UFC 223 Results: The Real Winners and Losers
The story of UFC 223 is the story of what happened before the curtain rose.
Even by MMA standards, it was a tumultuous week in Brooklyn, New York. Were it possible to quantify such things, it probably set a new high score for unpredictability.
Just before the week began, Tony Ferguson pulled out of his lightweight title bout with Khabib Nurmagomedov. The reason? He tripped and tore his knee while in the midst of the intricate process of turning to say hello to somebody.
On six days' notice, featherweight champ Max Holloway stepped in. But the weight cut ultimately proved too steep, at least according to state athletic commission officials, who deemed Holloway medically unfit to compete barely 24 hours before the contest. Then the UFC reportedly lowballed Anthony Pettis during efforts to take Holloway's place. Then the commission decided Paul Felder was inappropriate because he didn't appear in the UFC's rankings.
And that's to say nothing of the star of the show: Mr. Conor McGregor. After his meltdown in the Barclays Center, he was arrested and charged with various felony and misdemeanor charges. In the process, he single-handedly did enough damage to cancel three different fights on the card.
So, here we are. Nurmagomedov vs. unheralded and fairly inactive Al Iaquinta for the lightweight title—well, kind of. Iaquinta missed weight by 0.2 pounds, meaning he wasn't technically eligible to win the belt. Then UFC President Dana White made things clear as mud by saying he would consider Iaquinta the champ if Iaquinta won. Huh.
You see the kind of week it's been.
On Saturday night, the fights finally, mercifully, arrived. What happened? A lightweight championship fight still occurred, as did a women's strawweight title bout, when Rose Namajunas defended the strap against the woman she stole it from, Polish volume striker Joanna Jedrzejczyk.
The card was diminished—leaving an unusual situation in which there were more main card fights (five) than prelim fights (four). As always, the final stat lines only reveal so much.
Here are the real winners and losers from UFC 223 and a turbulent week in MMA. And we were cageside for the action to boot. Hope you enjoy.
Winner: Khabib Nurmagomedov
Give it up for the new UFC lightweight champion.
Earlier this week, the UFC stripped it from McGregor (and more on him in a moment). But Nurmagomedov showed why he deserves the strap, regardless of who held it before him.
Al Iaquinta deserves a mountain of praise. He took this fight on 24 hours' notice. Read that sentence as many times as necessary before it sinks in. This was a main event, against a guy some people think is the greatest talent in the entire UFC.
The challenger was up against it when the Dagestani went to work. Takedowns and strikes at will. Nurmagomedov had an answer for every question. Corral him here? He attacks you there. Want a takedown? You don't get it, and you pay for it with strikes. His game is hard to sum up, other than to just say it's great.
It was a unanimous decision, but don't let a lack of the stoppage fool you into thinking this was anything but pure domination.
After the fight, Nurmagomedov spoke to broadcaster Joe Rogan and called out both McGregor and all-time great Georges St-Pierre, who typically fights at welterweight or, more recently, middleweight. In his comments, Nurmagomedov seemed to focus more on the Canadian than the Irishman.
"I want to fight with Georges St-Pierre in New York," he said. "Madison Square Garden."
We'll see what happens. But with this win and his new belt, Nurmagomedov cemented his ability to call for such things. He's in that rarefied air.
Winner: Rose Namajunas
Two things are true here. First, Namajunas has Jedrzejczyk's number. Second, Namajunas is the undisputed ruler of the women's strawweight division.
It was a close fight, but Namajunas picked Jedrzejczyk apart in the early rounds, withstood heavy leg kicks and other attacks in the middle, then established herself down the stretch to defend the title she wrested away from Jedrzejczyk not six months ago.
The rivalry between these two has been heated at times, but the mutual respect was never in doubt. In her post-fight comments, the champ gave tribute to a perhaps unusual source.
"She's definitely one of the best kickboxers in the world, but I train with one of the best to ever do it: Pat Barry," Namajunas said of her longtime partner in a statement emailed to reporters after the fight. "I believe that she had a tough weight cut and it affected her last time, but this one means I'm just better.”
Yes, indeed. Namajunas can now move past Jedrzejczyk to greener pastures—Jessica Andrade, maybe?—while the former champ attempts to work her way back to contention.
Loser: Conor McGregor
Don't bring your McGregor conspiracy theories in here. Don't bring your defenses about how he was right to fly halfway around the world to throw a hand truck through a bus window because he was embarrassed for his friend. Don't bring your silver linings, which purportedly add heat to an already white-hot McGregor legacy.
Sorry, but getting arrested and catching felony charges is never a good thing. It's never what you'd call a positive career move.
This might be naive, but the dividing line between self-promotion and madness has been crossed here. Maybe the straw will spin itself into gold in the form of a grudge match with Nurmagomedov, but in the present, a publicity stunt either didn't exist or went horribly awry when someone ended up in handcuffs—and people ended up in the hospital.
Keep in mind as well that McGregor hasn't competed in an MMA fight in well over a year. Assuming a grudge match will occur is to assume McGregor will actually fight again. Both are big assumptions.
McGregor is still relevant, of course, but that isn't going to continue indefinitely of its own volition. It certainly won't continue as long as his perp walks outnumber his walks to the cage.
Winner: Zabit Magomedsharipov
Another talent from the Dagestan region of Russia just earned an elite-level victory. And he did it in a fashion few will soon forget.
Most fight fans know this part of the world produces MMA talent far beyond Nurmagomedov. Zabit Magomedsharipov is just the latest example. Originally scheduled to face Kyle Bochniak on the undercard, the two were elevated to pay-per-view status after all the bout cancellations.
Magomedsharipov made the most of the opportunity. If Nurmagomedov is a Hummer, Magomedsharipov is a Ferrari. He threw kicks and punches in volume and combination. Spinning and jumping were part of the equation. At one point, he threw a Superman punch off the fence. And it wasn't just for show; plenty of it landed with laser precision.
Most of the "U-S-A" chants melted away some time toward the end of the first round.
Bochniak was game, egging his opponent on and landing heavy (if less flashy) shots of his own. He was a worthy foil and acquitted himself with aplomb. He didn't give an inch. But Magomedsharipov was unmoved. He started to work takedowns as the fight went on, including a slam or two, to complement his unceasing onslaught of video game techniques. It was overwhelming.
I mean, the guy's just really good at fighting. And he is some kind of fun to watch. The fans should keep an eye on this man in the featherweight division, and UFC matchmakers should pair him with a more formidable opponent next. In the cage after the fight, he called out Mexican striking sensation Yair Rodriguez. "Barnburner" doesn't begin to describe that matchup.
I don't even care who he fights next. Just make it happen quickly.
Winner: Karolina Kowalkiewicz
Karolina Kowalkiewicz needed a win. With the Brooklyn crowd at her back, she got one with a unanimous-decision win over Felice Herrig.
At 5'3" and with a 64" reach, Kowalkiewicz gave up an inch of height and reach to Herrig. But it didn't look that way in practice. Kowalkiewicz used her volume-striking game to piece up Herrig from the get-go. Herrig is an inside fighter with a wrestling base, so she likes it in a phone booth. Kowalkiewicz wouldn't allow it, preventing takedowns and more than holding her own in the clinch phase.
Herrig fought well and attempted to use her superior strength to level the playing field but wasn't able to do so on a consistent basis. In the home stretch, she rocked Kowalkiewicz but then initiated a clinch instead of pressing the advantage—a decision that might have squandered her last best chance to make an impact.
There was a moment of panic when announcer Bruce Buffer passed along a scorecard for Herrig, but cooler heads prevailed when Kowalkiewicz ultimately earned the split decision.
After dropping a decision to Jedrzejczyk and a first-round submission to Claudia Gadelha—both of whom are elite competitors at strawweight—Kowalkiewicz has now responded with two straight wins. The charismatic Pole isn't done by a darn sight, and her surgical mastery of Herrig proves it. The crowd that chanted her name throughout was happy with the display.
Loser: Joe Lauzon
Father Time catches up to everyone. He seems to gain ground with extra quickness on bonus-hunting MMA fighters.
Joe Lauzon is one of the sport's ultimate bonus hunters. Only Nate Diaz matches Lauzon's 15 career post-fight honors. It has earned Lauzon not just extra cash but a place in the heart of many a fight fan.
Now, however, at age 33 and after 42 pro fights, Lauzon may be nearing the end of the line.
The veteran lightweight tired before the end of the first round, with grinder Chris Gruetzemacher methodically staving off Lauzon's attacks and bloodying him with offense of his own. Lauzon tagged Gruetzemacher early and often with elbows and straight punches. It just didn't last particularly long.
At this stage of his career, Lauzon seems conditioned to the quick stoppage. If he can't get it, he gasses out, runs out of ideas and absorbs punishment he can't afford to absorb.
After the second round, it was clear to everyone that Lauzon could not deflect the shots he was taking. "Everyone" here includes Lauzon's corner, who stopped the contest—an admirable, if difficult, decision that more corners would frankly be wise to emulate.
"I was kind of hoping for [a stoppage]," Gruetzemacher told Rogan after the fight. "I knew I'd finish it in the third."
All credit to Lauzon for leading a long and successful career. MMA fans will remember him for years to come. But it's hard to see the upside in a former contender continuing to subject himself to one-sided beatings against undercard-level talent.
Winner: Olivier Aubin-Mercier
Give it up for the Quebec Kid.
Olivier Aubin-Mercier scored the evening's fastest stoppage, then cut a rather entertaining promo on top of it.
Facing a streaking Evan Dunham, the lightweight from Montreal landed a knee from the clinch position that appeared to land in the solar plexus region. With Dunham stunned, Aubin-Mercier swarmed with punches, dropped Dunham along the fence and earned the finish. The bout lasted all of 53 seconds.
Afterward, Aubin-Mercier displayed some self-deprecating humor that endeared him to the Barclays Center crowd.
"I just want to be a Canadian gangster," he told Rogan in the cage after the fight. "I have a 'stache, I cry, I say sorry, I don't give a f--k. ... [This was] my first TKO. I was still a virgin. I am not anymore."
I don't know that I followed all of that, but it worked. For his next bout, how about fellow Canadian Kajan Johnson, who's coming off a win of his own?
UFC 223 Full Card Results
Khabib Nurmagomedov def. Al Iaquinta (50-44, 50-43, 50-43) (for UFC lightweight championship)
Rose Namajunas def. Joanna Jedrzejczyk by unanimous decision (49-46, 49-46, 49-46) (for UFC women's strawweight championship)
Renato Moicano def. Calvin Kattar by unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 30-27)
Zabit Magomedsharipov def. Kyle Bochniak by unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 30-27)
Chris Gruetzemacher def. Joe Lauzon by TKO (corner stoppage), 5:00, Rd. 2
Karolina Kowalkiewicz def. Felice Herrig by split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
Olivier Aubin-Mercier def. Evan Dunham by TKO, 0:53, Rd. 1
Ashlee Evans-Smith def. Bec Rawlings by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Devin Clark def. Mike Rodriguez by unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 30-27)