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UFC 254: Nurmagomedov-Gaethje preview, pick

This is the MMA version of the classic boxer versus slugger bout, with Gaethje’s punching power and damaging strikes pitted against Nurmagomedov’s Olympic medalist-level wrestling.

In the final several years of his boxing career, Floyd Mayweather put up astounding pay-per-view numbers in fight after fight. Some of it was the opponent, but a lot of it was attached to the zero on Mayweather’s record.

Mayweather cleverly realized that there was a segment of people who would buy his fights to see him win, but there was an even larger group who wanted to see him lose. And so his fights became big events.

On Saturday, the UFC is expecting a big event when Khabib Nurmagomedov defends his lightweight championship in the main event of UFC 254 on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi against interim champion Justin Gaethje, a knockout artist who is the biggest threat to his title reign yet.

Nurmagomedov is 28-0 and has largely been unchallenged in his MMA career. He’s a -340 favorite at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas to make Gaethje, who is +270, victim No. 29.

UFC president Dana White said trends show pay-per-view sales that could exceed 2 million and have a shot at breaking the record of 2.4 million set in 2018 when Nurmagomedov submitted Conor McGregor at UFC 228 in Las Vegas.

At its core, this fight will boil down to two points: A.) Can Gaethje get up once Nurmagomedov takes him down and B.) Can Nurmagomedov absorb a clean Gaethje shot and keep fighting?

Few haveā€¦

Kevin Iole

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