UFC 254 predictions
Josh Hedges / UFC / Getty

Ahead of Saturday's UFC 254 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, theScore's Nick Baldwin makes his picks for the top bouts.

Lightweight championship

Khabib Nurmagomedov (28-0)
Justin Gaethje (22-2)

This is easily Nurmagomedov's biggest challenge at 155 pounds. Gaethje has all the tools to test the champion and perhaps pull off the upset. That's what makes this so intriguing.

However, it's hard to pick against Nurmagomedov. Every time we think there's a challenger who poses a threat to Nurmagomedov, the lightweight champion leaves no doubt that he's one of the most dominant fighters in UFC history.

Nurmagomedov should be able to keep his undefeated record against Gaethje, though he could run into trouble at some points in the fight.

Though Gaethje is best known in the MMA world as a striker, he's a former NCAA Division I All-American collegiate wrestler. He'll have more success than most at stopping Nurmagomedov's takedown attempts, and that, combined with his constant forward movement, could help keep the fight on the feet.

However, Nurmagomedov will eventually get Gaethje to the mat without much resistance. "The Eagle" will take over in the later rounds and move to 29-0.

THE PICK: Nurmagomedov, fifth-round submission

Valery Sharifulin / TASS / Getty

Middleweight bout

Robert Whittaker (21-5)
Jared Cannonier (13-4)

The right to face middleweight champion Israel Adesanya is likely on the line in the co-main event when former champion Whittaker takes on surging contender Cannonier.

This will be Cannonier's coming-out party. He hits like a truck, and Whittaker doesn't appear to be the same fighter who held the 185-pound title from 2017 to 2019. He took a lot of damage in his rematch with Yoel Romero and then suffered a knockout loss to Adesanya. It won't be surprising if Cannonier catches him and puts him away.

Of course, Whittaker is well-rounded, technical, and has a high fight IQ. He is probably the better fighter and definitely has the tools to win this fight.

But Cannonier is confident and has a lot of momentum after three straight stoppage victories. He looks poised to finish Whittaker and ride that wave into a title fight against Adesanya.

THE PICK: Cannonier, second-round knockout

Alexandre Schneider / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Heavyweight bout

Alexander Volkov (31-8)
Walt Harris (13-8)

Two heavyweight contenders looking to get back on track will collide on the main card.

No. 7 Volkov is the favorite against No. 10 Harris, and rightfully so. He's long and should be able to control the distance, outpointing his opponent with shots from the outside.

But it's important to not count out Harris entirely. This is a heavyweight contest, after all, and "The Big Ticket" carries a lot of power. We've seen Volkov dominate a fight and then get knocked out in the waning seconds - ahem, Derrick Lewis - and Harris can certainly land a big punch to put Volkov's lights out.

However, Volkov is one of the best heavyweights in the UFC when he's at his best, and he should pick apart Harris over the course of three rounds.

THE PICK: Volkov, unanimous decision

Handout / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Light heavyweight bout

Magomed Ankalaev (13-1)
Ion Cutelaba (15-5)

This fight is going to be fun, for as long as it lasts.

Ankalaev and Cutelaba met at UFC Norfolk in February, with the former earning a controversial TKO win in 38 seconds. The referee stepped in after Ankalaev landed a series of head kicks, but Cutelaba stayed standing and said he was OK.

The rematch was rescheduled three times before now - two cancellations were due to Cutelaba testing positive for COVID-19 - so they'll be itching to settle their business. Expect a start similar to that of the first fight.

But this time, Ankalaev will get it done without any controversy. Though February's stoppage was premature, he had Cutelaba in a world of trouble. Ankalaev looked to be the more technical striker, so expect to see a similar game plan from the 28-year-old. Cutelaba can finish anybody, but Ankalaev - who can also resort to his ground game if needed - should be able to find the right openings and connect with massive shots early.

THE PICK: Ankalaev, first-round TKO

Josh Hedges / UFC / Getty
UFC 254 predictions
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