The Octagon’s most dominant champion faces his most dangerous challenger yet when Khabib Nurmagomedov takes on knockout machine Justin Gaethje at UFC 254 this weekend (Sat., Oct. 24, 2020). Flash Forum on “Fight Island” in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, will also host a clash between Jared Cannonier and Robert Whittaker, as well as top prospect Phil Hawes against promising Aussie Jacob Malkoun.
Three UFC 254 “Prelims” undercard matches remain to preview and predict (check out the first batch here), so let’s fix that …
265 lbs.: Stefan Struve vs. Tai Tuivasa
Stefan Struve (29-12) snapped a three-fight losing streak with a comeback submission of Marcos Rogerio de Lima in February of last year, then announced his intention to leave the sport on a high note. Unable to stay away, he returned in Dec. 2019 to face Ben Rothwell, who used heavy punches and a series of low blows to fell the towering Dutchman.
All told, 27 of his 29 professional victories have come inside the distance, 18 of them by submission.
Tai Tuivasa (10-3) — an acolyte of Mark Hunt — looked like UFC’s next big Australian thing after starting his Octagon career perfect (3-0). He has since evened his record with three consecutive defeats, most recently tapping to a Sergey Spivak arm triangle little more than one year ago.
He gives up 10 inches of height and 9.5 inches of reach to “The Skyscraper.”
This is about as binary a match up as you’re likely to see. If Struve gets it to the ground, he should have little difficulty tapping the grappling-inept “Bam Bam” in short order. If the pair spend any length of time on the feet, Tuivasa will knock Struve’s battered mandible into the fifth row.
As disappointing as Tuivasa’s recent efforts have been, Struve remains as profoundly hittable as ever, and if there’s one thing Tuivasa doesn’t lack, it’s killer instinct. So long as he doesn’t dally in the clinch and leave himself open to Struve’s tricky throws, expect Tuivasa to back Struve to the fence and repeat Hunt’s efforts with a crushing series of punches.
Prediction: Tuivasa via first-round technical knockout
170 lbs.: Alex Oliveira vs. Shavkat Rakhmonov
Following a main event loss to Donald Cerrone in 2016, Alex Oliveira (22-8-1) went 6-1 (1 NC) in his next eight, taking home three post-fight bonuses in the process. Then came a three-fight skid, from which he bounced back with decisions over Max Griffin and Peter Sobotta earlier this year.
“Cowboy” steps in for Elizeu Zaleski Dos Santos on around 2.5 weeks’ notice.
Kazakhstan’s Shavkat Rakhmonov (12-0) has never seen the judges as a professional, ending all but one of his 12 bouts within two rounds. His 2019 campaign saw him knock out Daniil Prikaza for the M-1 belt and defend it three months later with first-round finish of Tiago Varejao.
This will be his first fight in almost 16 months, as planned debuts in March and July both fell through.
This fight’s outcome depends entirely on how long it lasts. Rakhmonov was flash KO’d early in a 2018 comeback win over Faridun Odilov, which should give the ultra-powerful Oliveira some hope. The Kazakh did end up surviving, though, and we’ve consistently seen Oliveira fall apart by about the midway point of the second round. Rakhmonov is both a sufficiently adept wrestler to keep Oliveira from cruising to victory on top and delivers some hellacious ground-and-pound, meaning Oliveira can’t just hold on from his back to survive once the gas tank empties.
I ever-so-slightly favor Rakhmonov, who’s shown some improved striking of late and can absolutely decimate Oliveira if the latter fails to find an early finish. In short, Rakhmonov survives the early storm to pound out the Brazilian late.
Prediction: Rakhmonov via third-round technical knockout
205 lbs.: Da Un Jung vs. Sam Alvey
Da Un Jung (13-2) stumbled out of the professional gate with losses to Jun Soo Lim and future UFC competitor Roque Martinez, but went on to win 10 straight and secure a spot in the Octagon last year. He started his UFC campaign with a guillotine finish of Khadis Ibragimov, then took just 64 seconds to knock out Mike Rodriguez in Dec. 2019.
He has knocked out 10 professional foes and submitted two others.
Sam Alvey (33-14) successfully kicked off his UFC light heavyweight campaign by beating Marcin Prachnio and Gian Villante, extending his ongoing run to 7-2 in the process. He hasn’t tasted victory since, entering the cage this Saturday on a four-fight losing streak.
He faces a two-inch height disadvantage and a three-inch reach disadvantage.
Here’s an interesting factoid for you: Alvey, the notorious power-puncher, has only scored one knockout since 2016. That’s an 11-fight span wherein he only managed to stop Marcin Prachnio, who charged face-first into Alvey’s counter. Expecting him to put away Jung, a naturally larger man with enough length to steer clear of Alvey’s haymakers, doesn’t seem wise.
The question is less whether Jung will win and more whether he’ll get the knockout; Alvey’s chin has looked a bit shaky lately, so I say he does. Heavy punches bump the Korean slugger to 3-0 in the Octagon.
Prediction: Jung via first-round technical knockout
It’s hard to argue that UFC 254 isn’t worth the price of admission. See you Saturday, Maniacs.
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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