The UFC 254 preliminary fights deserve a bit of a breakdown. Sure, everyone is amped for the lightweight unification bout between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Justin Gaethje. It’s a monster fight and say what you want about the drawing power of Conor McGregor, but Khabib Nurmagomoedov is a legit superstar in this business. Rightfully, it’s the fight that most people are interested in.
Headlining the preliminary fights is a heavyweight clash between Stefan Struve and Tai Tuivasa. Struve is a seven-foot heavyweight who always has a reach advantage and despite that advantage, he fails to utilize it. For Tai Tuivasa, he wants to stand in the pocket and slug it out. It’s a compelling matchup that we’ll break down first.
UFC 254 Preliminary Fights
Stefan Struve vs. Tai Tuivasa
As I stated before, Struve is a monster of a man standing just under seven feet tall, but he’s managed to win only one of his last five fights. Fortunately for him, he is competing against another fighter on a side, in Tuivasa. If Struve keeps the distance with his jab and front kicks, he should control the fight and win a fairly uneventful decision. That’s a big if though. Struve gets baited into more often than not, fighting his opponent’s style, and if he does that he’ll likely get finished by the heavy-handed Australian.
Tuivasa is more famous for his post-fight “shoey” where he drinks a beer from someone’s worn shoe than he is for his accomplishments in the cage. He’s dropped three fights in a row and desperately needs a win here. If Tuivasa can get inside and land damaging blows he has a good chance to get a stoppage. If he can’t get inside, he will likely be picked apart.
In the end, the winner will be the fighter who bests plays to his strengths. That should be Stefan Struve.
Alex Oliveira vs. Shavkat Rakhmonov
Alex Oliveira is an exciting fighter who has two wins in a row, but it 2-2 in his last four outings. This fight will help us understand where newcomer Shavkat Rakhmonov fits in the scheme of things in the welterweight division Rakhmonov enters this fight with a perfect 12-0 record and is the former M1 welterweight champion.
We should know relatively quickly how well he’s suited for the UFC and Oliveira is certainly no joke, and beating him in a debut would be quite a feather in the cap of “Nomad.”
Breaking this one down is difficult because until a fighter makes his debut on the big stage, it’s hard to peg how he’s going to transition. That being said, I like Rakhmonov quite a bit and expect him to win this fight.
Sam Alvey vs. Da Un Jung
“Smiling” Sam Alvey needs a win. It won’t come easy against Da Un Jung, who hasn’t lost a fight in five years. Alvey always has the proverbial “puncher’s chance” but since he’s lost four fights in a row it doesn’t look great for him. Too often he chases his opponent, looking to hand one big shot and in turn gets chewed up by the competition. Alvey is among the biggest longshots on the card, and it is for good reason. Expect Jung to land early and often, but if he is unable to get the stoppage, he’ll win a lopsided decision.
Llana Jojua vs. Miranda Maverick
Miranda Maverick enters this fight having won five straight and she’s an overwhelming favorite to run that streak to six. Maverick is a tremendous wrestler and has very good submissions. Llana Jojua has won six of her last seven fights, and five of those victories were by submission in the first round. So with that known, Maverick needs to be careful not to get overconfident on the canvas. I think she’ll play it smart and grapple her way to a unanimous decision.
Casey Kenney vs. Nathaniel Wood
This fight should be fireworks! It’s likely the most compelling fight on the UFC 254 preliminary card. Casey Kenney has won eight of his last nine fights. The bantamweight delivers the action, and this should be no different. Casey lost to Merab Dvalishvili but has since won back to back fights.
Nathaniel Wood has nine of ten, with his only loss coming against highly regarded John Dodson. This could be a super fun grappling match. Casey Kenney loves to wrestle and Nathaniel Wood has accounted for himself very well on the canvas in his own right.
This should be fun and is a fight of the night candidate. When push comes to shove, expect Casey Kenney to utilize his edge on the canvas and earn a unanimous decision.
Joel Alvarez vs. Alexander Yakolev
In a clash of lightweights, Joel Alvarez and Alexander Yakolev will kick off the card. Neither fighter has set the division on fire. Joel Alvarez is the favorite amongst betters but to be honest, both men are pretty equal as far as skills are concerned. It’s a fight that could be on the main card of a small regional show and doesn’t thrill me much. If I have to pick a winner, I’d go with Joel Alvarez.