkat has only seen the third round in a fight once in his professional career and comes into this match a perfect 12-0 with 12 stoppages. He’s been a pro since he was 18 and seems to be progressing rapidly. This is a big jump in competition for Shavkat, and they don’t get much more experience than Cowboy Oliveira, but Shavkat has big power in his hands and slick submissions on the ground.
Here is my hesitation: the tape I have on Shavkat is limited. The easy thing to do is take Alex Oliveira. He’s the favorite. People know him. He’s always game and isn’t likely to be finished super early in this fight, so you can have your built-in excuses ready if he loses. I’m not about that life, but to sit here and 100% say with my chest I have this kid winning is more of a “guess” than a prediction.
I’ve turned over as many rocks as I could to dig up information on him, and everything I’ve seen is very positive, but these are the bright lights of the UFC and a wily veteran he’s up against. I say with a touch of trepidation, I’m taking the slight dog here. I do like him at $7.7k much more than I like Oliveira at his price of $8.5k.
Official Pick: Shavkat Rakhmonov
Da Un Jung (-360) v Sam Alvey (+290)
I mean, let’s be honest here… Alvey needs to lose this fight. Here, we have a 26-year-old Korean prospect who has two finishes in his two UFC fights, riding a 13-2 record with a 12 fight win streak andddddd Smiling Sam Alvey. One of these things is not like the other.
Let’s start with the big underdog. Alvey has actually fucked me the last few times, as I rode Spann and Abreu hard after seeing Alvey get KO’d in his previous two fights. I actually had Alvey winning the Spann fight (he lost a split decision), and the Abreu fight was a hell of a lot closer than I thought it would be. Then you realize, alright, well he got KO’d by Jimmy Crute and Minotouro Nogueira. These weren’t a couple of nobodies. So, let’s talk about Jung.
Jung was a slight dog against Mike Rodriguez, and we figured it’d be a striking duel. Jung’s footwork was excellent. The range was perfect. The right hand landed clean and put Rodriguez to sleep just a minute into the fight. Nice W, but was it fool’s gold?
Against Ibragimov in his debut, he lost the first round, as Ibragimov absolutely punched himself out. In the second, Jung picked an exhausted Ibragimov apart but was still taken down. He was taken down again in the third before locking up a standing guillotine. It wasn’t a very impressive performance, and we’ve seen from his ensuing UFC fights, Ibragimov isn’t exactly a legend in the sport.
The UFC better be careful what they wish for. This fight will likely stay on the feet, and Alvey is sneaky and dangerous with his hands. I loved the KO of Rodriguez, but it was essentially Jung’s first punch of the fight. There are two sides to that coin: 1) he has one-punch KO power, and 2) we didn’t see much outside of that. I’m going with the favorite to win, but I’ll likely have more Alvey in DFS.
Official Pick: Jung
Umar Nurmagomedov (???) v Sergey Morozov (???)
AS OF NOW, THIS FIGHT IS CANCELED AS THEY LOOK FOR A NEW OPPONENT FOR MOROZOV!
Liana Jojua (+330) v Miranda Maverick (-410)
We have a massive favorite here in Maverick, who is coming over from Invicta. I expect her to win, but let’s talk Jojua quickly. She loves an armbar. She held onto Belbita’s wrist for the better part of 90 seconds before finally sinking in the submission. The issue I have is from her fight with Moras, who is an absolute trash can and absolutely pieced up Jojua. She struggled with the length, and while she took her down twice, she couldn’t land the submission and was taking more damage when she was on top and on her back. If she struggles with Moras, this will be a tough fight for the dog.
Maverick is a bulldog. Short but physically imposing, the southpaw can throw hands but will take this fight to the floor. She has a super heavy top game and will likely do whatever she wants to Jojua. Maverick is a young fighter at just 23 but has been waiting for this chance. She should win this fight inside the distance and is priced as such on DK.
Official Pick: Miranda Maverick
Joel Alvarez (-155) v Alexander Yakovlev (+135)
Let’s get the night started with some tall twigs! Both men are 6’3” and fight at 155, which has me seriously questioning my current diet plan. Alvarez has only seen the judges’ scorecards once over his 19 professional fights, and that was his first fight in the UFC.
Let’s start with Alvarez, who’s long and rangy. He’s a submission specialist but held his own with Joe Duffy on the feet. Strong combinations finished with calf kicks put Duffy on his heels. Alvarez was leaning heavy on the front foot and was a bit stationary, but he’s so long, he’s able to keep his range. It was actually Duffy who shot for the takedown, and that was his undoing. Alvarez grabbed the neck, cranked, and submitted Duffy.
It’s interesting because Alvarez seems to prefer being on his back, but it’s his opponents who tend to take the match to the floor. He has zero takedown attempts in the UFC. Against Belluardo, he was once again taken down after being a touch overzealous with his standup. Guess what happened next? He grabbed the neck, but it was simply to slow Belluardo down. Off his back, Alvarez was active, looking for escapes and submissions vs. trying to cause damage. Alvarez lost the first round. He started the second round strong on his feet but again was too aggressive, over-pressured Belluardo, and ended up on his back again. He has double-digit submissions off his back, but for me, seems far too happy to give up that position.
In his first fight in the UFC, both men stayed standing. There were no submission attempts, and it was a standup battle, which Alvarez soundly lost. I’m just so confused by his overall game plan. No takedowns? Why the willingness to give up the back? Why the insistence on a standup game that clearly is good but not elite on the UFC level? This strikes me as a fighter trying to be something he’s not. He’s really good at one thing.
Yakovlev comes in with seven UFC fights under his belt and a 3-4 record. This is his first time on a massive PPV card, and you know he’ll be excited about the opportunity. He loves getting his opponent to the mat. He’s won every fight in the UFC where he’s had two or more takedowns except for his last, against Roosevelt Roberts, where he landed three of eight but lost a unanimous decision. Roberts has a much better stand up game than Alvarez and put Yakovlev against the cage, but Yakovlev showed really good head movement and decent footwork to avoid the massive shots. He’s a high-level grappler and will certainly look to take this to the ground.
If I’m picturing how this fight will go, I’d say they come out and trade a few shots before Yakovlev takes him down to the ground and starts grinding on Alvarez. If Alvarez can grab one of these long arms, legs or his neck, he can submit the Russian. But if not, Yakovlev could look for the submission himself or just grind out a three-round decision.
Let’s start this card off with a bang and call for an upset! One fighter is a 36-year-old journeyman, and one is a 26-year-old Spanish prospect. I can take a stab at who the UFC would like to win, but unless Alvarez makes a concerted effort to change his game plan, I think the veteran gets this done.
Alexander Yakovlev — See notes above – moving to Alvarez here
Daily Fantasy Article out Thursday
Malkoun v Hawes O1.5 rounds (-116 Pinnacle) – 1.16 to win 1
Parlay: Maverick + Jung to win (-161 – Bovada) – 1.61 to win 1
Tuivasa by KO, TKO or DQ (+155-DK) 1 to win 1.55
Oliveira v Rakhmonov UNDER 2.5 (+111 – Pinnacle) 1 to win 1.11