The biggest UFC fight card to date in 2018 has also become one of the most volatile, even before soon-to-be-former UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor decided to show up and crash the party and try to take out a bus.
The main event for UFC 223 was supposed to be interim UFC lightweight champion Tony Ferguson facing Khabib Nurmagomedov for the undisputed lightweight title, after McGregor will most assuredly be stripped of it following his actions at the UFC 223 Media Day event. However, a freak knee injury resulted in Ferguson having to withdraw, and in his place steps UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway to try and follow in McGregor’s footsteps and become a two-division champion.
Strengths: Simply put, Holloway has become one of the best strikers in all of mixed martial arts. He’s on an 11-fight win streak, which includes a UFC featherweight title win and two successful title defenses. He has thoroughly outstruck his opponents in each win, and has won in every which way possible – knockout, submission and by decision. It’s a testament to Holloway’s well-rounded skillset, though his striking has taken precedent in his recent bouts.
Holloway lands an impressive 6.2 significant strikes per minute at an equally impressive success rate of almost 44 percent. So when he goes to hit you, it’s highly likely he will succeed and will finish his opponent. Holloway only has two wins in his 19-fight career by submission, but those both came within in the last few years. So not only is Holloway surging, he’s also evolving as a fighter.
Weaknesses: At the moment, it’s hard to pinpoint too many glaring weaknesses in Holloway’s game, as he appears to be in his prime. His last loss in the UFC to McGregor in 2013, and his other two losses came to tough fighters in Dennis Bermudez and Dustin Poirier. So it’s not like he lost to inferior competition.
But how will Holloway handle someone like Nurmagomedov, who is one of the best takedown artists in MMA and has elite ground-and-pound. We all saw what Nurmagomedov did to fighters like Michael Johnson and Edson Barboza. Holloway defends 83 percent of the takedowns attempted against him, but Nurmagomedov is far and away the best fighter Holloway has faced when it comes to takedowns. On top of that, Holloway is facing a rough weight cut on very short notice, even if he gets to compete at 155 pounds instead of 145. But will he still have anything left in the tank come fight night?
Strengths: As I just finished saying, Nurmagomedov is one of the best, if not the best, at takedowns in all of MMA. We’ve all heard the stories of Nurmagomedov wrestling bears as a child, and we all saw the video of Nurmagomedov imploring Johnson to give up while pounding away on him at UFC 205 in 2016. Nurmagomedov lands nearly six takedowns per fight and defends nearly 83 percent of takedowns attempted on him. So simply put, if Nurmagomedov gets you down, he’s not letting you up and it is likely lights out for you.
Weaknesses: It’s pretty hard to find weaknesses with an undefeated fighter who’s second-to-none on the ground. Holloway might be the best striker – maybe even the best fighter – Nurmagomedov has faced to date. If Holloway is able to keep the fight standing and avoid being taken down, can Nurmagomedov keep up? Can he win a stand-up battle? Holloway should have a reach advantage in this fight as well. Can Nurmagomedov render that moot?
This fight is every bit as good as the original scheduled fight between Ferguson and Nurmagomedov. Holloway is at his best right now, and Nurmagomedov continues to be one of the best. This feels like a true prize fight and should be a great one for fans. If Holloway keeps the fight on the feet, he has a chance to outstrike Nurmagomedov and become a two-division champion.
However, I think Nurmagomedov’s advantage on the ground, coupled with probable exhaustion on Holloway’s part with his weight cut, leaves Holloway vulnerable to be taken down early and often. Holloway will do his best to hang tough, but I like “The Eagle” to finally claim UFC gold.
Winner: Nurmagomedov by unanimous decision
Image Credit: MMA News