UFC 223: Khabib vs. Iaquinta Preview
A preview of Saturday’s UFC 223 card in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Updated: April 5, 2018 • 2:55 PM ET
Joanna Jedrzejczyk is looking to reclaim the UFC strawweight title.
Update: Max Holloway has been pulled from the main event of UFC 223. The main event will be Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Al Iaquinta for the lightweight title.
MMA fans were finally supposed to see Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov meet in the Octagon on Saturday, but disaster has struck once again. Ferguson has withdrawn from the main event at UFC 223 with an LCL injury, which occurred when he tripped over a large cable in a dark room during a hectic promotional day last week. As a result, featherweight champion Max Holloway will step in for Ferguson and take on Nurmagomedov for the lightweight championship.
UFC president Dana White told ESPN that the new main event would in fact be for the “real” lightweight belt and that Ferguson would be stripped of his interim championship. Ferguson wasn’t pleased with the news.
“I haven’t spoken with the UFC yet about what’s next,” Ferguson said on The MMA Hour on Monday. “So when I saw what was in the [ESPN] interview, it shocked me, man, it hurt me even more. It was something I couldn’t control with this injury. This all started snowballing this weekend, man. Of all weekends. The UFC hasn’t said anything to me about my title going away, and I don’t think it will go away.”
“You shouldn’t strip a champion due to a freak injury that happened during a UFC-obligated media event,” Ferguson said.
Without Ferguson, the main event won’t suffer, even though Holloway is stepping in on six days’ notice. Between Nurmagomedov and Holloway, they’ve won 17 straight fights. Nurmagomedov is 9-0 in the UFC and Holloway has won 12 straight, having defended the featherweight title successfully against Jose Aldo in his last fight at UFC 218 in December.
On Saturday, Nurmagomedov has the opportunity to continue dominating opponents. If he defeats Holloway, he’ll become a champion and set up a potential mega-fight with Conor McGregor for the lightweight title that McGregor once called his own.
In his last fight, Nurmagomedov absolutely manhandled Edson Barboza and eliminated any doubt that he has trouble making 155 pounds. However, he’ll have no easy task in Max Holloway.
Holloway has proven that he’s pound-for-pound one of the best fighters in MMA. The scary thing is that he’s only 26 years old and continues to get better. He has the opportunity to step in for Ferguson and defeat a fighter that no other fighter has been able to figure out. A victory would make Holloway just the second fighter to McGregor to hold two different belts at the same time, while also cementing his position as one of the best fighters ever.
Nurmagomedov is one of the best wrestlers in MMA, so to assume that his strategy would change against Holloway would be foolish. He’ll likely attempt to wear out Holloway with his grappling, forcing the Hawaiian to find his way out of compromising positions on the ground or against the cage.
Holloway is well-rounded on his feet and could cause problems for Nurmagomedov in the early rounds with his reach and footwork. But how long will he be able to keep the Dagestani off of him, and how good will his conditioning be on six days’ notice? Fans are in for a crazy main event and despite how unfortunate it is that Ferguson had to pull out of the fight, they should be excited for the new main event.
Saturday’s co-main event will be a rematch for the strawweight title between champion Rose Namajunas and former champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Namajunas shockingly knocked out Jedrzejczyk in the first round of their fight at UFC 217 to become the new champion, putting an end to her six-fight title defense streak.
Namajunas is 5-2 in the UFC and despite her performance at UFC 217, she’ll enter as a slight underdog in the rematch. The 25-year-old wasn’t intimidated by the trash talk before their first fight because of her belief that she has figured the Polish fighter out.
“We knew everything she was going to do before she did it,” Namajunas said of the first bout via MMAjunkie. “I felt a lot of negative energy coming from her. She’s just really mean. I wasn’t really worried about that.”
Jedrzejczyk is 14-1 overall and looking for revenge to restore her legacy as a dominant champion.
"What I can say is it's going to be bigger than my whole fight career," Jedrzejczyk said via FloCombat. "Only one night. Only one fight. It's going to be bigger than 14 years of my fighting career. Mark my words."
“I'm very confident,” she added. “The queen is back.”
The rest of the main card
The main card will also feature a featherweight fight between No. 11 Renato Moicano and No. 13 Calvin Kattar. Moicano is 3-1 in the UFC, but is coming off a Fight of the Night submission loss to Brian Ortega at UFC 214. Kattar is 2-0 in the UFC with wins over Shane Burgos and Andre Fili.
There will also be a lightweight fight between No. 9 Michael Chiesa and No. 12 Anthony Pettis. Chiesa is 3-2 in his last five fights, most recently coming off a submission loss to Kevin Lee in June. Pettis is the former lightweight champion and a poster boy for the UFC, but since losing the belt in 2015 he’s 2-4. - Update: The fight between Michael Chiesa and Anthony Pettis has been pulled from the card.
Rounding out the main card is a lightweight fight between No. 11 Al Iaquinta and Paul Felder. Iaquinta is riding a five-fight win streak and most recently knocked out Diego Sanchez nearly a year ago. Felder is on a three-fight win streak, having most recently defeated Charles Oliveira at UFC 218. - Update: The fight between Al Iaquinta and Paul Felder has been pulled from the card.
Women’s strawweight fight - No. 4 Karolina Kowalkiewicz vs. No. 8 Felice Herrig
Women’s flyweight fight - Bec Rawlings vs. Ashlee Evans-Smith
Lightweight fight - Joe Lauzon vs. Chris Gruetzemacher - Update: This fight has been moved to the main card
Lightweight fight - No. 14 Evan Dunham vs. Olivier Aubin-Mercier
Light heavyweight fight - Devin Clark vs. Mike Rodriguez
UFC Fight Pass Early Prelims
Featherweight fight - Zabit Magomedsharipov vs. Kyle Bochniak - Update: This fight has been moved to the main card
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