Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Featherweight champion, Max Holloway, gets the chance to match Conor McGregor’s greatest feat this Saturday (April 7, 2018) when he takes on the heretofore-unstoppable Khabib Nurmagomedov in the pay-per-view (PPV) main event of UFC 223, doing so on just six days’ notice.
The cards’ other title fight pits newly-crowned women’s Strawweight champion, Rose Namajunas, against the very woman she felled to win that title: Joanna Jedrzejczyk, who’s out for vengeance following her first career mixed martial arts (MMA) loss. Fight fans will also get to see Calvin Kattar throw down with Renato Moicano and Anthony Pettis fight for his UFC life against Michael Chiesa inside Barclays Arena in Brooklyn, New York.
We’ve got four more UFC 223 “Prelims” undercard bouts to preview and predict (check out the Fight Pass portion here), all of them on FOX Sports 1. Shall we begin?
115 lbs.: Karolina Kowalkiewicz vs. Felice Herrig
Karolina Kowalkiewicz (11-2) — Poland’s No. 2 alliterative Strawweight — went from 3-0 in UFC to 3-2 after one-sided losses to Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Claudia Gadelha. When UFC headed to Gdansk in Oct. 2017, however, she dominated Invicta veteran Jodie Esquibel to the hometown crowd’s delight.
She will give up an inch of height to “Lil’ Bulldog.”
Despite a 1-1 run on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 20 and a 1-1 start to her UFC career, Felice Herrig (14-6) has emerged as a legitimate contender thanks to four consecutive upset victories. After handing Alexa Grasso and Justine Kish their first career defeats, Herrig faced fellow rising contender Cortney Casey in Dec. 2017, scraping out a split decision win in Michigan.
Four of her five stoppage wins have come by submission.
While Herrig’s skills are absolutely legit, there’s nothing in her arsenal that can really trouble Kowalkiewicz. Herrig does her best work on the mat, but she’ll struggle to get her Polish foe there with any consistency and lacks any real counter to Kowalkiewicz’s high-volume offense on the feet. Herrig isn’t even a sufficiently dangerous takedown artist to disrupt Kowalkiewicz’s striking.
That’s honestly the long and short of it. Herrig doesn’t have fight-changing power or an explosive double with which to short-circuit Kowalkiewicz’s advance. Kowalkiewicz scoots back toward title contention by shutting down Herrig’s grappling and outworking her on the feet.
Prediction: Kowalkiewicz via unanimous decision
125 lbs.: Ray Borg vs. Brandon Moreno
A 5-1 run -- capped off by a decision over former No. 1-ranked Jussier Formiga — earned Ray Borg (11-3) a crack at Demetrious Johnson last October. Though Johnson willingly engaged Borg in the grappling, “The Tazmexican Devil” wound up on the wrong end of 2017’s “Submission of the Year,” a beautiful throw-to-armbar transition that drew the first tap of Borg’s career.
He has six professional wins by submission, including two that won UFC bonuses.
Brandon Moreno (14-4) went from being ranked No. 16 on TUF 24 to being on the verge of title contention thanks to three consecutive UFC victories, including “Performance of the Night”-winning chokes of Louis Smolka and Dustin Ortiz. These set up a main event slot opposite Sergio Pettis, who survived Moreno’s early grappling attack to take home a unanimous decision.
He will have three inches of height and an impressive seven inches of reach on Borg.
Moreno showed some major deficiencies in both his striking and wrestling against Pettis, and while Borg’s stand up isn’t particularly devastating, his takedown and scrambling prowess are top-of-the-line. If the fight hits the ground, it will be when and how Borg wants it to, and Moreno isn’t enough of a threat off of his back to give Borg cause for concern.
That’s the crux of the fight, really. Borg can hold his own on the feet and on the mat while switching between the two as needed. Moreno, meanwhile, has to make do with whatever Borg gives him. Borg dominates wherever the fight goes.
Prediction: Borg via unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Joe Lauzon vs. Chris Gruetzemacher
It’s been more than 11 years since Joe Lauzon (27-14) debuted in UFC with a knockout of Jens Pulver. And even though he’s distinguished himself as one of this generation’s most entertaining fighters, he currently finds himself on a 1-3 skid. His last two bouts saw him start strong, but fade against Stevie Ray before suffering a 67-second knockout loss to Clay Guida, “The Carpenter’s” first (technical) knockout victory since 2008.
Seventeen of his 25 stoppage wins have come by submission.
Chris Gruetzemacher (13-3) reached the quarterfinals of TUF 22 before falling to Artem Lobov, but earned himself a spot at the Finale, where he defeated Team Conor McGregor’s Abner Lloveras by decision. He’s had a rough go of it since, tapping to Chas Skelly and Davi Ramos in his last two fights.
“Gritz” will give up two inches of height and three inches of reach to Lauzon.
If Lauzon can’t beat Gruetzemacher, I think he needs to either retire or ply his craft in Rizin, Bellator, or some other lesser organization. He’s obviously enormously skilled and preternaturally likeable, but he can’t keep gassing out after one great round and getting beaten senseless.
Gruetzemacher is a fighter he should be able to look amazing against. “Gritz” is a one-note wrestler with porous submission defense and no real stand up prowess to speak of. “Creepy Joe” can finish him wherever he wants, and despite being burned before, I say he does so before his gas tank empties.
Prediction: Lauzon via first-round submission
155 lbs.: Evan Dunham vs. Olivier Aubin-Mercier
Undaunted by a 1-4 slump, Evan Dunham (18-6-1) enters the cage unbeaten in his last five fights dating back to 2015. After four consecutive wins, including an upset of Ross Pearson, Dunham survived a disastrous first round to force a draw with Beneil Dariush in Oct. 2017.
Six of his nine professional stoppage wins have come by submission.
Olivier Aubin-Mercier (10-2) put his TUF: “Nations” loss to Chad Laprise behind him with wins in six of his next seven fights. His current three-fight streak includes a submission of Drew Dober and a split decision over rising American Top Team product Tony Martin.
“The Quebec Kid” replaces Mairbek Taisumov -- who once again ran into visa issues — on short notice.
Three losses from that Dunham slump came against Rafael dos Anjos (controversially), Donald Cerrone and Edson Barboza. In other words, Dunham is still a top-flight Lightweight with solid pressure boxing and one of the division’s most underrated wrestling games. As adept as Aubin-Mercier is with his judo and back control, he’ll struggle mightily to impose his preferred gameplan here.
T.J. Grant couldn’t keep Dunham down, Gleison Tibau couldn’t keep Dunham down, and Dariush couldn’t keep Dunham down. Aubin-Mercier’s willingness to step up on short notice comes back to bite him as Dunham shuts down his takedowns and wears him down with combination punching for 15 minutes.
Prediction: Dunham via unanimous decision
Max Holloway vs. Nurmagomedov could be something special and the rest of the PPV main card is nothing to sneeze at. See you Saturday, Maniacs!
Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 223 fight card, starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:15 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.