With UFC 223 in the books, it is time to look ahead at what could be nect for every fighter on the card.
Khabib Nurmagomedov def. Al Iaquinta for the vacant UFC lightweight championship
Khabib Nurmagomedov fought for the first time since December, and in the process captured the UFC lightweight championship. He was dominant, winning all five rounds, and really busting Al Iaquinta up in route to a unanimous decision victory. But hidden amongst that dominance may have been the first signs of weakness that we have seen in Nurmagomedov up to this point. He dominated the first two rounds with his grappling which was expected. But the later rounds played out a bit differently.
Nurmagomedov elected to stand with Iaquinta and showed that he still has a way to go in that department. Though I will say that it is better than I thought it was going into the fight. The real interesting thing though was that Nurmagomedov seemed to struggle to get the takedown in the third and fourth rounds. It’s possible that he chose to stand with Iaquinta just to show that he could, but I wonder if it was something else. Was he tired? Was he playing some strange game of opossum to throw off future opponents? I know that sounds absurd, but this is a guy who makes a habit of talking to people at cage side while mauling his opponents. This guy is really good and I’m not sure I would but it past him to do something like that.
Whatever the issue was it really doesn’t matter and is a bit like splitting hairs. He dominated, did what was necessary, and is now the first Russian UFC champion since Oleg Taktarov won the UFC 6 Tournament in 1995.
Now on to the subject at hand. Figuring out Nurmagomedov’s next opponent is not an easy task. Could it be Conor McGregor? Tony Ferguson? Or even former champion, Eddie Alvarez? McGregor is embroiled in legal issues and hasn’t even stated when or if he plans to fight again. While I do think that it makes sense to give Alvarez the shot considering the injury suffered by Ferguson, and Dana White’s insistence that he won’t book Ferguson/Nurmagomedov again, I don’t think it will happen.
The fight to make is Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson, and the winner can face Conor McGregor somewhere down the line. McGregor may want his shot, but after months of making people wait on him, I think it is about time that Conor McGregor waits his turn.
Fight to make next: Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson for UFC lightweight championship
Al Iaquinta was in a unique position to repeat the famous upset pulled off by his coach, Matt Serra. Serra defeated Georges St. Pierre as a huge underdog to win the welterweight championship almost exactly ten years before Iaquinta got his chance to pull off an upset of his own. Iaquinta took the fight against Nurmagomedov on just six days’ notice, after going through a camp that was likely tailored for his originally scheduled opponent, Paul Felder. Felder is a striker, who doesn’t possess the grappling pedigree of Nurmagomedov and uses a different style entirely. Iaquinta held his own though and even managed to avoid some of Nurmagomedov’s vaunted takedowns. He landed his shots on the feet and should walk away at least knowing that he went 5 rounds with the best in the world and didn’t look terrible doing it with just 6 days’ notice.
As for his next fight I liked the Paul Felder matchup and I think it makes just as much sense now as it did before. Iaquinta’s stock definitely rose, but this is an exciting fight and a win over Paul Felder is nothing to sneeze at. The future is certainly bright for Iaquinta. Let’s just hope that real estate doesn’t become more lucrative than the UFC.
Fight to make next: Al Iaquinta vs. Paul Felder
Rose Namajunas def. Joanna Jedrzejczyk to retain UFC Women’s strawweight championship
Rose Namajunas showed her continued improvement on Saturday when she defeated division pioneer Joanna Jedrzejczyk by Unanimous Decision. She stood with the former Muay Thai champion for all 5 rounds and won at least four rounds on most score cards. She is a young champion in a young division and for that reason it’s quite possible that she stands to hold her championship for the foreseeable future.
She has already fought and defeated most of the top fighters in the division, and of her losses only one stands out as a possibility for a rematch. It just so happens that the potential opponent I am talking about competed on this very same card. Karolina Kowalkiewicz picked up her second straight victory with a win over Felice Herrig, and the fact that she holds a victory over Namajunas should help her in terms of getting the next shot. Namajunas is certainly a different fighter now, but one would think that Kowalkiewicz is also.
Fight to make next: Rose Namajunas vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz for UFC women’s strawweight championship
Joanna Jedrzejczyk is at a crossroads in her career. After going undefeated in her first fourteen fight she has now lost two straight and will probably have to win a few fights before challenging for the title again.
She does have a few options though. She could move up a weight class, which seems possible considering her recent complaints about weight cutting effecting her first fight with Namajunas. She could also just take a step back and win a few fights to get a third fight with Namajunas. For what it’s worth, I really though Jedrzejczyk did enough to win the last three rounds, but I have heard some good arguments as for why I am wrong. Still though her leg kicks seemed like the dominant factor of the fight, and for that reason I scored the last three rounds for her. Namajunas had a damaged leg, and you must wonder how much power her shots still had in the later rounds.
Regardless though Jedrzejczyk will have to win a few fights before she can expect a title shot in either division. Assuming she stays at 115 pounds I think that Felice Herrig makes sense for her. Herrig is a solid veteran who will serve as a good test for the former champion, but also represents a winnable fight and an opportunity for Jedrzejczyk to turn things around.
Fight to make next: Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Felice Herrig
Renato Moicano def. Calvin Kattar
Renato Moicano could very well be one of the best featherweights in the world. He was arguably on his way to a decision victory when he was caught in a guillotine by Brian Ortega. That fight is his only loss, and you wonder where he would be if he could have avoided that guillotine. He took on a solid fighter in Calvin Katter and quickly found a weakness in that he does not defend leg kicks well. Moicano damaged the lead leg of Kattar early and kept up that assault throughout the entire fight.
Myles Jury is a guy that has been around for a while and after a few losses is now working his way back up the ladder. A fight with Moicano is a big test for anybody, but the same can be said about Myles Jury.
Fight to make next: Renato Moicano vs. Myles Jury
Calvin Katter has been a pro fighter for over ten years but is relatively new to the UFC. His fight with Renato Moicano was his third fight in the UFC, and the first that he couldn’t win. He struggled to deal with Renato Moicano’s leg kicks, and never really seemed to get into any sort of rhythm. Kattar will need to fix this whole if he wants to move forward in the UFC, but if he does he could have a bright future.
Rick Glenn isn’t a guy who is going to attacks the legs like Moicano did, but he’s durable and often pressures his opponents until they break. Kattar seems to prefer fighting on the feet, so it will be interesting to see how he deals with that pressure, and with the clinch and takedown game often used by Glenn.
Fight to make next: Calvin Kattar vs. Rick Glenn
Zabit Magomedsharipov def. Kyle Bochniak
Zabit Magomedsharipov had what I think was the best performance of anybody at UFC 223. I couldn’t place him when the fight started but by the end I certainly knew who he was. He looked good everywhere the fight went and withstood a late third round surge by a game Kyle Bochniak. He is rumored to have suffered a broken hand before the fight, but his team stated that the injury occurred in the first round. Whenever the injury occurred he showed no obvious signs of it and was dominant in victory.
The featherweight division had a lot of quality fighters, so I don’t think that Magomedsharipov should be rushed along. Enrique Barzola is an Ultimate Fighter winner and has looked good as of late. These two can fight and the winner probably deserves a shot at the top 15.
Fight to make next: Zabit Magomedsharipov vs. Enrique Barzola
Kyle Bochniak had quite a performance and earned a fight of the night bonus that probably cured some of the burn from his loss. His name is probably bigger than ever despite his loss and he will surely get another fight despite his shaky UFC record.
Artem Lobov was supposed to compete on the 223 undercard but was involved in the Conor McGregor vs. Bus fight and was pulled from the card for his actions. Assuming he isn’t cut, which could be possible due to his record and actions, I think that a fight with Kyle Bochniak makes sense. Bochniak has shown a willingness to fight the way that Lobov likes to fight and for that reason I think this booking makes sense.
Fight to make next: Kyle Bochniak vs. Artem Lobov
Chris Gruetzmacher def. Joe Lauzon
Chris Gruetzmacher went from chopping block to on the rise very quickly and unfortunately it came at the expense of Joe Lauzon. Gruetzmacher had a tough go as of late and was coming off back to back losses going into the Lauzon fight. Considering that his weakness has been submission defense I figured this was an easy win for Lauzon and I was clearly very wrong. Gruetzmacher displayed great cardio and beat Lauzon up for most of two rounds before the corner stopped it on Lauzons behalf. He will look to move forward now in a very dense and murky division.
Alan Patrick has had some success in the UFC but hasn’t quite caught the attention of the audience yet. Perhaps a fight with Chris Gruetzmacher could help.
Fight to make next: Chris Gruetzmacher vs. Alan Patrick
Joe Lauzon has not looked good lately and has now lost three straight fights. He has been around since 2006 and has been consistent throughout that time but it appears he stopped improving a while back and has become a punching bag. Perhaps it’s his style, his age, game plan, or some combination of all the above.
Whatever it is Lauzon needs to figure it out if he plans to continue his career. His corner did him a favor by throwing in the towel after the second round. Another 5 minutes of the beating would not have been good for anybody.
Lauzon has always been a tough guy that, and that’s saying something in a sport filled with tough people. Abel Trujillo is a guy who is in the UFC but hasn’t really managed to find a comfortable spot in the rankings. These two seem perfect for each other at this stage in their careers.
Fight to make next: Joe Lauzon vs. Abel Trujillo
Karolina Kowalkiewicz def. Felice Herrig
Fights to make next:
Karolina Kowalkiewicz vs. Rose Namajunas for UFC Women’s Strawweight Championship
Felice Herrig vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk
Olivier Aubin-Mercier def. Evan Dunham
Fights to make next:
Olivier Aubin-Mercier vs. Islam Makhachev
Evan Dunham vs. Joe Duffy
Ashlee Evans-Smith def. Bac Rawlings
Fights to make next:
Ashlee Evans-Smith vs. Jessica Eye
Bec Rawlings will likely be cut though I hope that isn’t the case. She has lost four straight fights and that is usually more than enough to trigger a release.
Devin Clark def. Mike Rodriguez
Fights to make next
Devin Clark vs. Paul Craig
Mike Rodriguez vs. James Bochnovic