Some of the most disappointing and shocking news imaginable dropped late Sunday night, on April Fools of all days, when UFC president Dana White announced UFC interim lightweight champion Tony Ferguson was injured and out of his UFC 223 main event bout against Khabib Nurmagomedov. In Ferguson’s place will be Max Holloway, the UFC featherweight champion, who is stepping up and moving up a weight class on less than a week’s notice to take on one of the sport’s most feared fighters in the form of Nurmagomedov.
This is the fourth time that Ferguson vs. Nurmagomedov has been cancelled, with both men previously pulling out of the bout once each with injury and Nurmagomedov pulling out a second time due to a failed weight cut. According to White, the UFC will not attempt to re-book this cursed fight for a fifth time. That’s a massive disappointment to all MMA fans everywhere, as there’s no doubt Ferguson vs. Nurmagomedov is an incredible matchup on paper, and one that we’ve literally been waiting for four years now to see. Ferguson is 13-1 in the UFC and on a 10-fight win streak, while Nurmagomedov is 25-0 in his MMA career with 10-straight wins. This was going to be an amazing fight, and it’s still hard to believe the fight has been cancelled once again.
The good news is that the replacement bout between Nurmagomedov and Holloway is another stylistically intriguing matchup. When you talk about the best fighters in the sport, both men are high up on the list. I’ve already mentioned Nurmagomedov’s achievements, but Holloway’s resume is just as impressive, if not more, albeit at a lower weight class. Holloway is 15-3 overall in the UFC and is currently riding a 12-fight win streak, obliterating everyone along his path since he lost to Conor McGregor back in 2013, including back-to-back TKO wins over Jose Aldo. Holloway is an amazing talent and the fact he stepped up on such short notice and up a weight class — especially considering he is coming off of an injury himself that forced him out of UFC 222 — shows the warrior spirit he has. And clearly he believes this is a fight he can win, since he would have turned it down otherwise.
Though Nurmagomedov is going to have a huge wrestling advantage in this fight, there’s a big advantage for Holloway as far as the striking goes. Nurmagomedov’s striking is just there to set up his takedowns, so if he can’t get the takedowns he could get in trouble with Holloway’s reach and volume striking attack. Also remember that Nurmagomedov has never been five rounds before, whereas Holloway has been booked for numerous five-round fights and has proven he only gets better as the fight gets into deeper waters. Nurmagomedov’s elite wrestling means he should be favored against pretty much everyone he’s put against, but if anyone can stop his takedowns it might be Holloway, who has proven to be tough to take down in the past. And if the fight stays standing, that will give Holloway even more confidence that he can beat Nurmagomedov is another big upset.
It’s still shocking and sad that Ferguson got hurt again, and that there’s a chance we never get to see him fight Nurmagomedov. But if there was ever a replacement fight to make, it’s Nurmagomedov vs. Holloway. Just remember that if Holloway kept winning at featherweight he would likely have moved up to lightweight at some point, anyways, so this was a fight we were almost surely going to see in the future. It just so happens that the MMA Gods had other plans and decided we need to see the fight now. Most will count out Holloway and assume Nurmagomedov wins, but I don’t think you can totally write off Holloway just yet. It sucks that Ferguson got hurt, but maybe, just maybe, did we luck into an even better fight as its replacement. We’ll find out soon at UFC 223.