Zubaira Tukhugov (+118) vs. Hakeem Dawodu (-138)
Weight Class: Featherweight (145 lbs)
Despite missing weight by a couple pounds, Zubaira Tukhugov will be opening the main card of UFC 253 against Canada’s Hakeem Dawodu. As the line would indicate, this looks to be a tightly contested bout between two fighters with ranked ceiling.
Tukhugov was of course suspended following a cage jump and subsequent attack on Conor McGregor in the infamous UFC 229 brawl. He would end up missing over two years as a result.
The Chechen fought to a draw against Lerone Murphy at UFC 242 in his return. Despite early success, Tukhugov gassed out and ended up with a draw. The arena was incredibly hot that day, which is part of the reason why the fight island cards have taken place at night, UAE time. The Chechen then returned to form with a crisp KO back in February.
As for Dowadu, Tukhugov will represent a massive step up in competition for an ascending fighter.
Stylistically, Tukhugov has more paths to victory. As a Khabib training partner, the assumption is that Tukhugov will be heavy on the grappling. However, he has shown a propensity for striking in the UFC and throws some incredibly looping shots.
Dowadu certainly has the tools to stop wild striking. He keeps a solid Muy Thai base and is a great counter striker.
With that said, I see this fight going to Tukhugov simply due to the wrestling threat. Dowadu has a path if he stands with Tukhugov, but I could see the former landing a heavy shot. If Dowadu stays within himself, he could easily land a counter. The wrestling, however, will probably prevent him from taking the best gameplan, leading to a Tukhugov win.
Gambling wise, I lean Tukhugov by KO but will ultimately stick with the line in a match-up that could go either way.
Prediction and play: Zabaira Tukhugov moneyline (-138)
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