UFC 223, the biggest MMA event of the spring, is approaching quickly—and it’s worth getting excited about.
While many recent UFC pay-per-views have relied heavily on the novelty of seeing up-and-comers, UFC 223 is rife with established, elite-level talent.
Date: April 7, 2018
Location: Brooklyn, New York
Full Card (Bout Order TBA)
- Tony Ferguson vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov
- Rose Namajunas vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk
- Calvin Kattar vs. Renato Moicano
- Michael Chiesa vs. Anthony Pettis
- Al Iaquinta vs. Paul Felder
- Karolina Kowalkiewicz vs. Felice Herrig
- Ray Borg vs. Brandon Moreno
- Joe Lauzon vs. Chris Gruetzemacher
- Bec Rawlings vs. Ashlee Evans-Smith
- Alex Caceres vs. Artem Lobov
- Evan Dunham vs. Mairbek Taisumov
There is a lot to sift through with this card, but what is the best fight? Read on to find out in Bleacher Report’s early preview of UFC 223.
The Story Entering UFC 223
Conor McGregor hasn’t stepped into the Octagon since 2016, but his shadow still looms large over the UFC.
That has hit the promotion’s most talent-rich weight class, the lightweight division, particularly hard as it has become a battleground for the bickering between its champion and company brass. The 155-pound titleholder will not take a dollar less than he thinks he deserves, while the UFC is trying to lower his asking price by showing the promotion is just fine without him.
The men caught in the middle of, and harmed the most by, this situation are Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov.
In another time, Ferguson and Nurmagomedov would already be regarded as all-time-great-caliber fighters. Ferguson’s in-cage creativity, knack for scoring finishes and inhuman cardio have already cemented his spot above the crowded lightweight pack.
Nurmagomedov, at the same time, has cultivated a persona as one of the most terrifying figures in MMA. Raised in war-torn Dagestan and groomed from a young age to be Russia’s finest combat athlete, he has lived up to his pedigree in the Octagon by ferociously mauling all comers.
Having two elite mixed martial artists come together to settle a yearslong beef is interesting under almost any circumstances. Still, it’s hard to look over the UFC 223 card and not feel like there’s a McGregor-shaped hole.
The Main Event: Tony Ferguson vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov
As mentioned, in a vacuum, Tony Ferguson vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov is an amazing fight and remains the biggest fight on this card despite any outside issues. In fact, a strong case can be made it’s the most compelling bout the UFC can make.
Both men’s resumes are beyond dispute, with Ferguson on a 10-fight UFC winning streak (with seven finishes) and Nurmagomedov sporting a perfect 25-0 record. Their combined trophy mantels include a slew of recognizable names, including Rafael dos Anjos, Edson Barboza, Josh Thomson, Michael Johnson and Kevin Lee, and neither has had much trouble amassing those victories.
The two have risen to the top of the pack side by side, but each time it seemed their paths would cross, one thing or another (or yet another) would get in the way. Despite the potential for fan exhaustion with the pairing, enthusiasm has remained steadily high since they were first linked in 2015, and rightly so. It’s impossible to guess how it will pan out.
Will Ferguson wilt when faced with Nurmagomedov’s savage wrestling attack? Will Nurmagomedov crumble under Ferguson’s relentless pace? The world is dying to know.
The Co-Main Event: Rose Namajunas vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk 2
Joanna Jedrzejczyk wasn’t just a UFC champion. That 12-pound belt was a part of her identity.
Like a duck to water, Jedrzejczyk took to the life of a combat sports celebrity. She actively sought the spotlight and made the most of her time on camera in a way few others have. She swaggered on social media with impunity. She talked the talk on the microphone and walked the walk on the canvas.
And then she lost to Rose Namajunas at UFC 217, getting rocked early in the first round and finished shortly thereafter. It was a stunning upset that raised one simple question: what the heck happened?
Did Jedrzejczyk lose her edge after changing gyms? Had the wear and tear from her lengthy combat sports career added up? Is the cut to 115 pounds too difficult for her at 30? Was November 4, 2017, just an off day? Or had the talented Namajunas simply turned a corner and become a championship-level competitor?
Those questions will be answered at UFC 223, as the two are set to face off yet again.
From a pure X’s and O’s standpoint, there is plenty of reason to doubt how Namajunas holds up against Jedrzejczyk.
Namajunas isn’t known for her power-punching game and, in fact, has historically struggled against gifted strikers. Unless she can score another quick knockout or quietly has a better-than-advertised set of wrestling skills, everything on paper suggests Jedrzejczyk will once again be able to demand people call her Joanna Champion.
Still, it’s impossible to ignore how their UFC 217 bout went when it comes to analyzing this one. That mystery, coupled with the guaranteed high-level action, makes this the best fight on the card—and arguably the best on the entire UFC calendar.
The Best of the Rest
Michael Chiesa vs. Anthony Pettis: Anthony Pettis is still in a tailspin three years removed from losing the UFC lightweight title, but the promotion isn’t giving him much help in terms of getting back on track. He faces a tricky Michael Chiesa at UFC 223, and Chiesa will likely give him issues in all areas of the cage and thus send him deeper into the loss column.
Al Iaquinta vs. Paul Felder: Al Iaquinta seems to have buried the hatchet with UFC brass and still seems to be a bona fide top-10 lightweight. He will have the chance to cement his place among the division’s elite with a bout against the surging Paul Felder.
Karolina Kowalkiewicz vs. Felice Herrig: Strawweight veteran Felice Herrig has found new life in her career over the past year and has a massive opportunity at UFC 223. Set to face Karolina Kowalkiewicz (the last woman to beat Namajunas), she has the chance to force her way into the title picture and get the shot at the belt that has long eluded her.
Ray Borg vs. Brandon Moreno: Brandon Moreno and Ray Borg are incredibly compelling flyweight talents. Unfortunately, they are also both coming off losses. One of them needs to win at UFC 223 in order to maintain his legitimacy as a top-end contender in the division.
Evan Dunham vs. Mairbek Taisumov: Mairbek Taisumov has quietly been one of the lightweight division’s best fighters in recent years, consistently thrashing opponents in the UFC’s smaller European shows. He gets a big step up in both visibility and opposition at UFC 223, as he is set to fight lightweight veteran Evan Dunham.
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