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Ferguson vs Holloway: Updated UFC 223 Odds

Khabib Nurmagomedov flexing at the UFC 148 weigh-ins.
Khabib Nurmagomedov has threatened to quit the UFC if Dana White "fires" one of his teammates, and now bettors can wager on him following through. Photo by Sports Channel (YouTube) [CC License].
  • Ferguson vs Nurmagomedov is off, again
  • Featherweight champ Max Holloway has stepped in on short notice to face Khabib at 155 pounds.
  • Holloway is a wide underdog; does he stand a chance?

It’s only fitting that we found out on April Fools Day that the Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Tony Ferguson fight has once again — ONCE AGAIN! — been scrapped.  Ferguson tore a knee ligament on media day and, just like that, the fight has fallen through. This is the fourth time this fight has been booked, and the fourth time it’s been canned. It’s safe to say this fight is cursed. It will never happen.

To the rescue is featherweight champion Max Holloway, who has bravely (or stupidly?) stepped in on a week’s notice to fight the most feared man at 155. Holloway hasn’t lost a fight since 2013, when the youngster was outclassed by current lightweight champ Conor McGregor. Beating Khabib would grant Holloway the interim lightweight title, which would lead to a spectacular rematch against the PPV king of mixed martial arts.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

First, Holloway has to contend with an undefeated phenom. The featherweight champ opened at a dismal +365, giving him an implied win probability of just over 20%. Has “Blessed” bitten off more than he can chew?

Tony Ferguson holding the American flag.
Tony Ferguson’s torn knee ligament has put the kibosh on his matchup with Nurmagomedov, for a fourth time. Photo by WCD109291 (Wikimedia) [CC License].

Khabib Nurmagomedov (-505) vs Max Holloway (+365)

Whatever the outcome, Max Holloway (19-3) is a trooper.  The featherweight champ was forced to withdraw from a title defense a month ago due to an ankle injury, and now he’s agreed to a fight at lightweight against a fighter who should really be at welterweight. If there’s any reason to believe that Holloway has a decent shot against Khabib Nurmagomedov (25-0), then we should side with “Blessed.” At +365, successfully backing Holloway yields a ridiculous payout.

At 5’11”, Holloway towers over the rest of the featherweight division. Using his height and reach advantage, he’s able to keep his opponents with long strikes. However, any height or reach advantage Holloway has at featherweight will be nullified at 155. Khabib stands almost as tall as Holloway and even has an inch of reach over the lanky featherweight. As for weight, Nurmagomedov will definitely enter the cage as the larger, heavier fighter. Holloway cannot look to his physiology for an advantage.

Another strong suit of Holloway is his ability to stuff takedowns. With a  takedown defense rate of 83%, he’s one of the best in the game. But that counts for little against Khabib Nurmagomedov, who can and will take down any opponent in front of him. Edson Barboza couldn’t remain on his feet. Neither could Michael Johnson or Rafael dos Anjos. It’s not a matter of Khabib will take the fight to the ground, it’s when. Holloway can easily remain upright when he’s fighting at 145 pound, but doing that against a fighter like Khabib at 155 pounds is completely different.

It’s not a matter of if Khabib will take the fight to the ground, it’s when.

Then there’s Holloway’s speed and movement. He’s able to set a high pace, pressuring his opponents and overwhelming them with aggressive striking combinations. He wears down his opponents with heavy body shots, and is quick to stop the show once they go down. But once again, that may not play well against Khabib. The Dagestani would welcome an aggressive, come-forward approach from Holloway. Every kick thrown is a takedown opportunity for Khabib, and every over-committed strike is an opening to counter and close distance.

So there we have it. I would love to be proven wrong, but I just can’t see a plausible path to victory for Holloway. He’s taking the fight on under a week’s notice, fresh off a fight-cancelling injury, in a higher weight class against a fighter who probably walks around at 200 pounds. “Blessed” is the last of a dying breed of fighter, someone who never shies away from a tough fight no matter the circumstances. It’s a commendable, though somewhat naive approach.

Even if Holloway had taken a full training camp for this fight and slowly worked his way up to 155 lbs, he would still be a wide underdog against Khabib Nurmagomedov. Taking this fight on six days’ notice after a crippling injury seems like a ridiculously bad idea. If you’re willing to wait, maybe hold off until the numbers for “Khabib inside the distance” are released. If you’re looking to make some pocket change, then pick Khabib Nurmagomedov winning outright at -505 and take the easy money.

Pick: Khabib Nurmagomedov (-505)

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