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UFC 223: Khabib vs. Iaquinta staff predictions

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Read the Bloody Elbow staff’s picks and predictions for Saturday’s UFC 223: Khabib vs. Iaquinta fight card.

The Bloody Elbow staff has submitted its picks and predictions for what remains of UFC 223. As you might expect, we overwhelmingly agree that Khabib Nurmagomedov will beat Al Iaquinta in the main event, with only three staffers going for the chaos of an Iaquinta upset win. Opinion is more split on the co-main between Rose Namajunas and Joanna Jedrzejczyk, which is decidedly different from the last time these two met.

Note: Predictions are entered throughout the week and collected the day before the event. Explanations behind each pick are not required and some writers opt not to do so for their own reasons. For example, if Phil Mackenzie entered all of his predictions on Wednesday without adding in any explanations, he has no idea if he’s going to be the only one siding with one fighter for any given fight.

Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Al Iaquinta

Mookie Alexander: I give up. No point in analyzing this card when I expect all of them to randomly get cancelled. Props to Al for saving the day but he’s going to get smashed. Khabib Nurmagomedov by submission, round 2.

Victor Rodriguez: Plot twist: This fight also gets scrapped because they lowball Al like they did with Pettis, leading to a fight between Khabib’s bear vs 2018 Chuck Zito. The ref will probably be Night Court’s Richard Moll dressed up as McGruff the crime dog. Goddamn, I hate how stupid this sport is sometimes. I don’t even have the energy to hope Iaquinta lands a wild uppercut that sleeps Nurmy. Rome is burning. Khabib by whatever.

Zane Simon: Iaquinta does have a jab to work behind, he hits with power, and he’s a solid wrestler and grappler when the mood strikes him. But a front leg heavy, boxing centric style means that he’s also not hard to catch off guard, as seen in the Jorge Masvidal fight when Masvidal hurt him several times. My guess is that Khabib’s relentless pressure and odd angle punches do well enough to clip Iaquinta and put him on the back foot where Khabib can get in on the body lock and work from there. If Iaquinta can keep his striking volume high he may be able to punish Khabib’s pressure with jabs and keep him out at range, but I just don’t see Iaquinta having the consistency to make that happen long enough to win a whole fight… or perhaps even a whole round. Khabib Nurmagomedov via submission, Round 2.

Nick Baldwin: Crazier things have happened in this week alone. Al Iaquinta via TKO, round 3.

Fraser Coffeen: Sure, why not? Al Iaquinta, KO R1

Staff picking Khabib: Mookie, Bissell, Victor, Tim, Zane, Phil, Dayne
Staff picking Iaquinta: Stephie, Nick, Fraser

Rose Namajunas vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk

Fraser Coffeen: Two days ago, I was fully prepared to pick Rose. I don’t buy that the first fight was a fluke – Rose is just better prepared for Joanna’s style. But, Rose is also a fighter who wears her emotions on her sleeve, and who seemed to will herself to victory in that first fight through sheer focus and determination. And I’m concerned that her focus is shaken. Thinking about dropping out of the fight two days before is not a good thing. I may be doing too much armchair psychology work here, but I worry that the Conor attack claims another victim with this one. Joanna Jedrzejczyk, UD

Victor Rodriguez: I absolutely agree with the general consensus that this fight will be different, now that Joanna clearly is far more prepared with her conditioning and weight cut than before. I still see Rose as a fighter that has Joanna figured out. Rose’s scrambly ground game will also cause a series of problems for Joanna. Not that Rose will be able to submit her using only her grappling, as Joanna can survive for a good while on the ground and has the cardio to go the distance defensively, but she can put a dent in her early to start to work her submission game if need be. If Rose could knock her clean out the first time, best believe she can find that button again. It’s just gonna take a little longer. Rose Namajunas by TKO, round 3.

Zane Simon: If this fight goes the distance, I still think it’s Joanna’s fight to win. Her volume, clinch game, and takedown defense just put her in a much better spot to win rounds over a fighter like Rose who has had problems keeping her momentum going and has had big problems in the clinch. However, re-watching their first fight, I’m really troubled by how unprepared Joanna was to defend the left hook out at range. Rose threw it a lot and hurt Joanna multiple times with it. We’ve seen a lot of other fighters in the UFC who just can’t seem to overcome a well placed left hook from distance. If Joanna is going to be another one of them, then I think she gets hurt too often too early to make it the distance. Rose Namajunas via TKO, round 2.

Staff picking Namajunas: Bissell, Mookie, Victor, Stephie, Zane, Dayne
Staff picking Jedrzejczyk: Nick, Harry, Ram, Fraser, Tim, Phil

Calvin Kattar vs. Renato Moicano

Phil Mackenzie: What a great fight. Neither of these guys feels like an absolute top-level athlete, but they both do their best to maximize their chances with clever, subtle games. Moicano is a bit more well-rounded, and likes to mix in leg kicks and a nasty takedown and grappling game, with a notably quick back-take, body triangle and guard-pass. Kattar is more focused on just boxing but is very smart with it, with a wider variety of counters, parries and a better left hook. This feels very close, and I’m still not entirely convinced that Moicano’s wider variety won’t allow him to pick up takedowns, which is where he can really change the tone of the fight. That being said, he did a very good job of denying Andre Fili effective shots, who is still a pretty good MMA wrestler. If it stays on the feet he just has a slight edge in accuracy and power which should edge a very close bout. Calvin Kattar by unanimous decision.

Victor Rodriguez: Sleeper fight of the night here. Moicano’s really good at mixing up his levels and range for his attacks, but Kattar has some serious power and can turn the tide of the fight faster than Moicano can. I don’t see Moicano dealing well with the pressure and wrestling of Kattar, nor do I see Kattar getting bullied and beat up due to his movement and defense. Calvin Kattar by decision.

Zane Simon: There’s an excellent chance that Moicano chews up Kattar’s legs with low kicks and turns this into a totally different fight. But if he can’t, then I think Kattar’s command of range and pace are just too difficult for Moicano to crack, especially since they’re tools that Moicano relies heavily on as well, just not with the same consistency. Moicano can get wild backing up, or just exchanging in the pocket, and in those spots, I think Kattar will find places to crack him repeatedly. Moicano does have an excellent back take game, but as longs Kattar sticks to patient fundamentals, he just doesn’t give away the kind of opportunities I think Moicano needs to win. Calvin Kattar by Decision

Staff picking Kattar: Nick, Ram, Mookie, Fraser, Phil, Stephie, Victor, Zane
Staff picking Moicano: Bissell, Harry, Tim, Dayne

Zabit Magomedsharipov vs. Kyle Bochniak

Phil Mackenzie: We finally saw Bochniak’s style work last time out- the mobile counter strike/counter takedown functioned fairly effectively against Davis’ flat-footed style, by not allowing him to sit on his punches. That seems very unlikely to happen against MSP, who is insulated by both a more flicking, less committed approach, and a massive reach advantage. This will make Bochniak’s predilection for backing into the cage more of a liability, and his dependence on a multipart game where all bits need to be working probably sends him into failed takedowns against a better scrambler and submission threat. Zabit Magomedsharipov by submission, round 2

Victor Rodriguez: Zabit is looking pretty unstoppable right now. Bochniak is a boss, but Zabit’s kicking game and confident takedown defense is a problem for the rest of the division. He’s sharp on his entrances to initiate exchanges, has killer fight IQ and runs a wild pace that is hard to keep up with for anyone. Bochniak is going to land some great shots, but this is the Zabit show. Zabit Magomedsharipov by TKO.

Zane Simon: Give Zabit time outside to pick his shots, and when you step into the pocket, you’re much more likely to be on the receiving end of something bad. That seems likely to be the approach Bochniak will want to take, and likely one that gets him knocked around. He doesn’t really have the wrestling or grappling chops to change things up safely, but my guess is he’ll try and eventually get himself submitted. Zabit Magomedsharipov via sub, Round 3.

Staff picking Zabit: Nick, Harry, Ram, Mookie, Phil, Fraser, Tim, Stephie, Victor, Zane, Dayne
Staff picking Bochniak: Bissell

Chris Gruetzemacher vs. Joe Lauzon

Mookie Alexander: Your heroes get old and lose to even bad fighters. Chris Gruetzemacher by depressing decision.

Phil Mackenzie: Can’t do it. Gritz is tough but also just so… bad. He hasn’t really shown anything in his UFC tenure so far apart from toughness. He has no defense, sloppy striking and not much in the way of a good wrestling game. Sure, Lauzon will probably blow his tank at some point but I have to feel that even 70 or 80% of the Lauzon who fought Miller, Ray and Held wins this fight. Joe Lauzon by unanimous decision.

Victor Rodriguez: I love Lauzon, but don’t like his chances purely because I can’t trust him at this stage. He could easily get outwrestled here for the first round and a half and then eat a bomb of a right hand as soon as the ref stands it up. Look at the week we’ve had. You think there isn’t more potential for insane chaos? We live in the stupid timeline. It is known. Chris Gruetzemacher by TKO.

Zane Simon: I’m still mad about this fight, because yeah, Gruetzemacher is bad. But he is tough and relentless and even if he can’t knock Lauzon out, I think he can wear him out. Chris Gruetzemacher via TKO round 3.

Staff picking Gruetzemacher: Bissell, Ram, Mookie, Fraser, Stephie, Victor, Zane
Staff picking Lauzon: Nick, Harry, Phil, Tim, Dayne

Karolina Kowalkiewicz vs. Felice Herrig

Victor Rodriguez: What I love about this fight is that it’s got the chance to be gritty, but in a good way. Herrig’s got some great offense against the cage and can work well from half-guard, but the fight will mostly be a standup affair. Herrig’s going to have to check kicks and negate the range by pushing her way in and beating Karolina up inside, and I don’t know how consistently she can do that. Karolina’s output and accuracy will add up to the kind of performance the judges reward. Karolina Kowalkiewicz by decision.

Phil Mackenzie: Maybe I’ve just been too impressed with what I’ve seen from Herrig and too historically underwhelmed by what I’ve seen from Kowalkiewicz, but I do think that Herrig can win this fight. She’s gotten a lot more confidence in her counter game, and Kowalkiewicz’s takedown defense vacillates between completely impenetrable and bizarrely porous. On the mental level, KK’s utter fearlessness matches up well with Herrig’s historical anxiety, but I also feel like Herrig has just a much better recognition of her own weakness. Hanging out at range, 3,2 as a counter, sporadic takedowns to counter forward pressure, Felice Herrig by unanimous decision.

Zane SImon: I like what Phil is putting down and honestly give Herrig a very good chance as a live dog in what may be a pure kickboxing fight. But, I just have a little too much faith in Kowalkiewicz’s volume, toughness, and ability to fall back on clinch offense as needed. I think Herrig will catch her a lot with counter combinations in each round, I just don’t think it will be enough to steer the fight into a win for her. Karolina Kowalkiewicz by decision.

Staff picking Kowalkiewicz: Nick, Harry, Ram, Mookie, Tim, Victor, Zane, Dayne
Staff picking Herrig: Bissell, Fraser, Phil, Stephie

Evan Dunham vs. Olivier Aubin-Mercier

Phil Mackenzie: OAM has been a pleasant surprise recently- he never has a “blow-you-away” performance, but he manages to consistently overperform just enough to pick up quality wins. Beating Dunham would be impressive, because while his weaknesses are pronounced and not going away (he is slow and vulnerable from range), his pace, size and activity in the clinch and on the ground is virtually unsurpassed. So, it seems like either OAM would have to outwrestle him (which seems very difficult, unless Dunham has fallen off a cliff, which is somewhat possible considering his competitive age and history of injuries), or he’d have to just strike with him from range, which he’s never really shown the ability to do consistently. Should be competitive and fun, but I think I like Dunham’s sheer activity to get it done. Evan Dunham by unanimous decision.

Zane Simon: Dunham’s boxing early in fights is really sharp. High volume, slow feet, but fast hands, and solid accuracy, along with some decent defense. And while his technique breaks down late, his gas tank and output can carry him really well. He’s also historically been very hard to submit or just hold down. OAM is getting better, is more dynamic, is stronger, but he tends to like to kickbox a lot and doesn’t do it that well. And in a high intensity fight can gas a bit. Evan Dunham by decision.

Staff picking Dunham: Nick, Ram, Mookie, Phil, Fraser, Tim, Stephie, Zane, Dayne
Staff picking Aubin-Mercier: Bissell, Harry, Victor

Bec Rawlings vs. Ashlee Evans-Smith

Phil Mackenzie: Of all the fights to get cancelled on this card, I honestly wouldn’t have minded if this one had gone away. Apologies to the fighters involved, but that’s how it is. Rawlings has become a better boxer, but can’t reconcile in-out footwork with her natural tendency to plod and sit on punches. Evans-Smith has also become a better striker, but has never really figured out her own wrestling game. Evans-Smith is bigger and more powerful, and that probably sways it for her. Ashlee Evans-Smith by split decision

Victor Rodriguez: I like the way Phil’s looking at this, but have to ultimately disagree. Like her or not (chances are you might not), Rawlings was winning that fight against Paige VanZant and has cleaner striking with better defensive habits. Ashlee doesn’t shift phases from striking to grappling very smoothly, but she’s got some serious athleticism. Rawlings will end up landing more shots and won’t let herself be bullied by a stronger opponent very easily.

Zane Simon: Ashlee Evans-Smith has a gift for giving fights away, but Rawlings tends to lose to any/everyone who can compete with her for strength and athleticism. Evans Smith is big and strong and an okay wrestler, she’ll likely lose a pure striking battle if that’s what this fight comes to, but I don’t trust Rawlings to keep a fight in any one place in order to win it. Ashlee Evans-Smith by decision.

Staff picking Rawlings: Victor, Dayne
Staff picking Evans-Smith: Nick, Bissell, Harry, Ram, Mookie, Phil, Fraser, Tim, Stephie, Zane

Devin Clark vs. Mike Rodriguez

Phil Mackenzie: Once again we have a DWTNCS fighter coming into the UFC off a swaggy finish. His sheer reach should make him a problematic matchup for Clark, who is smaller and has shown significant issues when he can’t easily get his hands on an opponent. That being said, I am very unconvinced by Rodriguez’ defense in the clinch, and I just don’t think either fighter is skilled enough on the outside that that will be somewhere that the fight doesn’t go. Basically I think the fight is still being fought at a skill level where wrestling skill predominates massively over any advantage on the feet. Devin Clark by unanimous decision.

Zane Simon: Rodriguez defends initial shots well, but doesn’t seem to have much prolonged, multi-layered takedown defense. Clark has a lot of trouble getting in on good initial shots, due to his wooden footwork and striking, but he’s relentless and powerful with his takedown game. Rodriguez may be able to land the kind of one-shot kill that has brought him so much success so far, but without it, I think he just gets out-wrestled. Devin Clark by decision.

Staff picking Clark: Phil, Victor, Zane
Staff picking Rodriguez: Nick, Bissell, Harry, Ram, Mookie, Fraser, Stephie, Dayne

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