Khabib vs Raging Al UFC 223 Fight Analysis
The last week has been a crazy one for the UFC and the upcoming UFC 223 fight card. First, Tony Ferguson dropped off the card resulting in further delay of the most high level Lightweight fight in the history of the sport. Then, Max Holloway stepped in on short notice only to be pulled off the card by the New York Athletic Commission due to safety concerns with his weight cut. Finally, after a day of the UFC working through different options including Anthony Pettis and Paul Felder, Dana White decided to pair Raging Al Iaquinta with the Khabib Nurmagomedov.
A win for Khabib will still put the UFC Lightweight belt around his waste. Unfortunately, Al Iaquinta will not have a shot at winning the UFC Lightweight title as a result of being .2 pounds over the championship weight limit. Iaquinta was on weight for his scheduled showdown with Paul Felder, he didn’t know he would be fighting Khabib in title fight. Still, a win for Al Iaquinta should earn him an immediate title shot with who would presumably be Tony Ferguson.
Of course, we are all disappointed that Ferguson vs Khabib is not happening, but, I personally am satisfied with this fight. I wrote an article at the end of 2017 and predicted that if things lined up right, Al Iaquinta could be a champion in 2018. The guys a stud and one of the most underrated fighters in the Lightweight division. I believe Raging Al can give Khabib one of the toughest fights he’s had in the UFC so far. That said, let’s take a look at the fight.
Khabib Nurmagomedov cannot underestimate Raging Al
Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov needs no introduction, his 25-0 record is flawless, and thus far, his performances have been as well. He has rag dolled every opponent he’s been in the cage with, and the praises he receives from world class wrestler and current UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Daniel Cormier, bring even more credibility to what we’ve seen with our own eyes.
At UFC 223, we were going to have an opportunity to see how great Khabib could be. What everyone wanted to find out this weekend is if Khabib could put on the same type of dominant performance against Tony Ferguson, that he has with every other fighter. Tony is as phenomenal a fighter as Khabib, it was a super-fight pitting together the elite of the elite. That’s no longer happening, instead, Khabib will face off with Al Iaquinta.
This may not be the fight everybody was looking for but in my opinion, the fight has the potential to be the most competitive fight for Khabib to date. That does not mean I cannot envision a scenario where Khabib controls 70% of the fight on the ground ruthlessly landing blow after blow to a bloodied up Al Iaquinta. It does mean, I don’t see this as an easy fight for “The Eagle”.
Khabib cannot underestimate the knockout prowess and stand-up of Al Iaquinta. He also cannot underestimate how good Raging Al’s take-down defense and ground game are. A protege of Matt Serra, Iaquinta is no slouch on the ground, and he has collegiate pedigree wrestling that has translated well into MMA.
The UFC is not feeding raging Al to the wolves, I see Al as a top 5 Lightweight. The only reason he is not ranked higher than #11 is due to his inactivity over the past few years. Khabib needs to take this fight as serious as the Ferguson fight. Al is an opponent that he was destined to fight in the future. This is a real fight against a legitimate opponent.
Raging Al Iaquinta is attempting to climb Mount Everest in stormy weather
As already stated, I predicted in 2017 that Al Iaquinta would be a champion in 2018. I felt that way because I just see the guy as special fighter. He may not have the hype around him that a lot of other fighters have, but I judge with my own eyes. He’s from a solid team in New York that includes Matt Serra and Ray Longo, and in his performances against Diego Sanchez, Jorge Masdival, Joe Lauzon, and Ross Pearson, he has shown his potential.
A win over Paul Felder at UFC 223 and Raging Al would have completed a 6 fight win streak and been in prime position to make a run at the belt. 2 or 3 key wins and he could have been knocking on the door for UFC gold, possibly against Nurmagomedov. Instead, he’s basically fighting for an opportunity to compete for the title with a win over Khabib.
It’s possible that the longer road to Khabib would have better prepared him for what “The Eagle” brings to the table. I said before that Iaquinta could potentially give Khabib the most competitive fight of his career, well, it’s a fact Khabib is the going to be the toughest fight of Al’s career. Despite my optimism with Iaquinta’s ability, Raging Al is fixing to attempt to climb Mount Everest in stormy weather. We all know that’s not the best idea, but some people, are just crazy like that.
For me, Al just needs to go for broke. Focus hard on his take down defense but at the same time, look to take Khabib’s head off. Khabib’s not invincible and the only real hole in his game, is on the feet. The longer the fight can stay there, the better for Al. Also, while the fight is on the feet, Raging Al has to give everything he has. I truly believe for anyone in the the Lightweight division, if they’re going to beat Khabib, they have to capitalize on the brief moments Khabib isn’t smothering them on the ground. That same rule applies for Al, he cannot afford missed opportunities on the feet.
Iaquinta vs Nurmagomedov, thoughts on the match-up
Both Al and Khabib are taking this fight on one day notice. It’s Al that’s taking all the risk though. Khabib has been preparing for a fearsome Tony Ferguson. Ferguson is as well rounded as they come. That said, Khabib will be well prepared for Al as a result. On the other hand, Al Iaquinta was not preparing to take on someone with the skill set of Khabib Nurmagomedov. This is a complete shift in game plans and is not going to be an easy task.
Based on that and the fact that until someone beats Khabib or Ferguson, those two guys are the best Lightweights on the planet, you have no choice but to favor “The Eagle” in this fight. This is the fight game though, favorites don’t always win, and upsets do happen.
I’ve already read tons of statements and a couple of articles giving Iaquinta basically no shot. To me that’s a joke, Iaquinta is legit. Al being ranked #11 in the Lightweight division means nothing, rankings are far from perfect. Raging Al’s shot at the elite of the division may have come much early than expected but it was coming, believe that.
I believe in Al and I believe he can win this fight. To be repetitive though, along with Ferguson, Khabib is the best until proven otherwise.
To sum this up, Everyone loves an underdog story, including me. It would be great to see Iaquinta come out on top. I have not done Khabib Nurmagomedov justice in this article though, the guy is beyond phenomenal. It seems as though it’s Khabib’s time, although I am convinced Al’s time is coming soon. We’ll find out at UFC 223 who’s time it is. Much respect to Al for taking the fight and much respect to Khabib for not caring who he’s facing in the cage.