UFC 223 Picks: Khabib vs Ferguson; Namajunas vs Jedrzejczyk

  • The UFC returns on April 7th with a two-title main event.
  • Tony Ferguson vs Khabib Nurmagomedov is booked — again!
  • Rose Namajunas and Joanna Jedrzejczyk fight for the women’s strawweight title — again!  

The UFC returns with a bang.

Bringing the noise back to the Barclays Center in New York, the UFC throws two title fights into the main card of UFC 223 (Sunday, April 7). The elusive Tony Ferguson vs Khabib Nurmagomedov fight is, once again, booked and ready to go. And this time the interim lightweight title is on the line!

Also up for grabs is the women’s strawweight strap. Rose Namajunas and Joanna Jedrzejczyk meet again for a title rematch. Jedrzejczyk is eager to reclaim her “Joanna Champion” moniker while Namajunas prepares for her first title defense.

Let’s get to the odds.

Tony Ferguson (+205) vs Khabib Nurmagomedov (-265)

The elusive Tony Ferguson vs Khabib Nurmagomedov fight may actually happen this time! Both fighters seem to be in good health, Khabib looks on track to make weight, and neither are nursing any injuries (that we know about).

It’s a fight for the interim title since the UFC is unwilling to strip the lightweight strap from Conor McGregor, who hasn’t made a single title defense and has been inactive for well over a year. Really, this is the true title fight. It’s a scrap between the two top active lightweights in MMA right now.

Khabib Nurmagomedov (25-0) is perhaps the most terrifying fighter in the sport today. It’s not just that he’s won every fight he’s had, it’s how he’s won them. Since signing with the UFC in 2012, he’s demolished every opponent placed in front of him. It’s never even been close. He’s faced the very best of the division — Rafael dos Anjos, Michael Johnson, and Edson Barboza to name a few — and he’s mauled each and every one of them. He takes down his opponents at will, and he’s unstoppable on the ground.

Khabib’s adversities exist mostly outside of the cage, rather than inside it. He’s ridiculously large for a lightweight, so cutting down to 155 pounds is usually tougher than the fight itself. He’s also notorious for over-training, making him susceptible to avoidable injuries. If Khabib reaches fight night, the hard work is usually already behind him.

That won’t be the case when he faces Tony Ferguson (23-3), though. Khabib has faced some top-tier opponents, but none like Ferguson. The interim champ is one of the most dynamic and unorthodox fighters in the sport, with his creative striking and deadly ground game. He has some of the sharpest elbows around and his unique style fighting make him almost impossile to prepare for.

Khabib poses an interesting dilemma to his opponents: they all know what he wants to do, but they never know how to stop it from happening. The former Sambo champ is an effective striker, but it’s his grappling that has made him the most feared man at 155. When he’s got a hold of his opponents, it’s usually Game Over.

Ferguson is one of those fighters who is extremely effective fighting from his back. He definitely won’t want to be in that position against a fighter like Khabib, but he’ll be able to put up a decent challenge if the fight goes to ground. Also, in order for Khabib to take Ferguson down, he’ll have to weather a flurry of vicious strikes.

I completely understand why Khabib is the clear favorite. The way he’s dominated every single fighter he’s faced makes him seem unbeatable. But this is a much closer fight than the odds suggest. Ferguson has a a few flaws in his game; he’s sometimes reckless with his striking and leaves himself open to counters. But those are flaws a fighter like Khabib will struggle to capitalize on. It’s a risky pick, but I’m siding with Ferguson.

Pick: Tony Ferguson (+205)

"Joanna Champion" back when she was the champion.
“Joanna Champion” back when she was the champion. (Photo credit: KRK.TV (Wikimedia) CC License)

Rose Namajunas (+110) vs Joanna Jedrzejczyk (-140)

Co-headlining the main event is a rematch between the newly-crowned Rose Namajunas (7-3) and former champ Joanna Jedrzejczyk (14-1). Namajunas shocked the MMA world back in November after she defeated Jedrzejczyk with a first-round stoppage, stripping the champ of her belt and handing her the first loss of her professional career. Jedrzejczyk had dominated the women’s strawweight division for almost three years and was dethroned by a relatively unknown fighter.

Jedrzejczyk will enter the cage as the favorite once again. With 14 straight wins and six successful title defenses to her name, it makes sense that she’s favored to win. She attributed her loss to a difficult weight cut and a momentary lapse in focus, and I’m inclined to believe her. If we zoom out and take a broad look at the careers of Jedrzejczyk and Namajunas, I think it’s safe to say that Jedrzejczyk is the better all-round fighter.

We’ve seen fighters decline after their first loss. Their confidence and self belief leaves with their perfect record, and they’re never quite the same again. That could happen to Jedrzejczyk, but from what I can gather from her recent interviews, she seems to have bounced back pretty well from the loss. I’m picking the former Queen of straw weight to reclaim the throne.

Pick: Joanna Jedrzejczyk (-140)