Cleat Geeks

The Aftermath of UFC 223 & The Future Of The Lightweights

I’m not sure what words there are in the English language to describe what transpired last week in the days, even hours, leading up to UFC 223. Am I allowed to say shit show? Conor McGregor certainly didn’t help the situation with his outburst on Friday, but it wasn’t all entirely his fault. I’m not sure who to point fingers at because there were a lot of people who are at fault. Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov had been scheduled three times before and it fell through every time, why did we expect this time to be different? I’m not a superstitious person at all, but if you don’t think this fight is cursed I would love to hear a more logical explanation. Tony Ferguson got injured walking. He didn’t blow out his knee rolling on the ground or throwing a crane kick, he didn’t get knocked out cold sparring. He was doing something we all do a lot of every single day. If that isn’t proof that this fight is cursed, I have some stock in Enron I would like to sell you.

Dana White had to have been a wreck last week. One of the worst weeks I can remember in all of sports history in my time.

April Fools Day always brings out the pranksters and this year was no different. Like many, I was emotionally invested in this fight more so than other fights. It was supposed to be the fight between the two best lightweights in the world, and it was taken from us once again. After spending the day with family for Easter, I was not able to catch up with the social media world until later that evening. When I read that Ferguson was hurt, I was angry. Not because he had gotten hurt, mad because someone would play such an elaborate prank 6 days before one of the biggest fights ever. My anger turned to worry as I started reading these reports from reputable sources. I knew it was valid when Dana white released a video explaining what happened and tapped Max Holloway as Ferguson’s replacement.Image result for max holloway ufc

Holloway and Khabib didn’t have the same excitement as the original match-up, but seldom does a replacement fight still generate the same kind of hype. I think I speak on behalf of everyone when I say that there isn’t a more deserving guy on the roster than Max Holloway. He had earned the right to fight for a second belt, although I think a match-up with Brian Ortega would have been better. Regardless, it was the fight the UFC found fit to make and it was a good match-up. Enter the New York State Athletic Commission. Sometime Friday morning, the State Athletic Commission deemed Holloway unfit to compete and pulled him from the fight as he was cutting too much weight. The UFC fought tooth and nail to get into New York, but it has not received the warm welcome some thought they might. In a short time, we’ve now experienced numerous issues with the NSYAC and its running.

On a little over a day’s notice, Khabib agreed to fight Anthony Pettis, the former lightweight Champion. Pettis, from what we understand, wanted a big pay day, so the UFC decided against that fight. That match-up wasn’t really intriguing anyways, we’ve seen what much less qualified grapplers than Khabib have done to him, so we would hate to see that fight. Paul Felder’s name was brought up, but the NYSAC shot that match-up down because he was not ranked, and they found it to be an unfair match-up. Again, this is all hearsay. Eventually, Al Iaquinta, who had weighed in and was scheduled to fight Paul Felder on the main card opener, was tapped as the replacement. Iaquinta came in .2 pounds over the 155-pound Championship weight limit, meaning he could not technically win the lightweight title that Khabib had the opportunity to win. It was a wild ending to one of the craziest weeks in UFC history.

Not only did we lose multiple fights and intriguing match-ups, most of the fights on the card failed to deliver. I’m anxious to see what the PPV buyrate is for what looks to be one of the worst cards in recent memory, one that the UFC brass would love to forget about. We lost Ray Borg vs. Brandon Moreno, an important flyweight bout. We lost Paul Felder vs Al Iaquinta, which was an early favorite for Fight of the Night. We lost Artem Lobov vs. Alex Caceres on the fight pass prelims due to his involvement in the fiasco with McGregor and his goons. We lost Michael Chiesa vs. Anthony Pettis, a fight that would have launched one of them into a big fight. In a span of 7 days, UFC 223 went from being one of the most anticipated cards in recent history to being a card that fell apart at every seam.

Image result for ufc 223 fight card

The next few PPV cards look fairly-stacked, but nothing compared to what UFC 223 was supposed to be. There was a lot of hype behind this card, and it all disappeared within a week’s time. Sometimes a UFC card that doesn’t feature a lot of name value or hype is still able to delivery finishes and exciting fights. UFC 223 was not one of those. The co-main event between Rose and Joanna was a good, technical fight. The only fight that really exceeded expectations was a featherweight bout between Zabit Magomedsharipov and Kyle Bochniak, which was bumped to main card status with some of the last-minute cancellations. The two prospects exchanged punches and kicks on their way to one of the most entertaining bouts thus far in 2018. Aside from that, the UFC 223 main card was a complete bust. The first fight saw Joe Lauzon’s corner call the fight before the third round began against Chris Gruetzemacher, but that was the only “finish” on the main card, everything else went to decision.

Dana White had to have been a wreck last week. One of the worst weeks I can remember in all of sports history in my time. Still, he remained optimistic throughout the entire week, even giving credit where it was due after the fights were over. Khabib dominated Iaquinta early on but faded later in the fight and had trouble getting Al back to the ground. His performance, although dominant, wasn’t quite the exclamation point we expected him to put on his first title fight.  Iaquinta proved to be a game fight for the Dagestani but fell short on the score cards. Dana gave him all the praise in the world even in defeat and he may have actually boosted his stock with that performance and willingness to fight the best lightweight in the world on such short notice.

Dana was quick to point out that he was not going to rebook the Khabib and Tony fight. The rankings would say otherwise. Ferguson has already beat two of the names in the top 7 in the division and there isn’t much reason to believe he wouldn’t have his way with the others. He may be booked for a different fight against someone like Eddie Alvarez, but history would tell us he should win that match-up. Ferguson and Nurmagomedov are by far the two best lightweights in the world and they’re going to have to fight at some point as long as they’re both healthy and fighting. Khabib also mentioned taking time off for Ramadan and not competing until September. The lightweight title has been a mess since McGregor took it off Alvarez’s hands at UFC 205, and the future is still grim. There are two important lightweight bouts in the next two weeks that could muddy the waters there even more.Image result for dustin poirier vs justin gaethje

This weekend will see Dustin Poirier, ranked fifth according to the official UFC rankings, take on Justin Gaethje, who is just below him at number 6. Next weekend’s headliner will feature a lightweight bout between fourth-ranked Edson Barboza and seventh-ranked Kevin Lee. The only one of the four competing in the next few weeks is Poirier, so a win for him would have him very close to a title shot. With Khabib looking to take the next 5 months off, there’s going to have to be some marquee match-ups made to keep the division moving along. One thing is for sure, this division is stacked. You could make a case for a title shot for Poirier, Gaethje, Alvarez or Kevin Lee after these fights play out. Barboza, although ranked higher than the other 3 competing, would likely need another solid win as he’s only one fight removed from a beating at the hands of Khabib. The most likely scenario is some sort of mini-tournament to determine the next title challenger at 155 pounds. Ferguson may or may not get his shot right away, but he’ll eventually do enough to warrant it. The fight is clearly cursed but hopefully we get to see them battle before their careers are over.


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