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UPDATED Khabib vs Iaquinta? UFC 223 Odds after Holloway Declared Unfit

Khabib Nurmagomedov stands face to face with Tony Ferguson
Khabib Nurmagomedov (L) is still waiting on an opponent for UFC 223 after last-minute sub Max Holloway had to bow out. Photo by MMAFighting.com (YouTube).
  • Max Holloway has been deemed unfit to fight Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 223. 
  • Who’s going to step up to face Nurmagomedov for the lightweight title?
  • Would Al Iaquinta, the most likely fill-in, have any chance to win on such short notice?

[UPDATE, 4:27 PM ET: Nurmagomedov vs Iaquinta has been confirmed as the new main event at UFC 223.]

It hasn’t been a banner 48 hours for the UFC.

First, Conor McGregor caused a ruckus at the UFC 223 media day and got himself arrested in the process.

Now, the UFC 223 main event between Max Holloway and Khabib Nurmagomedov (which was already replacing Nurmagomedov vs Tony Ferguson) has been nixed because Holloway, the current featherweight champ, was deemed “medically unfit.” The news was first reported by Brett Okamoto on Twitter:

Is there a fight(er) in shining armor who can swoop in and save this cursed card? Maybe, just maybe.

Khabib Nurmagomedov’s potential UFC 223 opponent Career MMA Record UFC Ranking Odds to face Khabib at UFC 223
No one NA NA 1/1
Al Iaquinta 13-3-1 (7 KO, 1 SUB) #11 lightweight 3/1
Anthony Pettis 20-7 (7 KO, 9 SUB) #12 lightweight 29/1
Paul Felder 15-2 (10 KO, 1 SUB) Unranked 49/1
Conor McGregor 21-3 (18 KO, 1 SUB) Lightweight champion (pending UFC 223) 999/1

Felder and Pettis were both in the mix until the New York State Athletic Commission declared that Felder was not an option because he was unranked. Then it was up to Pettis to save the day. The former lightweight champ was originally scheduled to face Michael Chiesa on Saturday, but Chiesa had to withdraw after the McGregor/bus incident left him with facial lacerations.

Pettis weighed in at 155.2 on Friday and was then allotted two hours to cut the necessary 0.2 pounds. That shouldn’t have been a problem, but for some reason the commission took the scales away before the two-hour period was up.

With Pettis and Felder out of the running, Al Iaquinta becomes the favorite. Don’t get your hopes up for an impromptu McGregor-vs-Khabib title fight. Notorious is busy in court.

Assuming Iaquinta can make weight and nothing else crops up to kibosh the fight in the next 36 hours (big assumption, I recognize), does he have any chance of pulling an upset against the undefeated Russian?

Nurmagomedov vs Iaquinta Predicted Opening Moneyline Actual Opening Moneyline
Khabib Nurmagomedov -570  -550
Al Iaquinta +400  +375

Khabib would be a big favorite over Iaquinta if the latter had been training for this specific fight for months. On one day’s notice? It’s going to be a massacre. (Yes, Iaquinta had been training for a fight with Paul Felder at UFC 223, but he hadn’t been getting ready for Khabib’s unique style.)

While Iaquinta is riding a five-fight win streak dating back to September 2014, he has never faced anyone on Khabib’s level. Not one of the men he’s beaten during that run is currently in the top 15 of the UFC’s lightweight rankings. He is a talented striker who usually gets the better of the standup game, and lands slightly more significant strikes per minute than the undefeated Russian (4.85 vs 4.11). But he proved to be susceptible to takedowns against Piotr Hallmann (who was 3-9 on takedowns) and has a history of losing by submission.

That’s going to be a huge issue against Khabib and his elite wrestling. Nurmagomedov averages over five takedowns per 15 minutes (5.85) compared to just  1.22 for Iaquinta. Don’t read too much into the American’s 84% takedown defense. Stuffing takedown attempts against the likes of Joe Lauzon is not the same as stuffing Nurmagomedov.

Expect the Russian to control where this fight takes place. If he’s not getting the better of the stand-up, he’ll move it to the mat, which means that Iaquinta may not even have the proverbial “puncher’s chance. ” It’s extremely hard to score a knockout from your back.

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