A week ago, Khabib Nurmagomedov and Interim Lightweight Champion Tony Ferguson were set to clash in one of the most anticipated fights in UFC history. It was the fourth time the pair were booked to fight, as a litany of injuries and a bad weight cut cancelled the other three bookings. However, the black cloud hovering over this matchup again struck. During media obligations, Ferguson went to greet someone and tripped over some wires. A complete freak accident, which saw Ferguson completely tear a ligament off his knee. And the craziest part of the news regarding Ferguson’s injury, is that it all came to light on April Fools day. Go figure…
With a replacement needed, Featherweight Champion Max Holloway answered the call. Despite nursing an ankle injury that forced him out of UFC 222 and conceivably not in fight shape, somehow and someway the UFC allowed Holloway to give it a go. I understand selling PPV’s is important and this is an excellent matchup (When Healthy), but a wounded Holloway on six days notice against Nurmagomedov just seemed like a mismatch.
When you thought UFC 223 couldn’t get anymore shaken up, enter Conor McGregor. In response to an altercation between Nurmagomedov and teammate Artem Lobov, McGregor and his crew stormed the Barclays Center. McGregor and his crew would make their way to a bus escorting fighters including Nurmagomedov back to their hotel. What McGregor did next, was unthinkable. He picked up a dolly and threw it at the bus window, shattering it. Inside the bus, the shattered glass would cut Lightweight Michael Chiesa and shrapnel would enter Flyweight Ray Borg eyes. Due to the incident and the unfortunate injuries sustained to both, they were forced off the card, thus scrapping two fights from UFC 223. Also because of his presence with McGregor in the chaos, Lobov was removed from the card, scrapping a third fight.
If that wasn’t enough, the following day (Weigh-in), the New York State Athletic Commission deemed Max Holloway unfit to compete. I could of told you, the amount of weight on short notice wasn’t safe. Throw that in with an ankle injury that he was awaiting confirmation on either rest or surgery on, and this just seemed like a terrible idea. So with Nurmagomedov awaiting his third opponent in six days, the UFC targeted former Lightweight Champion Anthony Pettis. That fell through quickly, as Pettis wanted more money and the UFC denied. Next up was Paul Felder who made Championship weight (155 lbs’). However the NYSAC wouldn’t allow Felder the fight, due to him being unranked. Absolutely ridiculous, but hey, the ranking itself are ridiculous.
Then, the only New Yorker on the card stepped to the plate. The pride of Long Island, “Ragin” Al Iaquinta. The disciple of former Welterweight Champion Matt Serra, who shocked the world eleven years to the date against George St. Pierre. Through all the madness, you couldn’t of scripted this any better for Iaquinta. To think, injuries and contract issues have forced Iaquinta to only one fight in three years. His second, is now for the Lightweight Championship (Weighed in at 155.2, but the UFC will recognize him as the Champion).
Anyways, to the Predictions!
UFC 223 Main Card (10 p.m. ET):
155 LBS.: Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Al Iaquinta – This is such a bizarre fight. Iaquinta has fought only once in three years, as injuries and a contract dispute caused him to become a real estate agent. Now, he’s fighting for the Lightweight Championship due to the events leading up to this card. This is a low risk, high reward opportunity for the one they call “Ragin Al”.
However, I’ve got Nurmagomedov winning this fight. While I believe Iaquinta is a tougher foe than first choices Anthony Pettis and Paul Felder, there’s not way around the beast that is Nurmagomedov. The Dagestan brute is among the best grapplers in UFC history, displaying dominance in not just every fight, but every round. In fact, I’m not sure he’s even loss a round in his career…
Again, love Iaquinta for stepping up, but Nurmagomedov via submission.
115 lbs.: UFC Strawweight Champion Rose Namajunas vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk – The first encounter, I totally misjudged Namajunas. I knew her abilities, but I firmly believed her only route to victory would be on the ground via submission. However, she shoved crow right in my mouth when she knocked out up Jedrzejczyk on the feet.
However, my opinion on the victor hasn’t changed despite those results. I believe Jedrzejczyk is the better striker and that in the first fight, the bad weight cut definitely played a role in Jedrzejczyk’s demise. That’s not taking anything away from Namajunas though, as she could very well repeat with that left hook knockout. Hell, she can even change levels, grapple and submit Jedrzejczyk.
I don’t see that happening though, as Jedrzejczyk is going to rise from the ashes and once again become the dominant force in the Strawweight division. She’s going to be better defensively, with better head movement and footwork. Jedrzejczyk is going to use her vintage volume striking to systematically break down Namajunas over five rounds. In the end, Jedrzejczyk will get the judges nod and force a trilogy match.
145 lbs.: Calvin Kattar vs. Renato Moicano – This is an excellent fight and while I’m somewhat on the fence with my prediction, I’ll side with Kattar. I believe his power will be the difference here, causing Moicano to be more hesitant than usual. Kattar is an excellent boxer, has solid head movement, a granite chin and has knockout power. Moicano, more or less has similar abilities on the feet, but he features hard leg kicks in his striking attack. Something which could be the difference in this fight. Moicano is also an excellent grappler, so Kattar will need to keep distance and avoid am grappling exchanges.
In my opinion, this fight should go all three rounds and probably has fight of the night written all over it. However, I feel Kattar’s movement and power will be the deciding factor of the feet en route to a decision victory.
145 lbs.: Zabit Magomedsharipov vs. Kyle Bochniak – Due to all the scrapped fights, the once curtain jerker, now entered the PPV portion of the card. That’s more so due Magomedsharipov, who is one of the most skilled prospects in the UFC. This is simply a showcase fight, that now will have a bigger audience witness a future contender in the Featherweight division. So with that, I have Magomedsharipov via submission.
155 lbs.: Joe Lauzon vs. Chris Gruetzemacher – Considering Gruetzemacher has been submitted in his last two fights, this seems like he’s being sacrificed to one of the best submission artist in the UFC. Yea, that’s what’s going on. Lauzon via submission.
UFC 223 Prelims On FOX Sports 1 (8 p.m. ET):
115 lbs.: Felice Herrig vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz – I’m 50/50 on this fight. On one hand, I can see Herrig win this if she implements a bully type strategy. She needs to put Kowalkiewicz’s back against the cage and grind on her. Mix in takedowns and some dirty boxing. However, if Herrig chooses to keep this bout in open space on the feet, then she’s going to get technically picked apart by the better striker in Kowalkiewicz.
In my opinion, I believe Herrig has momentum and newfound confidence heading into this fight. With four straight wins, she’s closing in on a title shot. With that in mind, I see her winning by any means necessary. So with that, I have Herrig winning via decision.
125 lbs.: Ashlee Evans-Smith vs. Bec Rawlings – Ehh, I’ve got Evans-Smith in this one. Rawlings, loser of three straight is moving up ten pounds to try to steer the ship back on course. Meanwhile, Evans-Smith is moving down 10 pounds to erase her two fight losing streak. Given AES should have a sizable strength advantage and she’s has a heavy wrestling base, I believe she should have no issues winning this fight via decision.
115 lbs.: Olivier Aubin-Mercier vs. Evan Dunham – At first, I was all over OAM in this fight. Then, I realized that OAM’s strength’s heavily rely on his ability to get this fight on the mat. Dunham though, has only been taken down once in the last eight fights. In other words, Dunham has solid takedown defense.
On the feet, while improving, OAM has nothing for Dunham. The Oregon native features a volume based striking attack, with a fifteen minute pace that breaks fighters. Now, I don’t see Dunham breaking OAM, but I see him thoroughly out matching him on the feet en route to a decision victory.
205 lbs.: Devin Clark vs. Michael Rodriguez – Despite being an undersized Light Heavyweight, I favor Clark in this fight. His athleticism and wrestling abilities I believe will neutralize the scary striker Rodriguez. However, if Rodriguez can keep this one on the feet, a 4′ inch height and 7′ inch reach advantage could be problematic. Then again, Rodriguez hasn’t fought anyone in his young career. I mean, his last four fight come against opponents who are a combined 15-20. So with that, I have Clark via late TKO.