UFC 223 Preview: Two Title Fights & One Other Fighter In The Top 10 Rankings
The UFC returns to Pay-Per-View Saturday, April 7th when two title bouts will be decided on the blood stained mat of the octagon. In the main event, Tony Ferguson will square off with much-hyped Khabib Nurmagomedov for the Lightweight belt recently vacated by Conor McGregor. Co-headlining will be Joanna Jedrzejczyk looking to recapture her belt from Rose Namajunas, who took it from the long-time champ in decisive fashion at UFC 217. The rest of the main card features only one fighter ranked in the top 10 of their respective divisions, Michael Chiesa, whose most memorable moment was tapping or maybe not tapping to a Kevin Lee choke. This, in turn, had Dana White reigning heaps of scrutiny down on referee Mario Yamasaki.
A lackluster under-card not withstanding, this is a night MMA fans have been (told to be) waiting for. Khabib and Ferguson, winner presumably taking on McGregor in his return to MMA. The top two lightweights in the world squaring off in what promises to be a fight with a lot of action. Let's take a closer look!
Khabib Nurmagomedov v Tony Ferguson
Current belt-holder Tony Ferguson is coming in to this one on a ten fight win streak that stretches back to 2013.
He has finished seven of those fights, six by way of submission. Khabib comes in with a perfect UFC and MMA record, never having tasted defeat. The metrics on this one are just about as close as it gets in terms of striking offense and defense and take-downs landed and defended. Both men are adept wrestlers with the edge here going to Khabib. The dude used to wrestle bears as a child.
Neither fighter has shown strong stopping power but both can throw with high accuracy and volume if that's the way the fight goes. Vegas is showing Khabib as the -240 favorite but I don't think it will be that easy for him. Ferguson hasn't gotten to where he's at without reason. Both fighters are deserving of the spotlight and it's a shame that one is going to lose. I think Khabib's hype-train rolls on and he takes this one in a fight for the ages.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk v Rose Namajunas
Oh boy. This for me is the fight to watch. “Thug” Rose absolutely demolished JJ back in November, making her tap to strikes. Up until then JJ had defended her belt six times and was seemingly on a Demetrious Johnson type run of title defenses. As sometimes happens in the UFC, that story came to a quick and painful end with Namajunas writing it's final chapter. Having watched Joanna defend her title so effectively over the years it became hard to see how she could lose.
After having watched her lose, the look back at her reign is presenting to me one glaring issue. She had completely outclassed her opponents in those matches to the tune of a combined 971 – 328 striking surplus. However, even with that amount of leather flying downrange, she only finished two opponents, both of those finishes coming back in 2015. JJ is technical prowess at it's finest, but that might not get the job done in a street fight.
Rose Namajunas didn't just luck into the nickname “Thug”. She can weather the storm and fight through. She has shown already that she is capable of stopping Jedrzejczyk and that will weight heavily on the mind of the former champ as she looks to regain her belt. Rose has shown the ability to push the pace and she's not afraid to stand and trade – something JJ's opponents used to try and stay away from. Styles make fights, and this one should be tremendous.
Jedrzejczyk cited a horrible weight cut as a reason she performed so poorly in the first match. Whether Dana White agreed or he just wanted to do his long-time champ a favor and give her the immediate rematch, we'll never know. Vegas has JJ as the -135 favorite, a far cry from where the line was when Namajunas shocked the world at UFC 217. Was it the weight cut? Is Rose just kryptonite to a once dominant champion? Is Rose just better?
I have no strong conviction in this, but I'm going with JJ. Enjoy the fights!
Until next time.