- UFC 223 takes place in Brooklyn, New York on Saturday, April 7 (9:00 PM ET)
- Can interim lightweight champ Tony Ferguson hang with Khabib Nurmagomedov’s pace?
- Is it worth betting on this matchup now?
Khabib Nurmagomedov (25-0) is scheduled to face interim lightweight champion Tony Ferguson (23-3) at UFC 223 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
The future of current UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor — specifically, whether he will actually step foot in the octagon in 2018 — is uncertain, and that uncertainty is holding the entire division hostage, preventing some of the best fighters in the world from earning their chance at winning a championship. UFC President Dana White is on record as saying that, if McGregor doesn’t fight by the summer, the brash Irishman will be stripped of his title. Since we’re nearly in March and nothing is set, the Nurmagomedov vs Ferguson matchup could wind-up being for more than the interim title.
If it actually happens, that is. Nurmagomedov vs Ferguson is one of the most cursed matchups the UFC has ever tried to put together.
The first time they were supposed to square off, Nurmagomedov suffered a knee injury. The second time around, Ferguson had to bow out with a collapsed lung. Third time’s the charm? Nope, an interim lightweight title fight at UFC 209 was also scrapped at the eleventh hour as Nurmagomedov fell ill hours before the weigh in.
Will Bruce Buffer finally announce their names on April 7? To be determined. Have sportsbooks already announced their odds for the fight? A resolute “yes!” Is there any early value on the initial moneyline? Let’s take a look.
TONY FERGUSON (C) vs. KHABIB NURMAGOMEDOV
|FIGHTER||ODDS TO WIN AT UFC 223|
Ferguson, the current interim champ, hasn’t lost since 2012 and is riding an impressive 10-fight winning streak, including a recent win over Kevin Lee via triangle choke last October at UFC 216. He has the technical prowess to be comfortable no matter where the fight goes, and while he may not be the most powerful striker in the division, he does throw a lot of punches and kicks (5.09 strikes landed per minute) and connects at a solid rate (42-percent accuracy).
Standing across from Ferguson will be an undefeated Russian who fights at such a frenetic pace that many of his opponents are gassed by the time the fight enters the second round. In his last bout, Khabib dismantled dangerous striker Edson Barboza, laying a brutal three-round ground-and-pound beat down on the Brazilian down to win via unanimous decision.
Ferguson is going to have to make quick decisions or he is going to get outworked.
Khabib mixes striking with takedowns to tremendous effect, and you can see that in the fight metrics. He averages 4.11 strikes per minute with 50-percent accuracy, and averages 5.85 takedowns per 15 minutes.
The interim champ has never faced an opponent like Khabib and, although he has solid takedown defense (76-percent) and has demonstrated great skill on the ground (including a world-class guard), the key to him winning this fight is to keep it standing. That means Ferguson is going to have to make quick decisions or he is going to get outworked and, ultimately, taken down. Patience will not be a virtue.
The best way for “El Cucuy” to keep Khabib at bay is to counterstrike effectively. But that’ll be easier said than done.
Ferguson is likely to find himself on the mat often in this fight, but given that both men have great cardio and are extremely durable, it will probably go to the judges’ scorecards, where Nurmagomedov’s pressure and takedowns prove the difference.
Betting advice: Khabib is a deserving favorite, but the early -250 odds aren’t worth it; this matchup is not that lopsided. The line should narrow closer to the date, making the Nurmagomedov moneyline a bit more attractive by the time April rolls around. At this point, I would put a small wager on Ferguson and look for the opportunity to take Khabib at something shorter than -220 in a few weeks. There’s no guarantee that happens, of course, hence the “small wager.”