UFC 223 Round Table: Who Takes Felice vs. Karolina, What’s the Ceiling for Zabit Magomedsharipov?

Felice Herrig UFC
Felice Herrig Credit: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com

Assuming nothing else goes wrong (that sound you hear is knocking on wood), UFC 223 goes down Saturday night in Brooklyn. In this round table, we tackle what’s left of the card.

UFC 223 goes down Saturday, April 7 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY. Featuring a main event of Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson Max Holloway Anthony Pettis Paul Felder Whoever They Could Find Out Back of the Arena Al Iaquinta, it’s a card that nearly imploded. Part of that was thanks to the antics of Conor McGregor, who sparked a rampage and attacked a bus full of fighters at the UFC 223 media day on Thursday.

Part of that was due to freak injuries, and Max Holloway facing an insurmountable weight cut on short notice. And part was due to the New York State Athletic Commission, who would not allow Felder to fight Khabib in the main event due to not being ranked. Showing, once again, that the NYSAC is grossly unprepared to sanction MMA events, and apparently don’t realize that the UFC rankings are quite frankly a joke.

In any case, Cageside Press got about to a round table this week, however thanks to the frankly bizarre turn of events over the past forty-eight hours, we’re down to three questions, none tackling the main event. There’s still a whack of compelling fights on the card however. Can Felice Herrig finally get a title shot? Can Zabit Magomedsharipov be the next UFC star at featherwieght? And where does Joanna Jedrzejczyk go if she loses to Thug Rose for a second time?

Here’s what our panel had to say.

Who wins in Felice Herrig vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz, and why?

Paarth Pande: This is genuinely tough. 2017 was Felice’s year. That being said, Felice in the past has shown mental weakness in the cage, which has affected her performance tremendously. Case 1: She remains mentally strong. Felice looks invincible when she is ready for a battle mentally. However, Karolina isn’t someone who can be defeated easily. She throws a lot strikes and has a good ground game. Still, I expect a mentally prepared Felice beats her in almost every place. Case 2: She isn’t mentally ready. She most probably will lose.

Dan Doherty: Man this is a tough one. Karolina’s last performance was her career’s finest, chaining together combination after combination on Jodie Esquibel. However, Herrig is a strawweight on a mission. After a disappointing loss to Paige VanZant, Herrig has completely turned her career around, winning four straight contests and showcasing different skills along the way. I believe Felice has what it takes to not allow Karolina to get comfortable on the feet, and I believe she’ll take home a decision. What an excellent fight though.

Jay Anderson: This is a hard one to call. Felice is finally putting everything together, finally firing on all cylinders. When the 115lb weight class was brought in, she was one to watch, but struggled out of the gate. Lil Bulldog has really turned it around, but I do think Karolina is next level. I’m waffling a little, but I think Karolina gets the win here.

Heath Harshman: While Felice Herrig has been on a tear the last couple of years, defeating some solid opponents, I don’t think she’s at the same level as the top-tier at 115-pounds. Which includes Kowalkiewicz. KK has more experience, and more success, against better strawweight competition over the course of her career than Herrig. Her work in the clinch should be the difference against Herrig, who’s facing her toughest opponent since Tecia Torres in Invicta in 2013. Herrig is great, and deserves to be competing against the upper echelon of the UFC strawweight division, but I think KK’s experience and overall talent will be enough for her to secure her second consecutive victory.

Jesse Gillette: I have seen both of these women fight many times, and something just tells me Felice Herrig won’t be able to keep up with Karolina Kowalkiewicz at this point in her career. Technically speaking, I’m not sure why I think that. I perceive Herrig to be the sloppier fighter, but I guess we’ll see come April 7.

Gabriel Gonzalez: This is such a huge fight between two women a lot of people are sleeping on. I think it’s going to come down to Felice’s grappling. Karolina is a very underrated striker but we haven’t seen her show that she can keep up with someone who has been as competent on the mat as Herrig. This is a big fight for Karolina to stay relevant in the title picture and for Herrig to really get on the radar for a possible title eliminator this year.

Can Zabit Magomedsharipov be the next big thing at featherweight?

Heath Harshman: Magomedsharipov has all of the tools to be a top-tier featherweight contender. In order to be the “next big thing”, he needs to prove it against better talent than he’s been matched up with of late. His 2-0 UFC record, which features two Performance of the Night bonuses, is nothing to sneeze at. But until he puts on a performance like the ones we’ve seen against a ranked opponent, we should pump the brakes on Zabit being the next big thing. The UFC’s 145-pound division is full of killers, Zabit included. But until he’s matched-up with the likes of Yair Rodriguez, Mirsad Bektic, or the other talented prospects at featherweight, I’m reserving my judgment.

Gabriel Gonzalez: Zabit certainly has the potential to be the next big thing. His UFC debut played out like a highlight of things we’ve loved seeing over the years from guys like Anthony Pettis, Thomas Almeida and others. Obviously, the real test will be when he faces fighters like Frankie Edgar or Chad Mendes, fighters also athletically gifted who have dominant wrestling that can neutralize his striking. If he can overcome those challenges while displaying the same skills we’ve already seen, then he most certainly will be a major player for a long time in the featherweight division.

Paarth Pande: What makes you think he will be a star? He’s Russian, PPV buyers from USA won’t support him.

Dan Doherty: Absolutely. His striking is so dynamic and fluid. The spin kicks make opponents uncomfortable and he has the grappling skills to finish off fights on the ground as well. Scary and unexpected combination. There are prospects who are excellent on the feet but don’t have the grappling to put it all together (Tom Duquesnoy, as talented as he is, is an example), but Zabit is the total package.

Jesse Gillette:

He’s not that good — didn’t you guys see his loss to Igor Egorov in 2013 via arm-bar when you were looking up who he was? That’s more or less a joke about the size of the UFC roster. All jokes aside – yes, he could.

Magomedsharipov looked very impressive against Sheymon Moraes and showed an Anthony Pettis-like brilliance when attacking Mike Santiago – both showings resulted in Performance of the Night honors. His next test won’t catapult him into greatness, but sure, in the future he could make a run towards the title.

His nickname is ZM Punk, by the way (also goes by ZaBeast, but that’s not the cool one).

Jay Anderson: I was on the Zabit bandwagon early. The dude constantly looks like he just got out of bed. Then does some matrix-style s***, displays incredible movement, creative striking, and a well-rounded game. We remember the flashy striking, but he’s submitting guys. He looks like a hobbit and fights like a cross between Mousasi and Pettis. If he can look that good against some higher level guys, he can be big. The language barrier and nationality doesn’t matter. Khabib is managing it.

What does Joanna Jedrzejczyk do if she loses to Thug Rose a second time?

Jay Anderson: Get a new pair of sneakers and sprint on over to the flyweight division.

Gabriel Gonzalez: A second loss to Rose for Joanna would be far from the end of the road. She has expressed interest in moving up to 125. That is more than likely something we will see her do in the next year regardless of Saturday’s outcome. Also, she’s still a top strawweight and it’s not impossible to think she could get another title shot if Rose is removed from the top similar to Miesha Tate’s improbable title run years ago.

Heath Harshman: Should Joanna lose, or even if she wins, a move to flyweight is imminent. The division is prime for the taking, with Valentina Shevchenko as the only real competition at this point. The women’s UFC flyweight belt is yet to be defended. I’d be surprised if Joanna isn’t battling for the 125-pound belt by the end of 2018, or early next year. The weight cut to 115-pounds has impacted her before, and she has nothing else to prove at strawweight. Some battles with Shevchenko, and a potential title-run, sound like great ways for Joanna to put the end of her incredibly impressive strawweight reign behind her.

Jesse Gillette: I think this is an easy one. Joanna jumps up to 125 for an immediate title shot against the forgotten UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion – what’sher name. That’s no disrespect to Nicco Montano, just saying it like it’s perceived in the public eye. What’s the plan for 125 if Joanna doesn’t eventually go up?

Paarth Pande: Joanna moves up. There is no reason why she should stick around at 115. She has a record number of title defenses and has cemented her name among GOAT women’s MMA fighters. Moving up will be the correct decision. Plus she has also said she has had weight cutting problems — moving up will also be good for her body.

Dan Doherty: F L Y W E I G H T. Move on up. Let Rose deal with the murderer’s row waiting for her and stop cutting all the way down to 115. It’s a great opportunity to start the next chapter of JJ’s career. Just as soon as we locate where that flyweight belt is.