MMA Review: #637: UFC 223: Khabib vs. Iaquinta

-Well, where to start with this one? What was originally the most loaded card of 2018 thus far turned into the most weird for a TON of reasons; firstly Tony Ferguson was forced out of his title unification fight with Khabib Nurmagomedov and replaced by Max Holloway of all people. Then Conor McGregor went on his RAMPAGE and caused three fights to be scrapped (Michael Chiesa/Anthony Pettis, Ray Borg/Brandon Moreno and Artem Lobov/Alex Caceres). Next Holloway was ruled out due to an injury (which makes me question why the UFC booked him in the first place…) and after trying to book Khabib against both Pettis and Paul Felder, eventually we ended up with a main event of Khabib vs. Al Iaquinta and a hastily thrown-together undercard. Wild shit.

UFC 223: Khabib vs. Iaquinta

Brooklyn, New York

-Your hosts are Jon Anik, Joe Rogan and Jimmy Smith.

Lightweight Fight: Joe Lauzon vs Chris Gruetzemacher

This was upgraded from the prelim card to the main card following all of the shenanigans that went down, and to be honest I didn’t want to see it as I thought Gruetzemacher – despite not being a top level fighter to be honest – would be able to take out Lauzon as J-Lau had looked downright shot against Clay Guida in September. My pick was Gruetzemacher by TKO early on.

Fight begins and Lauzon comes out swinging and tags Gruetzemacher early, and we’ve got a WILD TRADE from the off. Crowd are pretty quiet considering the fast start. Lauzon keeps on swinging but he looks slowed down within the first minute before landing a strong elbow. Takedown attempt follows but Gruetzemacher sprawls out to avoid. Lauzon ends up pulling guard to look for something but Gruetzemacher manages to avoid, winding up on top in the butterfly guard. Sweep attempt from Lauzon fails and Gruetzemacher remains on top. Decent body punches land for Gruetzemacher from the top before Lauzon rolls for a leglock. He looks for the heel hook but Gruetzemacher defends it well and manages to avoid. Back to the feet and Lauzon closes him down, landing a front kick to the jaw and a nice knee. Big elbow answers back for Gruetzemacher. Clinch sees both men land pretty clean punches and neither man seems to give a shit about defense. Good low kick lands for Lauzon. Big shots begin to get through for Gruetzemacher though as Lauzon looks really slow all of a sudden. Huge uppercut connects for Gruetzemacher and he’s got Lauzon reeling now. Round ends with Gruetzemacher continuing to tag him. 10-9 Gruetzemacher.

2nd round and Gruetzemacher backs Lauzon up early on and continues to land shots as Lauzon’s face looks messy. Lauzon manages to fire back, but he’s clearly out of steam and a single leg attempt from him fails too. Lauzon’s got a bad cut around his right eye and Gruetzemacher keeps on wading in with shots. Nice short punches and uppercuts land for Gruetzemacher. He’s going to the body too and Lauzon is in deep shit. Can’t question his heart as he continues to swing, but he’s got nothing and he continues to take strikes from Gruetzemacher. Crowd begin to get louder as Lauzon tries to swing back, but it looks all for naught as Gruetzemacher just eats the shots and lands harder ones back. More of the same follows and Lauzon is a bloody mess. He’s just stumbling around and taking a beating. Round ends with Gruetzemacher continuing to abuse him. 10-8 round for Gruetzemacher.

Between rounds Lauzon’s cornermen decide to throw the towel in and thank God for that. Massive respect to his team for recognizing that he was done and not letting him go out to take more abuse. Hopefully this is a signal to him to retire now as he’s completely shot; he was a great fighter at one point but father time catches up to everyone and there’s no shame in hanging it up after 43 (!) fights, most of which were against killers in the UFC. Big name win for Gruetzemacher but I’m not taking much from it given Lauzon’s situation. Fun fight if a little hard to watch, too.

Featherweight Fight: Zabit Magomedsharipov vs kyle Bochniak

This was the one fight that nobody was complaining about when it was moved to the main card, as a lot of people saw Magomedsharipov as *the* prospect to watch at 145lbs, as he’d looked tremendous in beating Mike Santiago and Sheymon Moraes in UFC action in 2017 and he was bringing an impressive 14-1 record with mostly finishes. Bochniak had beaten Brandon Davis in January in an impressive showing, but this looked like a bad fight for him.

Round One begins and Bochniak stalks forward as Zabit looks like he’s just woken up. Dude is insanely lanky for 145lbs. Bochniak swings some heavy hooks at the head, but they don’t land cleanly and Zabit hits him with a nasty leg kick. Side kick to the body from Zabit and he lands with a clean left hook. Body kick and a right hand lands well for Magomedsharipov. Couple more body kicks have Bochniak looking a bit hurt. He keeps on swinging back though, fair play to him. Zabit looks insanely chilled here and he narrowly misses a cartwheel kick. More long strikes land for him and Bochniak is coming up short consistently. Crazy hook kick lands for Zabit and he follows with a jumping switch kick. This dude is unbelievable. Big knee lands from the clinch for the Dagestani. Head kick lands cleanly but Bochniak takes it well. Less than a minute to go and Zabit keeps on picking at Bochniak from the outside. Round ends on the feet, 10-9 Magomedsharipov.

Round Two and Bochniak comes out swinging wildly again with huge hooks, but Zabit just stays totally calm under pressure and cracks him with some more kicks, ignoring a call from Bochniak to stand and swing. Wild hook misses for Bochniak and Zabit grabs a rear waistlock and drags him to the ground. Bochniak pops right back up, but Magomedsharipov kicks his right leg out from under him and then hits a suplex. Bochniak does well to get back up, but a foot sweep plants him on his back in guard. Elbows begin to get through for Magomedsharipov and Joe Rogan is on this guy’s nuts BIG TIME. Good job from Bochniak to kick him away though and now he comes forward swinging again. More kicks from Zabit keep him at bay, but Bochniak decides to drop his hands and wave him on, popping the crowd and showing a pretty rock solid chin. Right hand connects for Bochniak but Zabit clinches. They break off and Bochniak is all busted up around his right eye but he won’t stop swinging. Can’t fault his heart at all. SICK foot sweep puts him on his back though and pops the crowd big time. Bochniak tries to go for a submission from there but Zabit shrugs it off easily and does some damage from the guard. Sweep attempt allows Bochniak to escape to his feet. Body kick lands for Zabit before Bochniak shoots, but the Dagestani stuffs it with ease. Spinning backfist lands for Zabit. Wild exchange ends the round. 10-9 Magomedsharipov, crazy fight though.

Round Three and Bochniak comes out SWINGING again to pop the crowd and now Zabit looks a bit rattled. Bochniak is screaming at him and everything even when he’s taking shots. His face is a fucking MESS now though, wow. Beautiful spinning back kick lands for Magomedsharipov. Takedown follows. Bochniak manages to work to his feet again but Zabit stays on him and drags him around a bit. He looks to get the hooks in to take the back fully, but can’t quite do it and so he ends up taking him down into guard instead. This guy is awesome. Few shots land from there but Bochniak somehow scrambles to his feet again. Zabit trips him back down, but then finds himself shaken off and Bochniak gets the back standing. He’s all heart. They break off and Bochniak takes some more punches before stuffing a takedown. One minute to go and he keeps on swinging, but he can’t quite catch Magomedsharipov cleanly. Crowd are going CRAZY for this now. Bochniak keeps on firing and Zabit looks tired for sure now. They continue to trade wildly with both men getting tagged, and that’s the round. 10-9 Magomedsharipov and 30-27 for him overall but that final round was something else.

Judges officially have it 29-28, 30-27 and 30-27 for Zabit Magomedsharipov. Phenomenal fight mainly due to the all-action style of Zabit meshing perfectly with the absolute heart and never-say-die attitude of Bochniak. It was too one-sided to be a FOTYC or anything as Bochniak didn’t get that much offense in and only hung in due to his chin and toughness, but you can’t fault him. Magomedsharipov on the other hand is probably going to be matched with a top ten fighter in his next fight and shit, with those skills I think the dude is a title contender for sure. This was AWESOME.

Featherweight Fight: Renato Moicano vs Calvin Kattar

This was the first fight back for Moicano after almost a year off following a loss to Brian Ortega, but let’s be honest, there’s no shame in that and the fight before he’d beaten Jeremy Stephens, meaning he was probably Kattar’s toughest opponent to date despite beating Andre Fili and Shane Burgos – two tough guys – in his last two fights. Hard fight to call actually and a really good one on paper.

First round begins and Moicano opens with a low kick as they circle. Moicano looks huge for 145lbs here. Another good leg kick lands for the Brazilian. Hard right hand comes over the top for Kattar and Moicano looks a little hurt, but he does well to circle out and avoid any follow-up shots. He lands with another good leg kick, but eats a jab from Kattar. Nice overhand right lands for Kattar. Big right hand into a body kick lands for Moicano. Both men come up short on some shots and then Moicano lands on the counter with a right and follows with a body kick. Couple more counters land for Moicano as he seems to have his timing down now. Beautiful leg kick from the Brazilian. Another one almost buckles Kattar’s leg. He’s going to the left leg over and over now. More leg kicks follow and Kattar looks like he’s moving a bit gingerly. Crowd aren’t happy with this at all. Clean right hand counter lands for Moicano. Round ends on the feet. Even to begin with but by the end Moicano was really taking over there.

Second round gets started and Kattar lands a good right hand, only to get cracked by a really nasty combo from Moicano. Another chopping leg kick follows for the Brazilian. Head kick and a body kick land for Moicano. He’s totally destroying Kattar’s leg. More low kicks follow as Kattar wings some big punches that come up short. Moicano is looking tremendous here. He continues to work the leg over with kicks and the crowd don’t sound happy with this, but Kattar is being picked apart. Every kick is almost taking Kattar off his feet now. Kattar keeps pushing forward, but he can’t draw Moicano into a brawl and he keeps on getting cracked in the leg. Round ends on the feet and it’s a clear 10-9 for Moicano.

Third round and Kattar catches an early kick and hits a takedown, but Moicano pops right back up instantly. Big combination from Moicano has Kattar reeling but he recovers quickly. Crowd are still booing even as Moicano continues to land clean strikes, no idea why. Kattar is still swinging but it looks like his power is gone now too and Moicano hits him with another clean combo. Beautiful leg kick into an uppercut into another leg kick land for Moicano. Kattar looks busted up from his nose now too. Moicano lands with a series of jabs and then catches him with the low kick again. No idea how Kattar is taking all of this as he’s getting absolutely destroyed now. Huge combo into an uppercut has Kattar badly hurt but again he recovers well. He’s tough as hell, gotta give him that. Another big combination lands for the Brazilian. Kattar keeps on swinging, but can’t get anything going and that’s it. 10-9 Moicano and 30-27 overall.

Official scores are 29-28, 30-27 and 30-27 for Renato Moicano. Massively impressive showing from the Brazilian as he just picked Kattar apart for three straight rounds and destroyed his leg while never getting too greedy in looking for the finish. Considering his only loss is to Brian Ortega I think you’d have to consider him a title contender. Announcers mention the possibility of him fighting Zabit Magomedsharipov and I actually reckon that’d work and they should put it together as soon as they can. No idea why the crowd were booing this fight either as it was cool.

UFC Women’s World Strawweight Title: Rose Namajunas vs Joanna Jedrzejczyk

This was obviously an instant rematch from the original fight at UFC 217 back in November that saw Rose shockingly knock Joanna out to take the title away from her after a long reign (32 months) and 5 straight defences. While I’m not always a fan of instant rematches this one made sense given Joanna’s previous domination, and supposedly she was blaming a bad weight cut on the loss too. Whether that was the case was a question mark, of course. I wasn’t sure who to pick at all here but I was leaning slightly towards Joanna righting the ship to take the title back.

Round One and Rose looks to establish her jab while Joanna lands with a low kick. Lot of movement early on from both women. Brief exchange sees both land punches. Couple more jabs land for Namajunas as Joanna looks like she’s trying to work out the timing and rhythm rather than pushing the action really. Clean one-two for Rose counters a low kick. Joanna seems to be coming up slightly short on a lot of her punches thus far. She does land with a hard leg kick though. Nice combination lands for Namajunas to back Joanna up. Her punches are looking pretty damn sharp here. Big left lands for Joanna but Rose comes back with a combination to end the round. 10-9 Namajunas as she got the better of the exchanges and didn’t really take any heavy shots.

Round Two and a quick combination opens the round for Rose. Both women exchange clean jabs and Jedrzejczyk lands with a low kick for good measure. Joanna looks like she’s struggling to really establish the jab she used so well in previous fights though. Couple of good counter lefts get through for Rose and Joanna is looking a bit marked up. Good leg kick lands for the challenger. Crowd are chanting for Rose now as she lands with another counter left and a combo coming forward. She’s doing a great job of slipping Joanna’s punches, too. Brief clinch sees Joanna land a solid knee to the body before Rose separates. Apparent eye poke follows for Rose but the ref doesn’t call it and allows Rose to land some follow-up strikes. Good left hand lands for Rose again. Another combo from Rose leads to a clinch, but Joanna can’t do much damage from there either. Round ends there, 10-9 Namajunas again I’d say.

Round Three and Rose TAGS Joanna with a right hand from the bat and wobbles her, but it looks like she was off balance as she seems fine right afterwards. Neither woman looks at all tired here which is a good sign. They continue to circle and Jedrzejczyk lands with a couple of clean leg kicks. Good left hook lands for Joanna and that leads to a trade with both girls glancing with big shots. Exchange continues and a head kick lands for Joanna and a right hand follows it. Rose’s left leg is looking badly marked up. Looks like her movement is slightly hampered and that’s allowing Joanna to land more clean strikes in this round. Low kick from Joanna is countered by a sweeping left hook, but it doesn’t land cleanly and they trade before the former champ hits another low kick. Looks like Jedrzejczyk has really found her rhythm now. Nice one-two from Joanna. Open exchange sees both women land with good right hands. Leg kick ends the round for Joanna. 10-9 Jedrzejczyk due to all the kicks.

Round Four and Rose looks like she’s moving a little better, but right away Joanna hits her with another kick to the leg. Another quickly follows and Rose is obviously feeling those. Right hand to the body connects for Joanna and a leg kick follows. Left to the body connects as well. Both women exchange kicks but it’s Jedrzejczyk who gets the harder shot in, again to the leg. Heavy right hand lands for Rose to counter another low kick though. Clean counter combination connects for Jedrzejczyk. Rose’s leg has to be fucked now. Couple more leg kicks land too and she’s clearly struggling. Left hand connects for Joanna. Rose just doesn’t seem to have the movement to avoid the strikes now like she did in the first two rounds. Couple of counters do get through for the champ but she’s clearly losing this round.. Round ends with another hard leg kick. 10-9 Jedrzejczyk to even things up.

Round Five and this is essentially winner take all in my mind. Joanna’s right eye is a MESS, too, almost closed up completely. Rose for her part looks fine but obviously her left leg is totally screwed. Low kick lands for Joanna and she dodges some early punches, but Rose NAILS her with a big left hand right to the damaged side of the face. Good right hand connects for Rose too. Clean jab follows and she avoids a counter. Nice knee from Joanna but Rose closes her down with a heavy combination and then a hard right hand. Looks like Joanna’s nose is busted up badly now. Clean counter lands for Joanna but Rose is wading in swinging now. Brutal uppercut snaps Joanna’s head back. She comes back with a leg kick but Rose seems pretty calm. Few shots begin to land for Joanna but Rose clocks her with another combo. Seems like Joanna probably can’t see out of that right eye. Exchange continues and the crowd are massively into this still. One minute to go and it looks like Rose is still getting the better of the exchanges in this round despite the damaged leg. Seconds to go and Rose hits a surprising trip takedown! Crowd go wild for that one. Joanna manages to work up to her knees, and then lands a few hammer fists, but the round ends there. 10-9 Namajunas and I’d call it 48-47 for her.

All three judges have it 49-46 for Rose Namajunas to retain. Don’t agree with those scores as I thought Joanna clearly won the 3rd and 4th rounds but hey, the right girl won in the end I think. Fight told a great story too, as Rose used her movement and boxing skill to win the first two rounds, Joanna came back by using the leg kick to take away that movement and set up her punches and that won her the next two rounds, but then Rose decided to stand her ground and wing harder shots in the trades in the fifth and that just about edged it. Tremendous showing from Rose actually to make the correct adjustments to beat someone who’d been so dominant before in what was a super-tough fight rather than a quick knockout like the first time. How she does against the likely next contender – Jessica Andrade – I don’t know as that sounds like a tough fight for her, but we shall see and it’ll be a hell of a fight to watch.

UFC World Lightweight Title: Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Al Iaquinta

So this was set up by probably the weirdest combination of events in UFC history, as obviously it was meant to be Tony Ferguson – the Interim champ – defending against Khabib with the winner taking the stripped Conor McGregor’s full title, but when Ferguson injured his knee it became Khabib against Featherweight champ Max Holloway in a bit of booking that never made sense to begin with. Of course then Holloway was forced out with an injury and with Anthony Pettis and Paul Felder both prevented from taking the fight, Iaquinta ended up with the shot despite being out for a year following his win over Diego Sanchez. Strange coincidence? The show was eleven years to the day when Iaquinta’s mentor Matt Serra KO’d Georges St-Pierre in probably the biggest upset in UFC history. I couldn’t see that happening here though and figured Khabib would tap Iaquinta in the later rounds to finally claim the title.

Round One begins and Khabib circles on the outside as Iaquinta throws out some punches. Crowd are chanting for Khabib right away. Couple of shots do land for Al and he sprawls to avoid an early takedown attempt, but Khabib gets hold of his leg and somehow forces him down into half-guard. Ridiculous wrestling skill there. Iaquinta looks to scramble, but Khabib takes his back and slaps both hooks in. Scramble sees Iaquinta stand, but Khabib stays on him and forces him into the fence. Big slam puts him back down onto his back in guard and from there Khabib easily forces full mount. Iaquinta again manages to scramble up to his knees, but Khabib drops some punches to the side of the head and stays heavy on him. Shots continue to land for Khabib before Iaquinta gets back up. Nurmagomedov dumps him right back down though and drops some more punches. Iaquinta is getting tooled. Khabib continues to dominate him but again Iaquinta manages to stand back up. Round ends on the feet with both men clinched. 10-9 Khabib pretty easily.

Round Two and Khabib catches Iaquinta coming in with a glancing head kick. Iaquinta keeps pushing forward, but Nurmagomedov throws out some jabs and avoids the big strikes. Low single leg is stuffed by Al but Khabib shoots right back in again and this time he dumps him HARD to the ground in guard. Khabib takes the back off a scramble after landing some punches, but again Iaquinta gets onto his knees. Khabib just rides him from there and lands some shots while remaining in firm control. Iaquinta looks for a switch, but can’t manage it and Khabib remains on top, taking the back with both hooks this time. Choke looks sunk in for a moment but Iaquinta does just enough to survive and stay in the fight. Few more shots to the head land but Khabib can’t seem to sink the choke. Fight could be stopped to be fair as Iaquinta’s not doing a lot outside of defend the choke and take shots. Round ends with Nurmagomedov being totally dominant. 10-8 round for Khabib there I’d say.

Round Three and Iaquinta is still firing out punches, but it doesn’t look like Khabib gives a shit about any of them really. No rush for the takedown early in this round too as he looks content to just land the odd kick and constantly nail Iaquinta with a ramrod jab. Who knew Khabib was such a great striker? Two minutes or so in and Iaquinta’s now feinting takedowns, but that doesn’t work either and now he’s bleeding badly from all of Khabib’s jabs. Good low kick lands for Khabib. 1:20 remaining and he still hasn’t really gone for a takedown. Counter right lands for Iaquinta right after Khabib starts to talk some trash towards him. More jabs follow and Khabib’s dropping his hands and everything now. Dude just looks supremely confident. Iaquinta seems to be talking trash now as well but it doesn’t matter really as he’s eating more jabs than he’s landing. Round surprisingly ends on the feet; 10-9 Khabib though.

Round Four and you can just tell Khabib has some serious disdain for Iaquinta’s skills as he has his hands so low and lands with a couple of really hard strikes in the early going. Takedown attempt is prevented by Iaquinta but he’s getting no offense off. Both men land jabs now but it’s Iaquinta’s head that’s being snapped backwards. Good combination lands for Nurmagomedov. Single leg is stuffed well by Iaquinta this time but he keeps on eating jabs. Joe Rogan is talking absolute nonsense on commentary too by saying Khabib doesn’t look great or dominant – he’s clearly outstriking a guy known primarily for his striking. Takedown attempt from Iaquinta is blocked, but he does land a clean left hand on his way out. More jabs follow for Khabib, before an overhand right glances for Al. Khabib circles out and continues to throw punches as Rogan claims he looks tired which is also bullshit. Both men continue to exchange punches and the round ends there. 10-9 Khabib and Iaquinta clearly needs a KO to win.

Round Five and Khabib shoots instantly but Iaquinta manages to stuff it well. Clean punches have Iaquinta backing up again though. Al fires back but he still can’t seem to actually hurt Nurmagomedov at all. Crowd really get into it as Al manages to land some more shots and Khabib’s got his chin super-high, but still the Dagestani doesn’t look at all hurt. Iaquinta’s face is an absolute MESS too. Khabib forces him into the cage, but he can’t get him down and so instead he chases Al around the cage while landing shots including a really nasty uppercut. Flying knee sets up the takedown and this time Iaquinta goes down. He gives his back and Khabib slaps a hook in, but he can’t get total back control so he just peppers him with punches instead. Al works back to his feet, but Khabib stays heavy on him and looks to force him back down. Both hooks are in with a minute to go, and this time the choke looks deep but again Iaquinta manages to survive. Al rolls, but he can’t shake Nurmagomedov off him and he eats more punches to end the fight. 10-9 Nurmagomedov, 50-44 for him overall.

Judges score it 50-44, 50-43 and 50-43 all for Khabib Nurmagomedov, obviously. Totally one-sided fight as was expected going in; Iaquinta tried and managed to go the distance but he never had any meaningful offense and even on the feet it was Khabib landing the big shots to bust Al up. Not sure how the UFC can call Khabib the undisputed champ given he hasn’t beaten Ferguson or McGregor but whatever, hopefully those fights – probably Conor first given Ferguson’s injury – can be put together soon. Say what you want about this showing being unimpressive, Iaquinta was still a borderline top ten guy coming in and he still got totally dominated. Khabib rules.

-Show ends with some highlights of the various fights and that’s it from UFC 223.

Final Thoughts….

This one’s a tricky show to rate, really. Two main events were fine I guess but for as good as it was, Joanna/Rose was somewhat of a low-drama fight and Khabib/Iaquinta was just totally one-sided. As were Gruetzemacher/Lauzon and Moicano/Kattar actually. Zabit/Bochniak was fantastic though so it’s probably worth a thumbs up based on that fight and the fact that nothing sucked. Won’t be the best show of 2018 though for sure.

Best Fight: Magomedsharipov vs. Bochniak
Worst Fight: Lauzon vs. Gruetzemacher

Overall Rating: ***

Until next time,

Scott Newman: