I don't know whether to file this event under MMA or put it in the Soap Opera category, holy crap what a lead up to one of the most anticipated cards of 2018. However I firmly believe we can now hold the Khabib-Tony curse in lore, this fight is officially not going to happen, the gods don't think we deserve it and neither does Tony's knee. We did get a brief silver-lining in the Holloway fight though, but that was nixed too, then came Pettis...nevermind. Finally we got the 11th ranked Al Iaquinta to step in and take a shot at "The Eagle". But even with all the drama surrounding the event itself, it was a certain Irishman who stole the show once again. It's almost destiny that Conor and Khabib meet, or maybe it's not destined to happen at all. Who knows. All I know is that UFC 223 was one of the biggest train wrecks we've seen in quite some time. With all that said though, we were treated to some very entertaining fights. We saw a superstar in the making, a new champion crowned, and a Rose blossom. Scroll through as I recap each fight and offer up my match making skills.
Khabib Nurmagomedov def Al Iaquinta via Unanimous Decision
If it were any other man (maybe other than Conor) three different opponent changes in just over a weeks span would've sent them packing, but for Khabib anything is possible. Credit to Ragin' Al for stepping up and taking this fight, but this really was always going to be one-sided. Whether it was on the feet or the ground, Khabib was in control. One thing that really stood out was the size difference, Nurmagomedov is a massive 155er and dwarfed Al, looked like two different divisions in there. Another thing to look at was Khabib's striking. With three top Lightweight's who now have a rightful claim to the 155 throne, his performance standing will come into question. Whether it be Tony or Conor, both will feel confident standing, but staying in that position is the challenge and Iaquinta did a great job at that. Regardless the outcome was all the same, no significant damage taken, a thorough and utter whitewash in the main event of UFC 223.
Winner: It's Khabib time, and no one can dispute that. But what we can dispute is who is really the champion. The Russian wants GSP next, but GSP has already said "There's work to be done" in the 155 division, meaning take care of the other two and we'll see. But Tony and Conor are ready and waiting. Dana White has already proclaimed the Tony-Khabib fight is never gonna happen, so that leaves Conor. All the drama, all the talk, all the build-up, it's all lead to this. 'The Notorious One" vs "The Eagle" the UFC can no longer keep us waiting,
Loser: Al Iaquinta has had his fare share of ups and downs with the UFC but they owe for this, One day's notice to fight maybe the best fighter in the world? Crazy! But Ragin' Al stepped up. I think Pettis will ultimately shunned for another top fight for a while so I think an Iaqunita-Chiesa rematch could be in order.
Rose Namajunas def Joanna Jedrzejczyk via Unanimous Decision
In their first meeting "Thug" Rose ended the fight in dramatic fashion with a first round knockout, in the rematch we saw a real life chess match between two of the best play out. Both women were pulling out all of the stops, Rose won 4 of 5 rounds but the fight seemed much closer than what the scorecards suggested. The first two rounds saw Rose do her best to stay off the centre line and pick her shots as was showcased by Joanna's battered face, but through rounds three and four the former champ showed us her grit. Working the legs, limiting Rose's movement, a shift was definitely happening in the fight. What most saw as 2-2 going into the fifth and final round, the tension was that of a proper championship battle. Once again the two try to stake their claim to the belt, but at the end of the day, as Rose said in her post-fight interview with Joe Rogan she's "just better" than Joanna. Rose picked up a hard earned unanimous decision.
Winner: Rose is without a doubt the Queen of the Strawweight division now, no more "fluke" talk can be had, she went five hard rounds with arguably the greatest female fighter of all-time. So with the JJ chapter over it's time to start worrying about the next challenger. I suspect after a little bit of a break we see Rose come back against Jessica Andrade.
Loser: For JJ this is probably a tougher loss than their fight previous, There was no bad weight cut, no excuse to make, she just flat out lost. With that said there are a lot of options for Joanna. A rematch with Karolina Kowalkiewicz could be waiting in the wings, or to alleviate the stress of her dreaded weight cut, she could move up to 125 and face off with TUF season 26 winner Nico Montano for the Championship.
Renato Moicano def Calvin Kattar via Unanimous Decision
What was supposed to be a showcase of two top-15 Featherweights turned out to be a one sided clinic. Moicano put on a show, showing off his exquisite movement and stinging leg-kicks, he put Kattar on blast. Unable to effectively move, or land any blow of significance Kattar was a sitting duck for most of of the fight. Credit Moicano for this spectacular performance though, as it led to much a needed unanimous decision and will grant him an opportunity to move up in the ranks.
Winner: Moicano came out with a game plan to keep moving and exploiting the legs, something he didn't do against Brian Ortega in his last fight out. With a such a sound victory over a top-15 opponent you would have to say a top-10 only makes sense, and Darren Elkins is looking for a fight.
Loser: This has to be a gut punch for Kattar. Fresh off a Fight of the Night performance with Shane Burgos you would think momentum would be on his side, obviously that wasn't the case. However Kattar is 18-3 and has a lot of upside, maybe a date with 12th ranked Mirsad Bektic can be arranged.
Zabit Magomedsharipov def Kyle Bochniak via Unanimous Decision
Wow! What a fight. Saying it right now, this will be the fight of the year. Both men put on a show and Bochniak was as feisty in the fight as he was at weigh ins, but Zabit should us that there are levels to this, he spent most of the fight forting off Bochniak's aggressiveness with his slick and stylish striking, and showed off his superior grappling skills as well. Back and forth, with an unrelenting pace, both men earned bonuses for Fight of the Night. Like mentioned before however, Zabit was always in control, but it was Bochniak's heart that made this what it was. Both men are savages in different ways, but in the end Zabit takes home the most entertaining unanimous decision I've ever seen.
Winner: Zabit is a star! A monster in the 145 division and has looked incredible in all of his performances in the UFC to date. Showcasing Jon Jones level potential, mixing creative striking with superior grappling, the sky is truly the limit. The next step up needs to be taken however, a veteran fighter with some presence would be ideal. Micheal Johnson or Denis Bermudez makes sense.
Loser: Kyle Bochniak lost this fight obviously, but probably gained more fans than anyone on this card. Heart, grit, an unbelievable chin, but does have quite a few holes in his game that will need to be ironed out. However, with his ability to stir the pot and put on a show he'll probably be a fan favourite from here on out. A step down in competition seems the way to go for Bochinak, look for a fight with Gavin Tucker or fellow Zabit victim Sheymon Moraes.
Chris Gruetzemacher def Joe Lauzon via TKO (Corner Stoppage)
Both men coming into this fight were riding a two fight losing streak, and both men came out guns blazing. A fast paced opening round saw the veteran Lauzon get the early upper hand, but then eventually all the wars, all the hard rounds caught up as "Gritz" took over. You have to hand it to Lauzon, over 40 fights into his MMA career and he's still grinding away, but there was nothing left in the gas tank by the end of this one. Gruetzemacher was relentless, throwing body shots, showing a strong clinch game, and ultimately gave Lauzon's corner no choice but to stop the fight in the second round.
Winner: This was a big, and much needed win for Grutezemacher. Coming off of two straight submissions losses, his time in the UFC was looking bleak. However an impressive performance over a recognizable name (which he was awarded Performance of the Night for), should give him another opportunity to showcase his talents. The 155 division is stocked with talent, so a fight with another fleeting prospect makes sense, Marc Diakiese comes to mind.
Loser: This is the third straight loss for Joe Lauzon. His last five fights have all been wars, and worthy of praise, however he's 1 in 5. It's been a long time since we've seen Joe make a run in the Lightweight division and as hard as it is to say maybe this should be his last fight.