Ever since Justin Gaethje won the Interim Lightweight championship in May, fans have been speculating how he would handle the most dominant fighter in UFC history, Khabib Nurmagomedov. All questions will be answered on Saturday at UFC 254: Khabib vs Gaethje. Accompanying the main event is a spectacular main card and preliminary card filled with rising fighters and UFC veterans so here are my predictions for the prelims.
Joel Alvarez vs Alexander Yakovlev
My Pick: Joel Alvarez
Liana Jojua vs Miranda Maverick
My Pick: Miranda Maverick
Da Un Jung vs Sam Alvey
Starting off the featured prelims is a light heavyweight bout between octagon veteran Sam Alvey (10-9 UFC) and up-and-comer Da un Jung (2-0 UFC). Alvey has been in the UFC for six years now and during that time he has had some great moments. In his last fight in May he looked solid against Ryan Spann but ended up losing the split decision. Da Un Jung has not been in the UFC as long as Alvey has but in he’s made quite the impression in his short UFC tenure. Both of his victories in the Octagon have ended inside the distance, so he is certainly a name to keep track of. As mentioned before, Alvey looked good in his last performance but he is starting to show signs of slowing down. Jung is only twenty-six years old and still in his prime and I think his striking and knockout abilities will be a problem for Alvey.
My Pick: Da Un Jung via TKO
Alex Oliveira vs Shavkat Rakhmonov
Next up will be a classic matchup between the veteran Cowboy Oliveira (11-6 UFC) and the undefeated newcomer Shavkat Rakhmonov. Cowboy has had a solid stint in 2020 so far being 2-0 this year and a win over the prospect Rakhmonov could leverage him into a fight with a big name. Rakhmonov is an undefeated fighter with a record of 12-0, all of those victories being by way of stoppage. These fighters’ styles contrast each other in an interesting way as they are both well rounded fighters and neither has a clear advantage over the other. While Cowboy Oliveira has had several losses in his UFC career all of these losses have been to top competitors such as Gilbert Burns and Donald Cerrone. That being said, Rakhmonov is an exciting prospect with five career submission victories while Oliveria has four losses by submission in his professional career. I think that will give the slight advantage to Rakhmonov.
My Pick: Rakhmonov via submission
Casey Kenney vs Nathaniel Wood
The fifth fight of the night is a catchweight bout at 140 pounds between Casey Kenney (4-1 UFC) and Nathaniel Wood (4-1 UFC). Kenney and Wood have seen similar success in the UFC so far and personally, this is the prelim I’m most excited for. Nathaniel Wood is a jack of all trades who can knockout, submit, and go the distance with his opponents. Kenney is more of a tactician who can finish a fight, but normally goes the distance. Kenney has an impressive resume with wins over skilled flyweights Brandon Royval and Ray Borg. Both men are solid strikers who push a high pace with Wood landing 5.52 significant strikes per minute and Kenney landing 4.25 significant strikes per minute. This fight will definitely be a scrap, maybe with a couple scrambles on the ground mixed in. In conclusion, I give the slight advantage to Casey Kenney because of the experience he has from fighting top competitiors.
My Pick: Casey Kenney via decision.
Stefan Struve vs Tai Tuivasa
The feature prelim of the night will be between the tallest fighter in UFC history, Stefan Struve (13-10 UFC) and Tai Tuivasa (3-3 UFC). Both of these fighters have beaten former and future champions in their UFC career (Stipe Miocic & Andrei Arlovski respectively) but neither man has looked fantastic as of late. Tuivasa is currently on a three-fight losing skid and another loss will likely lead to the end of his UFC career. The same could be said for Stefan Struve as he has only won one of his last four fights. I will be interested to see if they will fight like they have something to prove this weekend. Struve and Tuivasa are both strikers and have shown in the past that they have power so my prediction is the fight will end in a knockout. I keep going back and forth on who I think will secure the knockout considering Struve’s significant reach advantage and Tuivasa’s Muay Thai. It will come down to who can perform their game plan better and I think Tuivasa will be able to get it done.
My Pick: Tuivasa via KO
I hope everyone enjoys the fights this weekend and don’t forget the prelims start at 11 and the main card at 2!