The UFC will be back in action this Sunday, October 25, 2020.

It will be held at the Flash Forum in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates for the fifth straight time, and it should be a doozy. It’s going to be a late start, though, with the main event starting at 2:00 AM Manila time.

Headlining the event is the highly-anticipated clash between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Justin Gaethje, a fight that will unify the UFC Lightweight Championship. Co-headlining, meanwhile, is the middleweight bout of Robert Whittaker and Jared Cannonier, who are currently ranked first and second in the division, respectively, and will be gunning for a title shot.

Let’s get into the previews.

UFC Lightweight Championship – Khabib Nurmagomedov (C) and Justin Gaethje (IC)

Due to the pandemic and various other personal circumstances, this is Khabib Nurmagomedov’s (28-0) first fight in over 13 months, and only third in two years. Don’t even try thinking about ring rust, though. You never doubt an unbeaten fighter who grew up wrestling bears.

Ever the mauler, Khabib is coming off two dominating performances that both ended up in a submission finish. He dismantled Conor McGregor in UFC 229 and concluded it with a neck crank, and basically did the same to Dustin Poirer in UFC 242, who tapped from a classic rear-naked choke.

Interim champion Justin Gaethje (22-2) is entering the octagon on a four-fight winning streak, all of which were KO/TKOs. He broke a lot of hearts in his recent victory, where he TKO’d Khabib’s longtime nemesis, Tony Ferguson, and further delayed the cursed Khabib-Ferguson match-up. Gaethje couldn’t care less of course, and he’s also one to present a great, explosive challenge to the champion. His seven post-fight bonuses in nine appearances says it all.

Khabib and Gaethje’s battle will be a clash of styles as the former is sure to take it to the ground, while the latter is a vicious striker that will prefer to keep the fight standing up.

Elite ground-and-pound guys often get the upper hand against even the most dangerous strikers (let’s all remember what Chael Sonnen did to Anderson Silva), but Gaethje always has a puncher’s chance. It might be a bit harder against someone with a granite chin, though.

PREDICTION: If Khabib is able to establish early, he should be able to sap Gaethje’s energy and work his way into unanimous victory. There’s little reason to doubt that Khabib won’t be able to impose his will throughout the fight.

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Middleweight bout – Robert Whittaker vs. Jarod Cannonier

Robert Whittaker (17-4) is back on the win column after dropping the Middleweight championship in a KO loss to Israel Adesanya at UFC 243. He comfortably beat Darren Till last July via unanimous decision to maintain a high-ranking contender spot in the division. There’s a fair amount of momentum to work too, as he is 9-1 in his last 10 fights.

Speaking of momentum, Jarod Cannonier (13-4) is on a good run. He has three-straight KO victories and all are within the first two rounds – two of those actually earned him a Performance of the Night bonus. All that has pushed Cannonier into the second spot in the division rankings.

We should be able to witness Whittaker’s technical savviness on display, which will be countered well by a rampaging Cannonier, who will look for another bonus-worthy win.

PREDICTION: Cannonier wins in a war, maybe with a TKO. This has a good chance to win Fight of the Night.

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Heavyweight bout – Alexander Volkov vs. Walt Harris

UFC veteran Alexander Volvkov (31-8) is not performing well lately. He’s coming in having dropped two of his last three fights. He lost in a headlining event with Curtis Blaydes last June, won against Greg Hardy (who was only his eighth MMA fight at that time) in November 2019, and was KO’d by Derrick Lewis at UFC 229.

Walt Harris (13-8, 1 NC) is also a longtime fighter who’s on the heels of a defeat. He was TKO’d by Allistair Overeem this past May, which halted a two-fight winning streak.

These two will be looking exchange heavy blows right from the get-go. Both are aiming hard for redemption and they have the striking abilities and power to produce an entertaining fight.

PREDICTION: I expect Harris to get the win.

Middleweight bout – Jacob Malkoun vs. Phillip Hawes

This will be Jacob Malkoun’s (4-0) UFC debut. He has racked up four consecutive wins in his pro MMA career – two TKOs and two UDs. It’s a good enough momentum to have, but note that this will also be his first fight in over a year.

Phillip Hawes (8-2) is another newcomer. He has finally made his way into the UFC six years after turning pro. The 31-year-old is on a hot, four-fight winning streak, though, and all were first-round stoppages:  three KO/TKOs and one submission. Unlike Malkoun, Hawes isn’t lacking any recent action as he just fought a little over six weeks ago.

PREDICTION: Malkoun will be able to showcase his style, but I see the hard-hitting Hawes taking it via TKO.

Flyweight bout – Lauren Murphy vs. Liliya Shakirova

Lauren Murphy’s (13-4) up-and-down MMA career appears to be going up again. She was a former champion under the Invicta FC brand, but faded out when she got booted early in The Ultimate Fighter 26. She is now on a three-fight winning streak and sitting fifth in her division’s rankings.

Liliya Shakirova (8-1) is Cynthia Calvillo’s replacement, who was a late scratch due to COVID-19. She will be making her UFC debut and will be on her first MMA fight in over a year. Like Murphy, Shakirova has also won each of her last three fights, two of which were via TKOs.

The streaking Murphy won’t be short on confidence as she is in her best form since joining the UFC. Shakirova, however, a national freestyle wrestling champion, will provide a ground-and-pound attack that could be punishing.

PREDICTION: Murphy wins via unanimous decision.

Light heavyweight bout – Magomed Ankalaev vs. Ion Cutelaba

This is Magomed Ankalaev (14-1) and Ion Cutelaba’s (15-5, 1 NC) second meeting. The former won the first fight back in February through an allegedly premature first-round stoppage.

A rematch was immediately slated as the match-up has developed quite the intrigue. The anticipation has also been heightened due to the multiple cancellations, which includes Cutelaba testing positive for COVID-19 in late August.

The aggressive Ankalaev has stringed together four-straight wins after losing in his UFC debut. He has also won a Performance of the Night bonus twice during that stretch. Cutelaba, on the other hand, is hoping to finally find his footing as he has been alternating wins and losses in eight UFC appearances, all despite showcasing a good set of striking abilities at each turn.

PREDICTION: It’s going to be a slugfest, and I expect Ankalaev to take home the W once again. Hopefully, it’s free of controversy this time around.