The past week has been full on for the UFC, unfortunately for all of the wrong reasons. Some of the incidents that took place made it onto the mainstream news in Australia. It’s always a surreal feeling watching the sport of MMA be covered on Sunrise. However, there is much more to the story then what was being covered (which was primarily the bus attack). So strap in to relive the madness that was UFC 223.
1. The Withdrawal
Easily the most anticipated lightweight fight for the past three years not involving Conor McGregor is Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Tony Ferguson. This fight has been scheduled four times now with each time someone pulling out due to an injury or missing weight. This happened once again a week before their scheduled bout in the most bizarre way possible. While doing interviews to promote the fight for the UFC, current interim lightweight champion Tony Ferguson saw a friend while walking. So, as you do, stopped walking to turn and talk to his friend. While turning he caught his leg in the camera cables and tore some muscles in his knee. A freak incident. I must also add that he recently put on his Instagram account a video of him kicking metal poles to harden his shins; yet the viscous cable was the one to defeat him. Tony was apparently begging to still fight even though his MCL was completely torn of his knee. A tough bloke is an unlucky position.
2. The Step-Up
Just when all MMA fans were once again mourning the loss of this match up we were presented with something of equal excitement. Current featherweight champion Max Holloway would be moving up a division to challenge Khabib for the lightweight title. My first feeling was one of enthusiasm to see how Max would control distance, defend the takedowns and keep a pace that was high and possibly outwork Khabib, similar to what he did against former featherweight kingpin Jose Aldo, twice, before getting TKO victories. But then I thought some more, Max had recently pulled out of a fight with a foot injury and would not have been training much. Reports started to come out about weight issues as well. He needed to cut an extraordinary amount of weight in a week and also prepare for the hardest fight of his life.
3. The Russian Mob
So all is well now. The fighters are all in the hotel fulfilling their media obligations; signing posters, doing photo shoots and interviews. This was all going well until Khabib spotted one of Conor McGregor’s training partners, Artem Lobov. He was fighting on the prelims against Alex Caceres. Artem was walking around the hotel alone when Khabib confronted him with a bunch of his training partners and family (the Russian mob). Artem had done an interview recently and said some not so nice things about Khabib. So Khabib wanted to know why he said these things and it all got just a little messy. There is video of the incident online but the biggest take away was that Artem was alone being confronted by a group of Khabib’s team. Artem was able to walk away but it was not a very good look. On first watch it didn’t look to bad, Khabib did have his hands on the back of Artem’s neck but there was no pushing or shoving.
4. The Bus Incident
Several days after the incident the fighters had a press conference and open workouts at the fight venue. During this time Conor McGregor and around 20 of his training partners and friends had gotten on a plane to come to the event. Now, I don’t buy that Conor saw the above incident and then decided to get on a plane to go at Khabib. He was most likely already coming. So after the event fighters got onto their busses – all fighters fighting out of the blue corner on one bus, all fighters in the red corner on another bus. They do this so you’re never on the same bus as the person you are fighting. So Conor and his crew were able to get in to the parking area were the red corner bus was thanks to his media company (The Mac Life) letting him in. Conor saw the bus and unleashed, throwing a dolly, bin and attempting to throw a guard rail fence. The glass windows shattered, Conor and his crew ran off and moments later a warrant was out for his arrest. The UFC embedded team were there filming the fighters and captured the incident for their documentary which is worth a watch if you have not seen it.
5. The Impact
Conor wanted Khabib. However, he did not get his man, he got others instead. Lightweight fighter Michael Chiesa was sitting next to the window that smashed. He suffered cuts on his head and had to withdraw from his fight against Anthony Pettis. Flyweight fighter Ray Borg had glass properties enter his eye and made the decision to also pull out of his fight. Artem Lobov was apart of the squad that attacked the bus, so Dana White pulled him off the fight card leaving his opponent, Alex Ceceres, without a fight. The current women’s strawweight champion Rose Namajunas was sitting near the incident and was shaken up so much that she nearly pulled out of her title fight. Luckily, she was able to stay on the card. This is the section that made the news, although was definitely not the end of the madness.
6. The Weigh-ins
So it’s time for the fighters to weigh-in and make the fights official. Khabib gets on the scales early to put his past of missing weight behind him. At the very same moment across town, Conor has handed himself into the police and is facing a court hearing any moment. Conor was reportedly shadow boxing in his prison cell and doing chin-ups with his shirt off. What an animal. Anyway, news then comes through that the New York State Athletic Commission was not allowing Max Halloway to lose anymore weight and pulled him from the event, once again leaving Khabib without an opponent. Let the scramble for new fight on 24 hours notice begin.
7. The Scramble
Time for Dana White to get creative. His first option was to have Anthony Pettis fight. He was without an opponent since Cheisa had glass cut his face. He was told he had to make 155 pounds and weighed 155.2. Through all of the drama though he was made to restart his weight cut three different times. He had then heard whispers that his teammate Paul Felder was offered the fight. Paul was fighting New York local Al Iaquinta on the prelims to the event. Pettis decided not to follow through on the weight cut so the fight was then offered to his teammate officially. However, Felder was unable to take the fight because he is not a ranked lightweight contender and the New York State Athletic Commission wouldn’t allow it. His opponent, Iaquinta, was ranked eleventh so could take the fight. When he originally heard the news that Max was hurt he was running around his hotel screaming that he wanted this fight. So they offered him the fight and he accepted. The new main event would be Khabib vs Iaquinta. In the past week Khabib had been told he was facing five different opponents and accepted them all. What a dude. During all of this Conor had seen a judge and been set bail with another hearing to take place further down the line.
8. The History
The name Steven Bradbury now comes to mind as Al Iaquinta is fighting for a world title after all of the other fighters had fallen over (cables, sorry Tony) and unable to make it to fight day. Iaquinta had weighed in at 155.5 pounds though and had already started hydrating, thus making him unable to ‘officially’ be crowned champion. Al Iaquinta trains out of Long Island with some top UFC talent and coach Matt Serra. Matt is best known for the biggest upset in UFC history as he knocked out all time great Georges St-Pierre to become welterweight champion. It turned out that on the day Al Iaquinta was given the fight it was the 11 year anniversary of that event. Everybody loves an underdog story and it looked like we could have one on our hands.
9. The Fight
Finally! Fight day has come. What a journey it was to get here. Khabib was predicted by many to easily dispatch of Iaquinta to win the official lightweight belt, making the current champion Conor and interim champion Tony no longer UFC title holders. The first two rounds was as predicted; Khabib with the take down and ground and pound that would have finished most fighters. Not the tough New Yorker though fighting in front of his home crowd for the first time of his professional career. The next three rounds left a bitter taste in my mouth as Khabib was unable to land takedowns and displayed some of what I would call to be underwhelming striking. Khabib looked in control of every second of that fight but I could not help to wonder. What if a precision striker like Conor was in there now? What if Tony was firing his versatile elbows and knees at Khabib on the feet? What if Max was putting the pressure on him with his boxing speed and pace in the later rounds? Going into a Khabib fight there is always excitement as he has never shown any real weaknesses in his game. This time however I am now chomping at the bit to see him get in there with of these other guys. Joe Rogan has been criticised for saying similar things during the fight broadcast but it’s just the reality of the situation. We were given a top guy vs someone who realistically shouldn’t have been in there and saw gaps in the top guys game.
10. The Next Step
What now? Well the fight to make is Khabib vs Conor. Although Conor might not be able to fight for a while due to potential prison time (which I find extremely unlikely, if Jon Jones can crash his car into a pregnant ladies vehicle while high on coke and not get any prison time then Conor should get off alright). Tony is out for some time repairing his knee and Dana White has said he is hesitant of rebooking the most cursed fight in UFC history. Khabib did call out Georges St-Pierre after the fight for a bout that would be fantastic, although with so many unanswered questions between the top three lightweights in the world with none of them yet to fight each other, I think it’s time to get them in there together to find out who is the best. Maybe a triple threat match? Who knows.