April 5, 2018

UFC 223: Holloway, Nurmagomedov, and the UFC Deserve a Round of Applause

By Raphael Garcia

Everyone is aware of the news by now. Tony Ferguson is out and Max Holloway is in for UFC 223 on Saturday. Many fans were excited for one of the most anticipated bouts in UFC history, and now we’re scrambling to wrap our minds around this intriguing replacement fight, one with ramifications across two divisions and involving multiple MMA stars.

Perhaps MMA fans did not sacrifice enough virgins to the gods, because once again the fight we all wanted to see was called off. A sickeningly ironic announcement came on April Fools' Day, letting the world know that the current interim lightweight champion was taken out of the fight, making the fourth time that things fell apart. That situation opened the door for Max Holloway to leap into Saturday’s main event. In the face of this, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Holloway and, the UFC should be praised for what they’ve done.

First, there’s Nurmagomedov. After months, if not years, of preparing to face Ferguson, he’s taking on another challenge in an equally dangerous, but differently dynamic Holloway. Fighters will often talk about not creating a game plan for a specific opponent, but one must wonder how Nurmagomedov will look at this fight differently. The Hawaii native brings a varied attack into the cage that’s different than Ferguson’s style.

It will be interesting to see how Nurmagomedov deals with Holloway’s ability to move around the Octagon. Holloway has not been taken to the mat since Clay Collard did so back in 2014 at UFC Fight Night 49. Still, Holloway hasn’t fought against a pressing grappler such as Nurmagomedov, let alone one a weight class up. The pressure that he brings to the cage forces his opponents into range; once there, little can be done to stay upright. This is the real story behind this fight at first glance.

But behind the story of the fight is the fact that the fight is happening in the first place, and so we should applaud the organization for being able to book this fight on such short notice. The company has taken its featherweight champion and given him a shot at the lightweight title at a time in which he had an intriguing opponent set in Brian Ortega. Furthermore, if Holloway comes out on top, it creates the opportunity for him to face Conor McGregor in a rematch that appeals to mainstream and hardcore fan alike. Holloway is on the cusp of becoming a real star in this sport; this is the type of opportunity he would have to rise to at some point in order to break through to the larger market.

However, Holloway’s star isn’t tarnished in this fight regardless of the outcome. He’s stepping in to face one of the most dangerous fighters in the game today –- and he’s doing so on six days’ notice. In many ways, this is similar to when McGregor battled Nate Diaz on short notice. He came out on the wrong end of fight, but grew into a bigger star because of it.

UFC 223 stood out as a highlight within the fight community because it was built around more than just the main event. Yet a major shift at the top of the card still caused alarm. But as the hours passed and we were able to let the details of the bout sink in, we realized that everyone involved should be praised for taking on the challenge at the last moment. And Holloway vs. Nurmagomedov should still be a riveting headliner.

UFC 223: Khabib vs. Iaquinta (formerly UFC 223: Ferguson vs. Khabib, UFC 223: Khabib vs. Holloway) takes place April 7, 2018 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

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