UFC 223: Can Max Holloway Do the Impossible?

UFC 223 Max Holloway Khabib Nurmagomedov
Credit: Joao Baptista/Sherdog.com

UFC 223 lost its planned main event thanks to a Tony Ferguson injury. At the end of the day, it is what it is.

We’ve been here too many times. Tony Ferguson vs Khabib Nurmagomedov is off again. This time, it was Ferguson who found himself injured, with a torn LCL. Just six days before the fight was scheduled to happen for the UFC’s lightweight championship, the fight that fans have wanted to see for years was cancelled. Again. It was cancelled three times previous, and it finally seemed that at UFC 223 on April 7 the bout was at long last going to happen.

After what has been described as a “freak accident” sent Tony Ferguson packing with an injured knee, on April 1 it was announced that UFC Featherweight champion and top pound-for-pound fighter Max Holloway was moving up in weight, on six days notice to fight the undefeated Khabib Nurmagomedov. The fight will be for the undisputed UFC Lightweight championship, which means that champion Conor McGregor, and interim champion Tony Ferguson will both be stripped of their respective titles (maybe, though White has since claimed Ferguson won’t be stripped, rather confusing if there’s an active lightweight champ).

Once the bout was announced there was some excitement, but the overwhelming feeling was that Max Holloway does not have a chance. The betting lines opened with Khabib being a 5-1 favorite over the featherweight champ, and most don’t seem to think Holloway has a chance against ‘The Eagle.’ Well, does he?

For one, it’s hard to say anyone has a chance against Khabib Nurmagomedov. The Dagestani wrestler that grew up wrestling bears is undefeated not only in the UFC, but over his entire career. Sporting a 25-0 record that has shown him have zero problems in the cage, he’s dominated former champions and other top fighters. His most notable wins came over former lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos, Edson Barboza, and Michael Johnson; Khabib has shown to be a wrecking force in the 155 pound division.

But now let’s take a look at Holloway, a fighter that is currently on a 12 fight winning streak and an all time great run at featherweight. Holloway has beaten such fighters as Jose Aldo (2x), Cub Swanson, Anthony Pettis, Ricardo Lamas, and Jeremy Stephens. Holloway is a long rangy fighter, who is big for featherweight and has expressed interest in going up to lightweight in the future. Few would have thought his first fight in the division would be against Khabib Nurmagomedov, but nonetheless, the Hawaiian never turns down a challenge.

For Holloway to pull of the impossible, he will have to survive the early onslaught from Khabib. Nurmagomedov has never gone five rounds in his MMA career, and has gotten slightly tired before in fights going to the third round. However that being said, Khabib’s style is likely one he can do while tired; once he gets his opponent down they typically don’t get back up. But with his style of wrestling, he relies a lot on the cage, which is where Holloway doesn’t get taken down often. In fact, Holloway doesn’t get taken down often at all.

Holloway has a 83% takedown defense percentage, and is really good at defending takedowns up against the fence. Holloway is kind of like Tony Ferguson-lite when it comes to pressure fighting, he typically starts slow but once he finds his rhythm, he drowns his opponent by taking them into deep water. In both fights against Jose Aldo, Max never stopped moving forward, and wouldn’t let Aldo take a break.

It’s also incredibly hard to hit Holloway clean, or even get him in one place. Max typically uses great angles to get to his opponent, and he is always moving. He never stands in one place, which makes it even more likely that he won’t stay in place going against the bigger Nurmagomedov. For Holloway to win he has to keep the pressure and move forward. Now that’s going to be hard to do, especially when considering that Holloway is coming off an injury and only has six days notice for the bout. So it has to be figured that Khabib is the favorite and the smart pick for the UFC 223 main event.

Still, it’s impossible to count a fighter like Max Holloway out of any fight. Which makes UFC 223’s main event an incredibly compelling one.