For the third time in as many Pay-Per-View events, an injury to a headliner has forced the UFC to scramble for a new main event.
Tony Ferguson’s withdrawal means Khabib Nurmagomedov (25-0 MMA, 9-0 UFC) will now face UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway (19-3 MMA, 15-3 UFC), who is stepping up a weight class to compete on just 6 days’ notice.
This fight will equal the record, set by Anderson Silva and Chris Weidman at UFC 162, for the longest combined UFC winning streak between two opponents (21).
It has been confirmed that this fight will be for the UFC lightweight title, presumably meaning reigning champion Conor McGregor will be stripped imminently. McGregor has now held the lightweight belt for 508 days without attempting his first defense, having surpassed Anthony Pettis’ previous all-time UFC record of 462 days in February.
In the co-main event, Rose Namajunas (7-3 MMA, 5-2 UFC) defends her UFC strawweight title against Joanna Jędrzejczyk (14-1 MMA, 8-1 UFC) in a rematch of their UFC 217 bout last November, which Namajunas won via first-round TKO in one of the biggest shocks in UFC championship history.
If Jędrzejczyk reclaims her belt on Saturday, it will be the first time a defeated UFC champion has won their belt back in an immediate rematch since Randy Couture at UFC 49. Five defeated champions; Andrei Arlovski, B.J. Penn, Frankie Edgar, Anderson Silva and José Aldo, have tried and failed since then.
Let’s take a look at the recent results of the two men in Saturday night’s main event:
Nurmagomedov followed a second-round TKO win over Darrell Horcher (who was another late-notice replacement for Tony Ferguson) with a third-round submission of Michael Johnson and a dominant three-round decision victory over Edson Barboza in December.
Holloway has won his last three fights via third-round TKO, with all three wins coming in the fourth minute of the third round. The first of these three wins came over former UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis, whilst the latter two came over former UFC featherweight champion José Aldo.
Still aged just 26, Holloway is only five wins away from the all-time UFC record of 20 victories. He hasn’t faced an opponent on a streak of more than one consecutive win since facing Charles Oliveira in August 2015.
The two men share no common opponents throughout their careers.
Let’s take a look at the recent results of the two women in Saturday night’s co-main event:
Namajunas followed a close split-decision defeat to Karolina Kowalkiewicz in July 2016 with a second-round submission victory over Michelle Waterson last April. She was then granted a title shot against one of the most dominant champions in women’s UFC history, Joanna Jędrzejczyk, scoring a huge upset victory to claim the belt via first-round TKO.
Jędrzejczyk holds the record for the greatest strike differential (strikes landed vs. strikes absorbed) in UFC history, as evidenced in her lopsided decision victories over Claudia Gadelha, Valérie Létourneau, Karolina Kowalkiewicz and Jéssica Andrade, which appear at 4th, 3rd, 2nd and 1st, respectively, in the list of greatest strike differentials in UFC championship fight history.
Here’s a look at how these two fighters fared when competing against common opponents shared throughout their careers. On the left of the graphic, you’ll see how Namajunas fared against any shared opponents and on the right, you’ll see Jędrzejczyk’s results against the same women.
The two women experienced contrasting fortunes when competing against their common foes. A 22-year-old Namajunas suffered a third-round submission loss to Carla Esparza back in 2014 when vying for the inaugural UFC strawweight title, as well as a close split-decision defeat in a title-elimination bout with Karolina Kowalkiewicz.
Jędrzejczyk, on the other hand, ended Esparza’s 92-day title reign- one of the shortest title reigns in UFC history- with a dominant second-round TKO and earned a clear decision win over Kowalkiewicz at Madison Square Garden in November 2016.
The Dwyer Score
Each event, I calculate a ‘Dwyer Score’ for the card. It essentially gives a numeric value to the momentum of fighters competing at any one event. I do this by assigning a figure to each fighter’s current streak; a fighter on a five-fight winning streak contributes +5 to an event’s score, whilst a fighter on a two-fight losing streak contributes -2 to the score. A fighter coming off a No Contest, a draw, or a bout with another promotion has a streak of 0, and only UFC results are considered. When you tally up the scores for every fighter on a card, you get a total for the event- the ‘Dwyer Score.’ This score does not claim to predict or measure the quality or excitement of any one card, but it does give you an idea of the general momentum of fighters heading into a specific event. The graphic to the above-right displays some of the highest-scoring events of all time, to help give some context to this score.
UFC 223: Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Max Holloway checks in with a strong score of +25.
This score ranks joint-30th out of 434 events in UFC history and 1st out of 10 events in 2018.
Here’s a look at how this score compares to other events’ scores over the past year:
As you can see, this score is well above the +10.5 average for all events in the last 12 months and just pips the +24 average for Pay-Per-View events in that same time frame.
Let’s take a look at exactly how this score breaks down:
The highest individual contributor to the score is Max Holloway (+12), followed by Khabib Nurmagomedov (+9), Al Iaquinta (+5) and Felice Herrig (+4).
Iaquinta’s opponent on Saturday, Paul Felder, scored 3 TKO/KO victories last year- nobody on the roster had more (although Thiago Santos and Paulo Costa also had three). Herrig has the longest active winning streak (4) in the UFC women’s strawweight division.
The lowest individual scorer is Bec Rawlings (-3), with Joe Lauzon, Chris Gruetzemacher, Artem Lobov and Ashlee Evans-Smith (all -2) close behind. One fighter, Mike Rodriguez, is making their promotional debut at this event.
Enjoy the fights!