UFC 223: Khabib vs. Iaquinta – Winners and Losers

UFC 223 came and went without further incident. Given all that’s happened since the calendar turned to April, that’s saying something. Half the fans were expecting Conor McGregor to burst into the arena in a semi carrying food from Burger King and hurl chicken sandwiches at fans and fighters alike. But some semblance of normalcy returned and we got an MMA show instead of a WWE show.

The lightweight division is now back to having one champion instead of two, though neither of the two previous champions even participated in the title fight, much less walked out as champion. Despite that, there won’t be many people arguing over the validity of Khabib Nurmagomedov’s reign. Rose Namajunas proved the legitimacy of her title reign, turning away the woman she took the title from in a closely fought contest. Khabib and Thug Rose were two of the biggest winner’s on the night, but they weren’t the only winners….

Winners

Khabib Nurmagomedov: Is it just me, or did Nurmagomedov look bored against Iaquinta? He was toying with the New Yorker at times when he continually flashed his jab in Iaquinta’s face. Despite his seeming disinterest, Nurmagomedov turned in a dominant performance, sweeping the scorecards with ease. Now he’s the first UFC champion from Russia and may already be one of the most dominant champions without a single title defense under his belt. I’m wary of declaring he’ll have a long title reign as lightweight is a shark tank, but no one will be surprised if he does.

Rose Namajunas: I didn’t see too many who believed Thug Rose’s crowning fight was a fluke, but given the nature of MMA fans, we all know they were out there. Those doubters have to shut their mouths now. Namajunas endured a strong effort from the former champion, resisting Jedrzejczyk’s comeback after Namajunas controlled the early portions of the fight. There’s little doubt at this point Namajunas is a deserving champion. Now about Jessica Andrade….

Renato Moicano: Did people forget Moicano’s only career loss came at the hands of Brian Ortega? It’s like the announce team was surprised at Moicano’s dominance of Calvin Kattar. I’m not saying Kattar is a nobody. I’m just saying Moicano is really good and he proved that, leaving no doubt he was the better fighter. If the UFC handles the youngster properly, he could prove to be a future contender… if he isn’t one already.

Zabit Magomedsharipov: Though there is zero justification for McGregor’s action this week, Magomedsharipov should consider sending him a fruit basket (perhaps just a thank you card as he’d likely throw the basket) as all the fights being removed from the card allowed him to move onto the main card and into a bigger spotlight. Magomedsharipov may not have picked up a finish, but he showed off his creativity and toughness in the type of performance that creates stars in his win over Kyle Bochniak. I’ve been saying for a while that Magomedsharipov is a star in the making. Now a lot more people know what I’m talking about.

Kyle Bochniak: It’s rare that I put someone who came out on the short end of the stick in the winner’s column, but Bochniak absolutely deserves his place in the winner’s circle. Unfortunately, a fight can’t have two winners, the only reason Bochniak lost. He never wilted under Magomedsharipov’s intense attack, leaving his chin out there for the Russian to touch him up some more. Bochniak was still there in the end, putting some doubt into Magomedsharipov’s victory by landing some hard shots. In the process, he may have turned in the fight of the year for 2018… thus far at least.

Chris Gruetzemacher: Some may call Gruetzemacher lucky in securing the biggest win of his career as Joe Lauzon is at the end of a lengthy career, but Gruetzemacher still deserves credit for doing what he needed to do to walk out of the arena with a victory. He took Lauzon’s best shots early and stayed in his face once the storm passed, delivering a nonstop barrage of punches that prompted Lauzon’s corner to throw in the towel. In the process, Gruetzemacher likely saved his job.

Karolina Kowalkiewicz: Did I just watch a replay of Kowalkiewicz’s fight with Rose Namajunas? That really was Felice Herrig in there? Just making sure since Kowalkiewicz beat Herrig in the same manner she beat Thug Rose. Like all Kowalkiewicz fights, it was pretty damn entertaining too. Another bonus for Kowalkiewicz: she can still say she owns a win over the champion after Namajunas’ win. That could possibly expedite another potential title shot for her.

Olivier Aubin-Mercier: Montreal has been unable to produce an heir apparent to GSP. Many believed OAM would be the one to fill that void. This win may have just confirmed that. Dunham has long been one of the most durable members of the lightweight division and OAM demolished him inside of a round with knees and punches in close quarters. I understand he’s a long way away from the top of the division, but he’s well on his way there if this fight is a fair indication.

Ashlee Evans-Smith: It’s hard to find a fighter on the roster who has struggled more to put all their physical talents together than Evans-Smith, but her win over Bec Rawlings showed she may be starting to do that. It wasn’t a flawless performance by any means, but lets give her credit for progressing after a seemingly infinite amount of uneven performances.

Devin Clark: It was tempting to say Clark was neither a winner or a loser based on the aesthetics of his performance, but just because his grinding style wasn’t pretty doesn’t mean it wasn’t effective. The youngster is proving he isn’t too small for 205, even when Joe Rogan is questioning if he should move down.

Losers

Conor McGregor: I don’t need to repeat what McGregor did. We all know at this point. But have all the ramifications been discussed? I don’t have time to do so here, but given how quickly McGregor spends his money and how much this fracas is likely to cost him, it’s no surprise his agent – or was it his manager? – said McGregor is anxious to fight again ASAP. Keep in mind that McGregor will not only have to pay legal fees and lawsuits, he’s hurt his marketability in the worst way. It’s hard to believe he’ll get any endorsements any time soon. By the way, I don’t remember seeing a Burger King commercial during the prelims. Do you? How the consequences will pile up…. One other thing… McGregor is no longer the lightweight champion.

Joanna Jedrzejczyk: Putting Jedrzejczyk in this column has nothing to do with her in-cage performance. She fought well enough that a legit case could be made that she won as the last three rounds were all razor thin. Jedrzejczyk performed admirably. The reason she’s in the loser’s column is she isn’t going to get another shot at the belt as long as Namajunas remains the champion. The only silver lining is that Andrade looks like she’ll be the next challenger and she appears to be a nightmare matchup for the champion. But we’re operating in the here and now, so Jedrzejczyk is in the loser’s column.

Joe Lauzon: Like any true MMA fan, I love me some Joe Lauzon. It’s hard to name a fighter who has been consistently as entertaining as the Massachusetts native in the brief history of the sport. But he’s reached the end of the line. He never had a deep gas tank, but he can’t even go half a round before finding himself considerably slowed. He’s no longer the same guy. Lauzon appears to be the latest victim of Father Time.

Evan Dunham: Are we witnessing the begin of Dunham’s descent? He is 36 after all with a style that absorbs a lot of damage. Then again, maybe OAM just caught him in the right spot with his knee. Regardless, this loss kills whatever slim chance Dunham ever had to climb to the top of the division. However, whether this is the beginning of the end though won’t be answered until his next fight.

Bec Rawlings: Four losses in a row. That’s really all that needs to be said. I’ll be fair to Rawlings and point out she has shown technical improvement, but that doesn’t mean much when you can’t pull out a W. Maybe her brawling nature in which she completely ignored defense wasn’t such a bad thing after all. At least she can always go back to Invicta.

Michael Chiesa, Anthony Pettis, Ray Borg, Paul Felder, Brandon Moreno, and Alex Caceres: Through no fault of their own, all of these men were removed from the card with no chance to earn their win bonus thanks to the shenanigans of McGregor. Well… Felder’s being pulled wasn’t through McGregor – it was Holloway’s removal from the card – but he still potentially suffered financially. Plus, eye injuries can be tricky. Will Borg suffer any permanent damage from the glass in his eye?

Artem Lobov: Like the aforementioned men, Lobov was removed from the card too. Unlike those men, Lobov had complete control over his removal. Even worse, Lobov didn’t get paid. Not that I feel bad about that given his actions, but it still sucks. Anyone think Lobov has a chance to headline a card again? I didn’t think so.

Tony Ferguson: I’m a bit confused how Ferguson lost his belt. It isn’t like he wasn’t willing to defend it, unlike other people. I guess it just goes to show just how useless the interim belts really are. Maybe losing the belt isn’t such a big deal after all…. Nonetheless, Ferguson was deprived of his chance to prove himself the top guy at 155. Sad day.

Fans: One week before UFC 223 took place, Nurmagomedov and Ferguson were still expected to do the damn thing. By the time the even took place, it was a completely unrecognizable card with twists and turns Nostradamus could never have foretold… and none of the twists were good. The card ended up losing four fights, including three scheduled main card contests… four if you count Holloway stepping in. The action in the cage wasn’t horrible, but can you look at what the card once was and what it became and tell me that you wouldn’t have preferred the former? I didn’t think so.

UFC: There are a lot of things that could justify putting them in this column, but the most disgusting thing is their refusal to pay the fighters removed from the card their win bonus. Dana White declared “We don’t have that kind of money.” A company that was bought for over $4 billion less than two years ago can’t shell out win bonuses that were already set aside? I get not everyone would have received a win bonus had the fights taken place, but the money was already set aside to pay them… right? Plus, they didn’t have to pay Lobov or the larger salaries of Tony Ferguson and Max Holloway. The money was there. They’re just cheap bastards.

Neither

Al Iaquinta: Iaquinta was put into a situation in which he couldn’t lose. He was expected to get finished by Khabib pretty quickly. When that didn’t happen, everyone on the Twittersphere appeared to sing praises about what a great performance he had. Call me crazy, but he was outstruck in every round by a sizeable margin. He did manage to survive a number of bad situations and showed some toughness – which is why he isn’t in the losers column – but when you lose every round definitively, I tend to think you were dominated. While Iaquinta is a damn good fighter, he was far closer to being put in the loser’s column than he was the winner’s.

Calvin Kattar: Kattar’s performance wasn’t anything spectacular, but he also didn’t do anything to embarrass himself. That alone doesn’t keep Kattar out of the loser’s column. It’s the fact he wasn’t even supposed to be on this type of stage in the first place. Remember, this is a guy who put his own MMA career on hold to focus on coaching. Kattar’s chances of winning became slim and none after the first round – after Moicano figured him out – but he hung in there nonetheless. Mad respect for Kattar.

Felice Herrig: While I don’t understand where one of the judges score the fight in her favor, Herrig put on a good showing against a former title challenger. Even if she was unable to secure the win, proving she can put on a competitive contest with someone the level of Kowalkiewicz should be seen as a positive. I can’t call her a winner as she may have been able to walk out with the victory had she been able to avoid the clinch, but she sure as hell wasn’t a loser either.

Mike Rodriguez: Despite the disappointing loss, Rodriguez also showed a lot of potential. His knees in the clinch offered promise and he continued to climb back to his feet. The problem was he couldn’t stay on his feet. Given Rodriguez’s level of competition was low before this contest, I’d expect this loss to be a hell of a learning experience.

Max Holloway: Sure, he missed a chance to become the second fighter in the UFC to hold two belts simultaneously, but his removal wasn’t all bad for him. He potentially spared himself a beating from Khabib while still maintaining his reputation as a dude willing to throwdown with anyone. It’s not like he voluntarily removed himself from the card. If nothing else, at least we still get to see him do the damn thing with Brian Ortega.

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