UFC 223

Nurmagomedov x Holloway Ferguson

Namajunas x Jedrzejczyk 2

Picks, Parlays, and Predictions

Brooklyn Gets a Banger
2018-UFC223-HZ.jpg

PICKS

Nurmagomedov x Iaqunita
Namajunas x Jedrzejczyk
Kattar x Moicano
Chiesa x Pettis
Felder x Iaquinta
Kowalkiewicz x Herrig
Moreno x Borg
Gruetzamacher x Lauzon
Aubin-Mercier x Dunham
Caceres x Lobov
Rawlings x Evans-Smith
Magomedsharipov x Bochniak

PARLAYS

“All the Vowels” EDITION
Nurmagomedov (-450)
Namajunas (+120)
Kowalkiewicz (-200)
$6.66 to win $20.20

“Backup Plan” EDITION
Namajunas (+120)
Felder (+105)
Chiesa (-125)
Aubin-Mercer (-115)
$2.23 to win $31.62

PREDICTIONS

Setting up a Super Fight to Save the Day

Khabib Nurmagomedov x Max Holloway for the Lightweight Championship

Curses are real. That’s four cancelled fights in a row, four years in a row. Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson were not meant to fight each other. I’ll spare the remorse and skip to the rundown because Hawaii’s Hero, Max Holloway,  has stepped up and volunteered to step into an incredibly dangerous fight on less than a week’s notice. Two months ago, Max Holloway pulled out of a main event slot against Frankie Edgar that was scheduled for early March. If Internet gossip serves me well, it was due to an extensive ankle injury. The kind of ankle you would need to fight off a dominant Russian wrestler who fights at a higher weight class.

Holloway is currently the UFC’s featherweight champion and is known for his insane cardio, relentless attack, and brawling style. He’ll be making his first appearance at lightweight this Saturday when he fights for the title against Nurmagomedov. Max’s bravery has been rewarded with a chance at two belts and the ability to leapfrog the sport’s most talent-rich division. The only other man to ever be afforded this opportunity was Conor McGregor. He also, oddly enough, did it in the same two weight classes and without making a previous appearance at 155 pounds. Obviously, the UFC is setting up a super fight if either man wins this weekend. If Max wins, he finally gets his rematch with Conor by capturing BOTH of his belts in his absence. That would be a massive accomplishment and arguably as impressive as anything the Irishman has ever done in MMA. If Khabib wins, the UFC has already booked the Olympic Stadium in Moscow for September and their first foray into Russia will collide with the return of Conor Mcgregor, followed by a trail of money. Big success! Big drama show!  

Khabib Nurmagomedov is a hardline Muslim from Dagestan with a championship background in Sambo and an unblemished 25-0 MMA record. There’s footage of him wrestling bears as a child. He speaks down to his opponents in broken English during fights and doesn’t bat an eye when it comes to inflicting considerable damage. Everything about Khabib is terrifying. In the past I’ve been overly critical of Nurmagomedov and I’m finally ready to be a believer. I’m tired of moving goal posts and will safely admit that he’s the most dominant wrestler the 155 pound division has ever seen. His latest win over Barboza was stellar and it’s hard not to envision him giving the same treatment to the rest of the weight class.

Not many people stand a chance against Khabib. His striking may not be beautiful, but his boxing is solid enough to close the distance, which is the goal. Once he’s got ahold of you, you’re going to go down. His wrestling is incomparable. Literally, good luck. Khabib can suplex you backwards through the mat, snap your neck, and feel indifferent about it. He will be emotionless, you will be sad, and your family will never be able to get revenge. Your family, specifically, because the Holloways have Max. He’s going to be marching into the octagon with a 12 fight win streak in the UFC to beat Khabibs 9 UFC victories. Those are the third and fifth longest current win streaks in the organization, respectively. Max is three years younger than Khabib and while he doesn’t have the same unblemished record, he’s easily got the biggest balls in MMA.

I hate to say it, but six days just doesn’t seem like enough time to prepare for someone as dominant as Khabib. All power to Max, he’s one my favorite fighters of all time, but I’ve never seen him wrestle on this level and his power is going to be impacted while fighting up a weight class. Training for Frankie Edgar probably helped to improve Holloway’s takedown defense, but this beast from the east is a different breed. Nurmagomedov is certainly stronger than most featherweights which will make it even more of a grind when it goes to the ground. Fortunately, Holloway is phenomenal at creating distance and isn’t a slouch of his back, so he won’t be helpless out there. We’ve also seen the champ employ brilliant gameplans that take advantage of his endless cardio. When the Hawaiian finds his rhythm, there’s no way to match his pace. His forward pressure is relentless, but we haven’t it paired against an unyielding wrestler. Both men have made three round wars look easy – there’s just no substitute for a full training camp. All of my chips are stacked on Nurmagomedov. He was ready to face a tall, active striker, he doesn’t have a recent injury, and, as you may have heard, this is part of God’s plan.

We’re lucky that this event was moderately salvaged. On paper, it looks like it’s going to be a lot more one-sided than originally intended, but I applaud Max at taking the chance to be talked about as one of the greatest of all time. We just need to hope he can make the weight cut. It won’t be impossible, but I imagine that he just signed up for the toughest fight of his life on six days notice. This will be the first super fight I’ve ever seen in reverse, because we’re technically going to be watching the featherweight champion take on the lightweight champion, even though he hasn’t been technically crowned yet. Next stop for either man will be the McGregor lottery. In my opinion, Khabib now has an even better chance at taking lightweight gold and making that scheduled  September date in Russia a reality. Either way, the UFC wins and we get to look forward to another major mainstream event.

[NOTE: My discarded prediction of the original main event can be read at the bottom of this page.]

Rose Namajunas x Joanna Jedrzejczyk 2 for the Women’s Strawweight Championship

Women’s MMA is still evolving, which means, for the most part, it’s tough to accurately forecast winners. One punch power will forever be the elusive grail female fighters are seeking, which is also the case for most lighter weight classes. As we saw in the first fight between these two, Rose has that kind of power. A first round knockout in women’s MMA is unmistakably dominant, especially against a high-level kickboxer. Without a masterful grappling pedigree to fall back on, Jedrzejczyk is going to have difficulty mixing things up and a hell of a time taking her belt back.

Joanna Jedrzejczyk has been the most established female strawweight fighter since the inception of the division in 2014. With six, very entertaining, title defenses to her name, few believed she’d have trouble with Rose Namajunas. That’s when the MMA Gods strike hardest. “Thug” Rose, who wasn’t exactly a nobody at the time, had worked her way up through Invicta FC and ran through The Ultimate Fighter house with a dazzling submission game. Rose actually fought for the inaugural strawweight belt, only to lose her match three months before Joanna took the throne. When Rose got her second chance to fight for the belt last November, Jedrzejczyk was still at the top, laying waste to any and all competitors with her expert Muay Thai. Many people thought that if “Thug” was going to win, she’d have to force the fight to the ground. Wrong. Rose aptly evaded almost everything Joanna threw and cracked her with a leaping left hook just over halfway through the first round. The dominant champion crumbled and tapped via strikes. It took three minutes to unwind three years of hype.

We’ve seen similarly dominant champions stumble in the midst of their heyday before. It happened in the first fight between Velasquez and JDS and even earlier with the GSP vs Serra debacle. In both cases, the former champion eventually came back to reclaim their belt and go on to have successful reigns. However, the last time a former champion was granted an immediate rematch and won their belt back was in 2004. If history is any indication, quick rematches rarely lend themselves to different outcomes. We have yet to see if that same kind of dramatic turnaround is possible in women’s MMA.

It seems to me that Rose’s biggest attribute is her unwavering determination to improve in every aspect of mixed martial arts. Her lanky frame and tenacity have worked wonders for her grappling and now we can see those same traits giving her an advantage while striking. Rose isn’t afraid to chase victory – she has a 12-second flying armbar win to back that up. More accurately, Rose doesn’t seem to be afraid of anything. Joanna has been notoriously ...unpleasant... leading into big fights but was unable to get inside Rose’s head prior to their first meeting. If she wasn’t able to do it then, I don’t see how she’ll be able to do it now. Instead, Jedrzejczyk needs to focus on improving her defense against a larger opponent and be very careful of the ground game, which will be undoubtedly dangerous territory.

Joanna was quick to blame a bad weight cut for her first performance and will be working with a new nutritionist for this fight. Weight cutting is a necessary evil in this sport and arguably its most dangerous aspect. I won’t get my soapbox out just yet, however, something really needs to be done for the sake of fighter safety. If the weight cut truly was terrible, we can hope for a vintage Joanna performance. What Joanna may lack in power, she makes up for in activity and accuracy. In her second title defense, the former champion landed a record-breaking 220 significant strikes and 70 leg kicks. While her opponent might not have been at the level of Namajunas, that’s quite the storm to weather. Joanna needs to stay in Rose’s face, connect, and disappear in order to make her opponent miss and think twice about counter punching. Movement will be key for Jedrzejczyk because if she gets caught standing still, Rose will always have the option to grapple. It will be an uphill battle for Joanna wherever this fight winds up. Even if the former champion steals the first four rounds, she needs to remain cautious. We already know Rose can end the night with a single well-placed shot.

According to the betting odds, Rose will be an underdog coming into Saturday night. Absurdity. I love watching Joanna fight and would probably put her in my personal current “Top 10”, but it’s hard to imagine her as the favorite. I’d love to be proven wrong and be treated to the first WMMA trilogy in the UFC, though it is highly unlikely. I see a lot of value in Rose and while she’s not an insurmountable task for the former champion, this is too quick of a comeback for Joanna. We’ll find out on when we get treated to this year’s best card yet.


[BONUS: The MMA Gods have once again decided to spare us mercy and have come to reap our tears. Take whatever joy you can from my thoughts on Ferguson x Nurmagomedov, 2018 edition, inbetween your bouts of rage vomit.]

Tony Ferguson x Khabib Nurmagomedov for the Lightweight Championship (Maybe)

I swore I’d never speak of this matchup again, but it’s come back to haunt me. Both men have clung on to relevancy long enough to make this fight inevitable. How many times must we ramp up our excitement only to be let down time and time again? Our hopes scattered so carelessly, like cocoa atop a fight-jeopardizing tiramisu. Maybe this is destiny. Maybe this is what we need to right all the wrongs. Lay your head upon the guillotine, glance upwards towards the Gods and pray we do not have this fight ripped away from us once more. Is it finally time? Are you ready?

This match was first supposed to happen in 2015, but Khabib got injured in preparation. Then it was scheduled again for 2016, but Ferguson pulled out with a lung infection. In 2017 it finally looked like this matchup was going to happen. That is until Khabib botched his weight cut and the fight fell through for a third time, literally the day before the event. I’m not going to bother getting overly hyped for this fight until they’re both standing inside the octagon. Even if it’s been the most important lightweight fight possible for the last two years.

This pair of competitors couldn’t be any more different. Khabib Nurmagomedov is a hardline Muslim from Dagestan with a championship background in Russian Sambo and an unblemished 25-0 MMA record. There’s footage of him wrestling bears as a child. He speaks down to his opponents in broken English during fights and doesn’t bat an eye when it comes to inflicting considerable damage. Everything about Khabib is terrifying. In the past I’ve been overly critical of Nurmagomedov and I think I’m finally ready to be a believer. I’m tired of moving goal posts for the guy and will safely admit that he’s the most dominant wrestler the 155 pound division has ever seen. His latest win over Barboza was stellar and it’s hard not to envision him doing that to the rest of the weight class.

Tony “El Cucuy” Ferguson, on the other hand, chooses to exhibit the worst parts of Southern California. He’s cocky, he’s outspoken, and he wears sunglasses indoors. Wrap-around shades, to be specific. Another thing about Tony? Nobody can fight like him. He’s as unorthodox as you can get, while being surprisingly violent and effective. “El Cucuy” can tactical roll across the cage, throw a capoeira kick, then ankle pick you and sink in a choke. It’s all very weird and very fluid. The only thing these two fighter’s have in common is that they’re both extremely talented and now have a chance at real lightweight gold. Matches like this are what make MMA special. Unless you hear that one of them slipped on a banana peel on Saturday morning, do not miss this fight.

Not many people stand a chance against Khabib. His striking may not be beautiful, but his boxing is solid enough to close the distance, which is the goal. Once he’s got ahold of you, you’re going to go down. His wrestling is incomparable. Literally, good luck. Khabib can suplex you backwards through the mat, snap your neck, and feel indifferent about it. He will be emotionless, you will be sad, and your family will never be able to get revenge. Entering a fight against him without being terrified would be stupid. Stupid like a fox. “El Cucuy” is exactly that kind of guy – too confident to be scared. Ferguson’s complex jiu jitsu means he won’t be helpless when he gets dumped on his back. He may even prefer to be there.

In the striking department, “El Cucuy” will have the upper hand. His standup skills are wild, he’s got a significant reach advantage, and we’ve seen Khabib get tagged, although never fazed. Ferguson has shown that he’s open to counter punches, but his chin should be durable enough to eat anything Khabib can hit him with on the feet. If it hits the mat, everything changes – striking included. The Russian has shown a proclivity towards dominating ground and pound and if he’s able to stifle Ferguson’s active guard, we’re in for a long night. Although slowing Tony down may take more energy than it’s worth, it will be Khabib’s preferred path to victory. If Ferguson is able to thwart Khabib’s top game with a mix of scrambles and submission attacks, even if just enough to remain standing, Nurmagomedov is going to have his hands full. We’ve never seen Khabib resort to a Plan B. I can’t foresee this fight ending early or either man escaping at least two grueling rounds.

Tony is pure talent with a cringe-worthy personality and Khabib is a heartless machine with no remorse. This is a real immovable object meets unstoppable force situation. Officially, I’m picking “El Cucuy” to surprise Khabib with something far-out of left field or at least force him out of his comfort zone. Tony’s unconventional style has to be difficult to adapt to and there are unquestionably more ways for him to win. I predict being comfortable on his back will become a huge asset. The first takedown of the fight will speak volumes. With a victory, the winner will get what we’re told is the true lightweight belt. This implies that the days of intern championships at 155 pounds are finally behind us and McGregor will be rightfully stripped (Maybe. Dana White was oddly coy about using those words). If Conor wants to come back for a huge event, the groundwork is set, but with talent like this, we will be fine without him. Do not miss this fight.

Side Note: The UFC wants Khabib to win this fight so they can match him up against McGregor in Russia for a title unification belt later this year. How do I know? They already booked the Olympic Stadium in Moscow for September 15. Sure, Tony is probably an easier matchup for the former champ, but this is a numbers game. The UFC’s first time in Russia + Russia’s biggest current MMA star + the return of Conor McGregor = profit. All I’m saying is look into it.