UPDATE: Well, this entire card went sideways in a hurry, partly thanks to Conor McGregor going crazy and injuring fighters. Anyway, here’s the original preview.
The UFC returns to PPV this weekend for UFC 223, featuring a pair of mouth watering championship bouts that should make casual MMA fans easily forget about the lack of star power on the undercard. And while Conor McGregor hasn’t emerged from his money-filled cave in Ireland to fight again, his UFC Lightweight Championship will have a new home by the end of Saturday night — he has been stripped of the title for inactivity, with the winner of the main event becoming the new undisputed champion (which is, of course, going to be heavily disrupted).
The original main even was Tony Ferguson versus Khabib Nurmagomedov, but Ferguson dropped out with injury on six days notice. Thankfully, Featherweight Champion (and total badass) Max Holloway stepped up to the plate and will take on the undefeated Russian with less than a week to prepare. It could be a disastrous decision, or it could be a legendary moment for the Hawaiian native.
In the co-main event, we have a rematch of one of the biggest upsets in UFC history — yes, even bigger than McGregor vs. Nate Diaz or Ronda Rousey vs. Holly Holm — when Rose Namajunas will attempt to shock the MMA world again and hand Joanna Jedrzejczyk her second career loss. Meanwhile, Jedrzejczyk is out to avenge that upset defeat and get the UFC Women’s Strawweight Championship back in her possession.
We’re skipping the free preliminary fights, and jumping straight into the main PPV card. Here’s a short preview of all five fights, complete with betting odds and advice.
Al Iaquinta (-120) vs. Paul Felder (-110)
The first of three lightweight fights on the main card, this one promises to be a close fight that could go either way. In one corner is 30-year-old Al Iaquinta, the part-time real estate agent who routinely sits out months (or years) while he argues with the UFC over his contract. When he does fight, though, he’s usually great. He’s 5-0 since his last lost, which came almost four years ago.
In the other corner is Paul Felder, a 33-year-old veteran who has been with the UFC since 2014 but still doesn’t crack the Top 15 of their official lightweight rankings. He does have particularly dangerous elbows though, using his deadly striking to finish his last three fights.
As you can tell from the odds, this one is a true toss-up — neither fighter has great odds. We recommend you don’t even bother wagering on this one. But if you do:
Prediction: Iaqunita via Knockout
Michael Chiesa (-135) vs. Anthony Pettis (+105)
This fight could have big implications for the future of the lightweight division, if the guys at the top can figure out the title situation (more on that in a second). The No. 9 ranked fighter (Chiesa) will take on the No. 12 ranked fighter (Pettis), as they each attempt to climb the 155-pound ladder. They are both coming of a loss, but Pettis’ situation is much more drastic. He has lost five of his last seven fights, including losing the Lightweight title at UFC 185 and then losing a shot at the Featherweight championship at UFC 206 (which he missed weight for).
On the other hand, Chiesa is on the rise. Since winning The Ultimate Fighter 15, he has gone 6-3 in the UFC with two Fight of the Night bonuses, a Submission of the Night bonus, and a Performance of the Night bonus. Plus his most recent loss ended in controversy when referee Mario Yamasaki stopped the fight without Chiesa tapping out or losing consciousness.
These two fighters appear to be headed in opposite directions right now, so we’re taking the one on his way up.
Prediction: Chiesa via Sumbission
Calvin Kattar (-150) vs. Renato Moicano (+120)
Calvin Kattar has been in the UFC for less than a year, but already picked up wins over Andre Fili and Shane Burgos and squeezed himself into the Top 15 in featherweight rankings. Meanwhile, Renato Moicano sits at No. 11 in those rankings, and a win for either fighter could vault them into the Top 10 and closer to title contention.
Both fighters are similar in age (Kattar is 30, Moicano is 28), height (both 5’11”), and reach. The one key difference is that Moicano is more likely to end the fight via submission, with almost half of 11 professional wins coming by making his opponent quit. Kattar, on the other hand, is more likely to finish with strikes, earning him the nickname “The Boston Finisher.”
It should be an exciting fight, as their skillsets and physical attributes are evenly matched. Kattar is the slight favorite, so let’s put some money on the underdog.
Prediction: Moicano via Submission
Joanna Jedrzejczyk (-130) vs. Rose Namajunas (EVEN)
When Rose Namajunas stopped Joanna Jedrzejczyk in the first round of their Strawweight title fight in November 2017, everyone was shocked. Not only was Jedrzejczyk undefeated in her MMA career up to that point, but she had been utterly dominant the whole time. She was almost never in danger and her violent performances earned her two things — the great nickname of “Joanna Violence,” and a worthy spot in the discussion of who is the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet.
Namajunas wasn’t concerned with Jedrzejczyk’s reputation though, as she dominated the former champ from start to finish in a fight that was stopped after just three minutes. That’s pretty remarkable, since Jedrzejczyk was a -600 favorite and Namajunas was a +400 underdog. The odds are much closer this time around, but Jedrzejczyk maintains her position as the betting favorite.
We’ve heard some analysts suggest that Jedrzejczyk is slowing down in her old age, but then we double-checked her birthday — she’s still only 30! While Namajunas is still five years younger, the former champ is hardly over the hill. We expect that Jedrzejczyk will be highly motivated to avenge her only MMA loss, and will come into UFC 223 more prepared than ever before, and with a smarter gameplan. Namajunas is tough as nails, but we think she drops the title on Saturday.
Prediction: Jedrzejczyk via Decision.
Khabib Nurmagomedov (-550) vs. Max Holloway (+375)
This was supposed to be Khabib versus Tony Ferguson for the Lightweight title (which, apparently, is no longer Conor McGregor’s). However, Ferguson tripped and hurt himself a week before the fight, which does indeed confirm that Ferguson vs. Nurmagomedov is cursed. This was the fourth time the two has been scheduled to fight, and the fourth time the fight has been cancelled.
Lucky for us, Featherweight champ Max Hollloway said “f**k it” and agreed to fight an undefeated Russian monster on six days notice. Whether he wins or loses, you have to respect his courage and his confidence. Unfortunately, the bookies don’t believe in his bravado the same way he does, and have made him a 3.75-to-1 underdog on Saturday night.
It would be easy to agree with them. Khabib is one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, is a perfect 25-0, and is going on almost ten years without losing. Plus Holloway is coming off an injury and had no time to prepare for this fight. The smart money is on Khabib here, but we doubted Holloway in both his fights against Jose Aldo and he made us look stupid. Holloway is looking to join the small list of fighters to win championships at multiple weight classes, and a win for either man at UFC 223 might put them in line for a fight against McGregor — the Golden Goose of MMA paydays right now. So Holloway has plenty of motivation to provide another upset.
Prediction: Holloway via Knockout