UFC 223 Betting Breakdown: Max Holloway vs Khabib Nurmagomedov

Prior to each UFC fight card, Jay Primetown takes a look at some of the key contests at each event. In the latest installment, we look ahead to the main event at UFC 223 as current featherweight champion Max Holloway steps up on short notice to take on Khabib Nurmagomedov for the undisputed lightweight Title.

Max Holloway (Record: 19-3, +375 Underdog, Power Ranking: A)

The Hawaiian born fighter has been on a meteoric rise in the featherweight division. The champion has won twelve consecutive fights in the UFC and has the third longest active winning streak in the promotion trailing just Georges St. Pierre and Demetrious Johnson. Holloway unified the featherweight championship when he dropped Aldo in the third round and forced the referee to stop the bout as he unleashed unanswered ground and pound. He followed that up with another knockout win over Aldo to show true command over the division.

The 26-year-old Holloway has been on a heck of a run beating two of the best fighters of the first half of this decade in Jose Aldo and Anthony Pettis back to back.  Holloway has quickly become one of the best fighters in the sport and it’s his approach that makes him a very difficult opponent to beat. Holloway is constantly pressuring opponents and fights at a tremendous pace. Holloway lands 6.20 significant strikes per minute which is one of the highest outputs in the division. Furthermore, he only absorbs 3.90 significant strikes per minute. What sets Holloway apart from other strikers is his combination work. Holloway throws a lot of unorthodox strikes, but follows them up with three, four, five, or even more combination punches. His output is tremendous and is very difficult for opponents to contend with. As Holloway has gotten more experienced, his takedown defense has improved dramatically. He hasn’t been taken down by an opponent since 2014 and has a takedown defense percentage of 83% overall. With that said, Holloway has mainly fought strikers in his recent run and hasn’t had to contend with the grappling game of a standout wrestler. Holloway has forced opponents to fight him on the feet. Holloway is hittable, but has shown to have a granite chin. He’s never been knocked out in a fight and quite honestly hasn’t even been close to being finished by an opponent with strikes. Holloway is a fighter that gets better as a fight continues. While he’s not slow out of the gate, he really excels in his ability to take fights over when his opponents begin to slow down. He’s one of the best mid round finishers in the sport which makes him capable of being a fighter that can have a long title reign.

Khabib Nurmagomedov (Record: 25-0, -475 Favorite, Fighter Grade: A+)

The fighter with the longest active winning streak, Russian lightweight Khabib Nurmagomedov has yet to lose in his professional career. He rides his 25-0 record into Saturday’s UFC 223 card. It’s his first career UFC title fight and furthermore his first five round bout in the UFC.

A black belt in judo and a two time world sambo champion, Nurmagomedov may very well be the most dominant wrestler in MMA today. The Russian lightweight is as relentless as they come in this sport in his approach to securing takedowns. Per 15 minutes in the Octagon, Nurmagomedov secures a whopping 5.85 takedowns. That’s nearly two takedowns per round. He chains his takedown attempts brilliantly and his variance in takedown attempts are as good as they come in the sport. When in top control, he’s an absolute nightmare for opponents. He maintains a constant pressure, but doesn’t put himself in positions where an opponent can challenge with submissions. He’s also very good in the clinch and is able to find many of his takedown attempts from there. His striking is better than people give him credit for particularly from top control. He’s never been forced into a prolonged striking contest because he’s just so good at grappling and forcing his opponents to the ground. Furthermore, he has a good chin and a great work rate. If there is a weakness, it’s his striking technique. On the feet, he’s a brawler and he uses strikes to setup takedowns. If he struggles at some point securing takedowns in a bout, he may have some problems against a striker. However, that has yet to happen to him during his career.


In a dramatic change of plans, Tony Ferguson was forced to pull out of the UFC 223 main event due to injury. In his place, featherweight champion Max Holloway stepped in to take his place against Khabib Nurmagomedov. The stakes couldn’t be higher for both fighters. Holloway is looking to become a rare two division UFC champion and be just the second fighter to ever hold belts from two divisions simultaneously. Meanwhile, the undefeated Nurmagomedov has long stated his case as the best fighter in the lightweight division and will have his first opportunity at UFC gold on April 7. It’s a fascinating storyline, but the odds are stacked against Holloway in this bout. The Hawaiian is taking this fight on just six days’ notice and is moving up in weight for the first time in his career. Holloway will also need to cut in excess of 25 pounds within a week to make the weight and fight for the title. Perhaps, even more importantly, Holloway was sidelined from UFC 222 for an injury he hadn’t recovered from yet. One has to wonder just how much quality training Holloway has had prior to the call up. This is a lot for a fighter to overcome; even a fighter of Holloway’s quality. In terms of the matchup, this is a classic striker vs. grappler matchup. Holloway is an excellent volume striker, while Nurmagomedov is the great neutralizer forcing opponents to fight off their back and on the mat. If Holloway can stuff takedowns and tire Nurmagomedov out, he can win this fight. However, Nurmagomedov has been able to get just about everyone besides Gleison Tibau to the mat. Holloway is as game of a fighter as they come, but he has bitten off more than he can chew in this bout. The Dagestani fighter is too big, too strong, and too good at what Holloway is not good at to be denied in this bout. Look for Nurmagomedov to secure takedowns early and often in this fight and to earn a finish in the middle rounds to earn his first UFC belt.

Written by Jay Primetown

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