This weekend’s UFC 223 main event in Brooklyn encountered an unexpected setback when interim lightweight champion Tony Ferguson suffered a freak injury. The announcement may have come on April 1, but it ended up not being an April Fools’ prank to many MMA betting fans’ disappointment.
The incident itself is pretty hard to fathom as accidents go adding to the sheer shock of the situation. While attending a customary pre-fight media appearance, Ferguson spotted a familiar face he hadn’t expected and took a last-second, awkward step to acknowledge the acquaintance.
That simple, surprised step ended up tragically tearing Ferguson’s LCL and abruptly knocked him out of the scheduled bout with Khabib Nurmagomedov. The distraught former Ultimate Fighter winner enlightened fans on his status in a tweet:
In Ferguson’s stead, Hawaiian native and featherweight champion Max Holloway will climb up a weight class and take on the challenge of the undefeated Nurmagomedov. Holloway will enter the fray as a steep underdog but will have an exciting opportunity to become just the second UFC fighter to hold titles in two different weight classes following the current lightweight champion, Conor McGregor.
Holloway’s last event was UFC 218 in Detroit where he defended his featherweight crown with a second straight third-round TKO victory over Jose Aldo. The Blessed, as he is known, maintains an impressive record of 19-3 with nine wins by knockout, two by submission and eight by decision.
He hasn’t tasted defeat in years having last lost to McGregor by unanimous decision at a UFC Fight Night event back in 2013. The 26-year-old Holloway is no stranger to the idea of switching weight classes. Back on March 2 in an interview with MMA journalist Damon Martin, Holloway described it as something of a personal goal and a decision that he believed would build up his legacy.
“I’m just trying to prove I’m the best ever to do it. Not in my weight class, in the world, pound-for-pound. When I think of the P4P rankings, I think whoever’s No. 1 should be willing to fight anybody and everybody in every weight class. I’m that guy.”
Nurmagomedov, known as the Eagle, is one of the sport's most exciting rising stars. He boasts a stellar 25-0 record with eight wins by knockout, eight by submission and nine by decision. With that success to start your career comes a healthy level of cockiness that the best fighters seem to all have in common.
The 29-year-old two-time Combat Sambo World Champion admitted in an interview if he were in Holloway's shoes he would not have accepted the fight. While he told Ferguson to "heal up" in an Instagram post, he went on to add that his rival should treat his injury as a "lesson" that would "teach him to watch his mouth." Nurmagomedov even reached out to McGregor whose absence in the UFC has been loud:
Where are you now? @TheNotoriousMMA— khabib nurmagomedov (@TeamKhabib) April 1, 2018
McGregor hasn’t defended his lightweight title since he famously took down Eddie Alvarez to win the “double title” back in November 2016. While he did switch sports to face undefeated former world champion boxer Floyd Mayweather in last year’s highly publicized 'Money Fight', McGregor hasn’t fought in a UFC octagon in over 500 days.
This has garnered a large amount of criticism from UFC fans and fellow fighters and it remains unknown if and when McGregor will return. UFC President Dana White clarified that Ferguson’s interim title will “go away” and that the victor of this weekend’s match “will be the (interim lightweight) champion.”
In response to fans clamoring for McGregor to take Ferguson’s place and defend his title, White explained why that simply wasn’t possible and why he hadn’t offered the fight to the Irish superstar.
“I don’t think Conor McGregor could make the weight on six day’s notice. That’s a tough weight cut for him. Conor isn’t exactly the guy that I want to throw in as a late replacement fighter. He’s the guy that I want to make a fight with, have the right amount of time to promote the fight, have the fight in the right place, so I’m not interested in asking Conor to take the fight.”`
Betfair provides a comprehensive breakdown on all odds related to the fight with 68 different possible bets to be made. The most likely outcome would be a Nurmagomedov knockout of Holloway (2.2) while Holloway's best chance at taking down Nurmagomedov is also by knockout (7/1).
Betfair's online sportsbook lists 5.5/1 odds that the Eagle will knock out Holloway in the first round, while Holloway faces 20/1 odds of doing the same to Nurmagomedov. The longer the fight goes, the longer Holloway's odds get as Nurmagomedov's ground game is one of his major advantages in contrast to Holloway's strength as a striker.
Holloway's odds of ending the Russian's streak in the first three rounds are odds of 6/1 while he faces 8/1 odds should the fight go four or five. If simply betting on how the fight will end regardless of the winner, the odds of a knockout are 0.72/1, submission are 2.6/1 and points are 2.5/1.
If Betfair's extensive coverage of the fight doesn't offer the value you're looking for, other top online betting sites will certainly be offering a range of odds. Two miscellaneous bets we found regarding the fight are whether a time out will be called (2.1/1) and whether there will be a point deduction (7/1).
While many fans were initially disappointed when their hopes of a hyped first-time meeting between two vocal rivals were dashed, the new storyline provides a more than adequate replacement. Anyone believing in Holloway would definitely be in line to make a pretty penny should the upset happen, no matter how and in what round.
While that would certainly push Holloway's career to new, unprecedented heights, a victory for Nurmagomedov would only continue to cement his rapidly growing legacy with the concrete reward of the interim belt. It would also push the narrative closer to an eventual McGregor-Nurmagomedov showdown should The Notorious be coaxed to defend his title by the Russian's continued success and personal challenges.