MMA Junkie News

Brian Ortega says he accepted Khabib Nurmagomedov fight before Max Holloway did

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So here’s an interesting plot twist in the last-minute effort to salvage the UFC 223 main event.

Featherweight No. 1 contender Brian Ortega was considered as a replacement to step in for the injured Tony Ferguson and even accepted the fight with Khabib Nurmagomedov before UFC President Dana White passed him up in favor of featherweight champion Max Holloway.

All this according to a tweet today from Ortega (14-0 MMA, 6-0 UFC), who added that he hopes for future showdowns with both Holloway (19-3 MMA, 15-3 UFC) and Nurmagomedov (25-0 MMA, 9-0 UFC).

For the record, Dana called me yesterday to see if I would step in against Khabib since Max hadn’t responded yet. I said yes. Eventually, Max replied and Dana gave him the fight. If all goes according to plan, I’ll get my turn – at both of them.

— Brian Ortega (@BrianTcity) April 2, 2018

For the record, Dana called me yesterday to see if I would step in against Khabib since Max hadn’t responded yet. I said yes. Eventually, Max replied and Dana gave him the fight. If all goes according to plan, I’ll get my turn – at both of them.

UFC 223 takes place Saturday at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., and airs on pay-per-view following prelims on FS1 and UFC Fight Pass.

The show was thrown into disarray Sunday just six days out, when news broke of Ferguson’s withdrawal following a freak accident in which he tripped and injured his knee. What initially seemed like a sick April Fool’s day joke – given Ferguson-Nurmagomedov had been cancelled on three previous occasions – became a reality when the UFC stunningly announced 145-pound champ Holloway as Ferguson’s replacement for the undisputed lightweight title fight.

Ortega had been lined up as the next challenger to Holloway’s title following a knockout win over Frankie Edgar at UFC 222. But now, depending on the outcome of Holloway-Nurmagomedov, Ortega’s future could become complicated.

For more on UFC 223, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

The 10 most forgettable UFC title reigns

With an unfortunate injury ripping apart this weekend’s UFC 223 headliner, UFC President Dana White said Tony Ferguson’s interim lightweight title will be revoked.

Was that the most forgettable title reign in UFC history? We’ve put together a list of others that rank up there, though none have the kind of quickness of George St-Pierre’s brief ride as middleweight champ at the end of 2017.

Georges St-Pierre’s middleweight title reign (33 days)

Georges St-Pierre is one of the greatest champions in UFC history. However, that’s largely due to his time a welterweight champ, and not because of his cup of coffee with the middleweight belt. After vacating the 170-pound title and taking a more than four-year hiatus from the sport, St-Pierre made his return to MMA in November. He won the 185-pound title from Michael Bisping at UFC 217, but his time with the belt would be more short-lived than anyone in UFC history. Just 33 days after having it strapped around his waist, St-Pierre gave up the middleweight title due to health concerns. He holds a place as one of the four fighters in UFC history to win belts in multiple weight classes, but it’s hard to consider his time at middleweight much of a reign at all.

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Max Holloway upon learning he'll replace Tony Ferguson: 'This is how legends are made'

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Longtime MMA manager Brian Butler heard a string of expletives from Max Holloway on Sunday when he passed on news of Tony Ferguson’s withdrawal from UFC 223.

Like most in the MMA world, Holloway (19-3 MMA, 15-3 UFC) was in complete disbelief that Ferguson (23-3 MMA, 13-1 UFC) had injured his knee and was forced out of his fourth booking against Khabib Nurmagomedov (25-0 MMA, 9-0 UFC).

But for the UFC featherweight champ, disbelief quickly changed to excitement as the window of opportunity opened.

“He said, Let’s (expletive) go, bro,” Butler, Holloway’s longtime manager with Suckerpunch Entertainment, told MMAjunkie Radio. “This is how legends are made.”

RelatedTony Ferguson out, Max Holloway meets Khabib Nurmagomedov for undisputed lightweight title

A few minutes earlier, Butler was on the phone to make sure another type of hurdle was cleared. With only six days’ notice until the Saturday pay-per-view card at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., Holloway making weight was his biggest concern.

Butler called noted MMA nutritionist George Lockhart to relay Holloway’s weight and his bodyfat percentage.

“George ran the numbers, and he said he 100 percent could do it,” Butler said. “I just wanted to make sure it wasn’t going to have any long term effects, and George gave me his word that the numbers worked out.”

Butler declined to say how much Holloway currently weighs, but indicated it won’t be an easy trip to 155 pounds.

“Max is just going to have to knuckle down, and we’re there,” he said.

When Butler called Holloway back later Sunday night to relay the good news from Lockhart, he heard panting. Holloway was on the treadmill.

“We’re going to make it,” Butler said later. “Max is feeling very good and very confident. Just trust that Max is on an airplane to Brooklyn.”

The featherweight champ’s short-notice drop comes two months after he injured his ankle and was forced to withdraw from a headliner against Frankie Edgar (22-5-1 MMA, 16-5-1 UFC) at UFC 222.

“He’s been healing up really fast,” Butler said. “The truth is that he was healing pretty well and he was training.”

Until Sunday, Holloway had been training for his next featherweight title challenge, a fight against surging contender Brian Ortega (14-0 MMA, 6-0 UFC). The fight had been targeted for July at UFC 226.

But Butler said Nurmagomedov has been on his client’s radar for a long time. He cited a press conference for UFC 223 where Holloway volunteered to step in on short notice in the event that Ferguson or Nurmagomedov was injured.

“I knew if the opportunity was there, he would take it,” Butler said. “My only real concern is that six days’ notice, if Max can actually make the weight in a healthy manner.”

As for the financial hurdles that can arise in short-notice PPV headliners, Butler indicated Holloway got everything he wanted on that end. For his save, the featherweight champ will certainly share in Saturday’s profits.

For more on UFC 223, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

MMAjunkie Radio broadcasts Monday-Friday at 1 p.m. ET (10 a.m. PT) live from Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino’s Race & Sports Book. The show is hosted by “Gorgeous” George Garcia, Brian “Goze” Garcia and Dan Tom. For more information or to download past episodes, go to www.mmajunkie.com/radio.

Gallery Photos: Best of Max Holloway view 40 images

A silver lining to Tony Ferguson's UFC 223 withdrawal? It makes us appreciate how awesome Max Holloway is

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Tony Ferguson vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov is done. It’s finished, over, banned from our consciousness. Not just for now, but for all time.

Don’t talk to me about it. Don’t mention the possibility of rebooking it. Don’t even say their names together in the same sentence. After four attempts and four failures, the only thing to do is to let it go and move on. There’s some sort of supernatural forcefield preventing these two from fighting. The harder they struggle to enter the same cage together, the more bizarre and devastating the reasons for withdrawal eventually become.

How else do you explain Ferguson’s knee injury knocking him out of the UFC 223 main event? According to “El Cucuy,” it happened not in the gym but on a studio set. ESPN’s Brett Okamoto reported that Ferguson “veered sharply to say hello” to someone, then tripped and tore a ligament in his knee.

Of all the ways for this fight to fall apart again, who would have guessed that TKO due to friendliness would wind up as the final culprit? What other sign do we need that this one just wasn’t meant to be?

RelatedMax Holloway upon learning he'll replace Tony Ferguson: 'This is how legends are made'

The timing of this withdrawal was about as bad as it could be. The injury happened on Friday, according to Ferguson (23-3 MMA, 13-1 UFC), and the news broke on Sunday, just as we were ready to ease into fight week feeling confident that nothing stood between us and this fight except some numbers on a scale. So instead of reeling ourselves in toward the big fight that gleamed like an oasis in the desert, we suddenly found ourselves lost and reeling.

Enter Max Holloway (19-3 MMA, 15-3 UFC), the UFC featherweight champ. He told us he’d step up if/when we needed an injury replacement. We just didn’t realize how serious he was – or how crazy.

In January I asked Dana White if the UFC had an insurance policy / contingency plan in case either Tony Ferguson or Khabib Nurmagomedov were to get injured. Before he could even reply Max Holloway (@BlessedMMA) took the mic. pic.twitter.com/oM7ORG4pza

— Chamatkar Sandhu (@SandhuMMA) April 2, 2018

Stop for a second and appreciate what’s happening here. Holloway, the ascendant 145-pound titleholder, is going up a division on six days’ notice in order to fight one of the more terrifying beasts in the 155-pound weight class, an undefeated woodchipper of a man named Nurmagomedov (25-0 MMA, 9-0 UFC).

At a time when he seems poised for a long run as featherweight champ, he’s putting himself in harm’s way against a 5-1 favorite, and somehow he’s doing it all with a smile on his face.

If UFC officials didn’t realize it before, hopefully now they appreciate just how lucky they are to have a guy like Holloway on the roster. With one swoop of his pen across the dotted line, he’s turning a disaster into an opportunity, and an all-time bummer into a potentially historic moment.

RelatedUFC 223 main-event breakdown: How can Max Holloway beat Khabib Nurmagomedov?

But here’s where we get into the tricky question of stakes. Ferguson was the UFC’s interim lightweight champ. He was set to fight Nurmagomedov for the “real” lightweight title, even though the last person to win that belt – Conor McGregor – hasn’t technically been stripped of the title yet.

The way White explained it last month, the plan was for McGregor to cease being the champ the moment Ferguson and Nurmagomedov came to blows.

“That’s exactly right: As soon as one punch is thrown, it’s on for the full title and it’s only fair,” White told The Los Angeles Times.

But now, with Ferguson out, his interim title “goes away,” according to White. Instead, Nurmagomedov and Holloway will fight for the belt that McGregor has neither defended nor lost, and the winner will get to call himself a champ without ever beating the real one or the interim one.

It’s confusing, but only if you actually allow yourself to think about it. It’s the same with how this change of plans is disappointing, but only if you focus on what we’ve lost rather than what we’ve gained.

Ferguson vs. Nurmagomedov? It’s a great fight that we’ll probably never, ever see. But Holloway vs. Nurmagomedov is like something out of a video game, an improbable pairing that you didn’t even know you wanted until the instant you realized it was possible.

Of course, it’s Holloway who makes it possible. He’s a special kind of champion, maybe even a special kind of human.

Holloway had a ton of good reasons not to fight a very dangerous man on very short notice. That he seems to have hardly even considered them just tells you what kind of fighter he is. He might have a belt around his waist, but at his core he’s still the same guy who picked out a spot in the middle of the cage and then invited Ricardo Lamas to stand there and try to knock his head off.

A guy like that, what can you even do but get down on your knees and thank the MMA gods for him? They taketh away, what with their freak injuries and weight cut disasters, but they also giveth. This time they gave us Holloway, which is almost enough to make you forgive what they took. Or at least to never mention it again.

For more on UFC 223, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

Gallery Photos: Best of Max Holloway view 40 images

Watch MMAjunkie Radio here (1 p.m. ET) with Dustin Poirier and Brian Butler

MMAjunkie Radio kicks off today at 1 p.m. ET (10 a.m. PT) with guests Dustin Poirier and Brian Butler.

Poirier fights Justin Gaethje on April 14 at UFC on FOX 29. Butler manages UFC featherweight champ Max Holloway, who is stepping up to fight Khabib Nurmagomedov for the undisputed UFC lightweight title on Saturday at UFC 223.

MMAjunkie Radio airs from 1 to 3 p.m. ET (10 a.m. to noon PT), live from Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. You can watch and listen live on MMAjunkie’s Facebook and YouTube pages. Additionally, SiriusXM Rush (Ch. 93) carries a replay later in the day (8-10 p.m. ET) and the following morning (7-9 a.m. ET), or catch a replay on demand.

MMAjunkie Radio listener guide:

  • HOW TO WATCH (ON WEB): Watch a live stream on MMAjunkie’s Facebook or YouTube pages.
  • HOW TO CALL: MMAjunkie Radio takes phone calls from listeners throughout the show. Call into the MMAjunkie Radio hotline at (866) 522-2846.
  • HOW TO DISCUSS: The MMAjunkie MMA Forums has a section devoted solely to MMAjunkie Radio. Stop by the MMAjunkie Radio forum to discuss the show, interact with the hosts, suggest future guests and catch up on the latest MMAjunkie Radio news.
  • HOW TO VISIT THE SHOW: You can watch MMAjunkie Radio live and in person at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino on the world-famous Las Vegas Strip. The booth is located in the resort’s Race & Sports Book next to the Mandalay Bay poker room. To plan a trip to Sin City and MMAjunkie Radio, go to www.mandalaybay.com.

Max Holloway ready 'to go out there and find out who's better' at UFC 223

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There aren’t many fighters lining up to fight Khabib Nurmagomedov, much less on six days’ notice. Max Holloway is a different breed.

“You know what they say: To be the best you’ve got to beat the best, and the best is ‘Blessed,’ baby,” Holloway told Hawaii’s khon2.com. “I can’t wait.”

Holloway tells KHON2 he is ready for Khabib and ready to “make history” at #UFC223 https://t.co/YBVBQ330Pl @BlessedMMA #BlessedEra pic.twitter.com/B1Wyeu7eCs

— Rob DeMello (@RobDeMelloKHON) April 2, 2018

In what pretty much every MMA fan hoped was an elaborate April Fool’s Day prank, Holloway (19-3 MMA, 15-3 UFC) was announced Sunday as a late replacement for an injured Tony Ferguson (23-3 MMA, 13-1 UFC) and will now meet the undefeated Nurmagomedov (25-0 MMA, 9-0 UFC) in the main event of UFC 223, which takes place Saturday at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. The main card airs on pay-per-view following prelims on FS1 and UFC Fight Pass.

Holloway said he was just as shocked to hear the news but didn’t hesitate to jump at the opportunity.

“The news was crazy,” Holloway said. “My manager called me. He told me that, ‘Tony is hurt, and they want you and Khabib.’ So I was like, ‘How do you turn down an opportunity like this?’

“Opportunities like this come once in a lifetime.”

It’s a tough ask, for sure. Nurmagomedov’s incredible wrestling skills and relentless aggression are a challenge for any opponent, even with a full camp. For Holloway to step in on such short notice – not to mention while recovering from his own injury that forced him to withdraw from a planned UFC 222 appearance in March – is a true testament to his character.

A win would make Holloway just the second fighter in UFC history to simultaneously hold titles in two different weightclasses, joining Conor McGregor.

It would also set up a potential rematch with McGregor – a fight that would unquestionably change Holloway’s financial future.

But it’s far too early to discuss that right now. First up, Holloway must beat one of the most feared fighters in the lightweight division. But the Hawaiian believes he’s going to do exactly that.

“He’s human,” Holloway said. “I’m human. We get to go out there and find out who’s better.”

For more on UFC 223, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

Gallery Photos: Best of Max Holloway view 40 images

UFC 223 main-event breakdown: How can Max Holloway beat Khabib Nurmagomedov?

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As much as we all wish this was an elaborate April Fool’s joke, it’s sadly just another swing that comes along with being the king of combat sports.

Confirmed Sunday by UFC president Dana White, an injury has forced Tony Fergurson to withdraw from his UFC 223 main-event matchup with Khabib Nurmagomedov, and he will now be stripped of his interim lightweight title. Replacing Ferguson is UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway, who will now meet Nurmagomedov for the UFC lightweight championship.

It’s an unprecedented shuffling of the cards that arguably feels like a stacked deck, but, like a Hawaiian champion who came before him, Holloway is reminding us of what it takes to be one of the best pound-for-pound fighters.

Max Holloway (19-3 MMA, 15-3 UFC)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’11” Age: 26 Weight: 145 lbs. Reach: 69″
  • Last fight: TKO win over Jose Aldo (Dec. 2, 2017)
  • Camp: Hawaii Elite MMA (Hawaii)
  • Stance/striking style: Switch-stance/kickboxing
  • Risk management: Excellent

Supplemental info:
+ UFC fetherweight champion
+ Regional MMA titles
+ Brazilian jiu-jitsu blue belt
+ 9 KO victories
+ 2 submission wins
+ 3 first-round finishes
+ Consistent pace and pressure
+ Manages distance well
+ Superb feints and footwork
^ Moves laterally/attacks off angles
+ Excellent variety of shot selection
+ Improved wrestling ability
^ 83 percent takedown defense rate
+ Deceptively counters clinches/grappling
^ Strikes well off of the breaks
+ Underrated ground game
^ Slick submissions in transition

Khabib Nurmagomedov (25-0 MMA, 9-0 UFC)

Khabib Nurmagomedov

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’10” Age: 29 Weight: 155 lbs. Reach: 70″
  • Last fight: Decision win over Edson Barboza (Dec. 30, 2017)
  • Camp: American Kickboxing Academy (San Jose, Calif.)
  • Stance/striking style: Orthodox/kickboxing
  • Risk management: Excellent

Supplemental info:
+ 2x world sambo champion
+ 2x Russian combat sambo champion
+ M-1 Selecton champion
+ 8 KO victories
+ 8 submission wins
+ 10 first-round finishes
+ Relentless pace and pressure
+ Improved striking game
^ Deceptively heavy hands
+ Strong inside the clinch
^ Superb underhook awareness
+ Diverse takedown acumen
^ Chains attempts seamlessly
+ Excellent transitional grappler
^ 34 passes in 8 fights
+ Underrated guard and submissions
+ Powerful ground striker

Summary:

As I alluded to in the intro above, the shuffling of UFC 223’s main event has left us with a matchup that no one saw coming.

Nurmagomedov, an undefeated phenom who was favored to beat former interim champion Ferguson, will now welcome the featherweight champ to the lightweight division. Holloway, who was forced to withdraw from a featherweight title fight with Frankie Edgar last month, was more than willing to take the opportunity with just six days’ notice.

Stacked circumstances aside, Holloway is a consummate professional who will bring a different challenge to the fold.

Displaying solid striking and footwork fundamentals since storming onto the UFC scene, Holloway compliments his game with his natural gifts of speed and length, attributes that will be his best friend in this fight.

Showing consistent technical evolutions from fight to fight, the Hawaiian embraces his creativity and range with a diverse arsenal of attack. Whether he is shifting his stance mid-combination or adjusting his timing on the fly, the current featherweight king makes for a hard read on the feet.

When feeling in stride, Holloway looks to pay off his previous bodywork by punctuating his presence with everything from spinning sidekicks to digging left hooks to the liver. Coupled with his ability to counter effectively from either stance, Holloway can hypothetically take a fight in many different directions.

Still, if Holloway doesn’t show an answer for Nurmagomedov’s pressure early, then he will probably be on the wrong end of a short fuse.

Enter Nurmagomedov.

An aggressive combat sambo champion who found a home at American Kickboxing Academy, Nurmagomedov has steadily developed his striking throughout his UFC tenure. Incorporating a heavy dose of feints, Nurmagomedov draws out his opponents’ reactions so that he can create openings for his approach.

From shovel hooks to overhand rights, it is Nurmagomedov’s commitment to his punches that make them so potent. And in his last battle with Edson Barboza, we saw the Dagestani fighter tighten up his defense, demonstrating a tighter shell and smoother flow than we’re accustomed to seeing from him.

Nevertheless, Nurmagomedov usually does not look to strike long, as we know where his intentions lie.

The question, however, remains: Will Nurmagomedov be able to pin down the fleet of foot Holloway?

An agile mover who can change direction at the drop of a dime, Holloway may be more difficult to get a beat on than Nurmagomedov initially expects. Ricardo Lamas and Jeremy Stephens, two sizeable featherweights with more than serviceable takedown ability, both had issues when it came to corralling Holloway for takedowns.

I see speed and movement being Holloway’s friend early, but Nurmagomedov’s style of entry is a simple one that is hard to deny.

Primarily predicating his offense off of the establishment of an underhook, Nurmagomedov is OK with failing on his first shot so that he can push his opposition to the fence. And once he’s in close, it usually doesn’t take long for Nurmagomedov to get what he wants.

Whether he is hitting trips and tosses from the bodylock or going through his single-leg repertoire of high-crotch hoists to snap-downs, the Dagestani can do it all. However, to his Hawaiian foe’s credit, Holloway does an exceptional job at defending takedowns against the fence, displaying a knack for breaking grips and separating his hips from danger. And considering a beaten and battered Barboza was able to thwart off takedowns from Nurmagomedov come the third round, I suggest leaving room to be surprised here.

That said, if Holloway fails to find answers fast, then he may be in for a long night at the office. Holloway’s get-up game and improvements aside, Nurmagomedov is a master when it comes to transitional grappling, crushing his opponents’ spirits through unforgiving wrist-rides, looking to pick posts and collapse their base anytime they attempt to stand.

Holloway has an underrated submission grappling game the includes a dangerous guillotine choke, but I don’t like his chances of going technique-for-technique with Nurmagomedov on the mat.

The oddsmakers don’t seem to like the Hawaiian’s chances either, opening Nurmagomedov -505 and Holloway +365.

Although a line that wide against a world champion can feel a bit steep, I can see why it’s handicapped that way. Nurmagomedov was favored at over 2-to-1 odds to beat Ferguson, a proven destroyer at 155 pounds who I was picking to win previous to Sunday’s cancellation. And despite Holloway being on an impressive 12-fight winning streak, these are far from ideal circumstances to test this level of styles match.

For me, this ultimately comes down to Holloway’s speed vs. Nurmagomedov’s power, a story that I feel will unfold in the first round.

Holloway’s takedown defense is an underrated attribute, but the truth is, we still haven’t seen him face this caliber (or weight) of grappler, much less perform on this short of notice. Nurmagomedov, on the other hand, has been on the wrong side of speedier opposition (see his fight with Michael Johnson) and was still able to impose his game.

My heart is rooting for Holloway to pull off an upset akin to B.J. Penn beating Matt Hughes back at UFC 46. However, as an analyst, it’s hard not to see Nurmagomedov running away with this after a few early scares.

Official pick: Nurmagomedov inside the distance

For more on UFC 223, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

Gallery Photos: Best of Khabib Nurmagomedov view 15 images

Why Bellator 106 battle with Michael Chandler is one that Eddie Alvarez will never forget

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Former UFC lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez is known for his ability to consistently put on gritty, memorable battles.

Amid a wide variety of pickings, two stand out: the ones with fellow former Bellator champion Michael Chandler (17-4 MMA, 14-4 BMMA). The first one, in 2011, didn’t go Alvarez’s (29-5 MMA, 4-2 UFC) way: Then defending Bellator’s 155-pound crown, he was upset by Chandler late in the fourth round of Bellator 58’s headliner.

He righted that wrong almost two years later, at Bellator 106, when they met in yet another headliner. This time, though, Alvarez was the one walking away with the belt, thanks to a split decision.

A lot has happened since. Chandler went on to fight for Bellator’s title a few more times, eventually re-claiming it and losing it again. Alvarez went into the UFC, where he’d take the 155-pound crown from Rafael dos Anjos, only to later have it taken by Conor McGregor.

But sharing the cage with Chandler remains vivid in Alvarez’s mind.

“Definitely, the second fight was something I’ll never forget,” Alvarez told MMAjunkie Raio. “Because I felt like at one point in the fight, you’re negotiating with yourself – and you’re saying to yourself, ‘This isn’t going so well,’ and you’re kind of having a negotiation with your own inner self.

“You don’t always get to that point in a fight. Sometimes you knock the guy out quickly and you never get to that moment. You never get that deep into a fight. So I enjoy when I get there. It lets me know what kind of man I am and what kind of adversity I can deal with. He’s taken me there in two different fights, so it’s definitely memorable, that I won’t forget.”

Alvarez and Chandler were even set to meet for a third time, in Bellator’s first pay-per-view event, but a concussion forced Alvarez to withdraw – much to Chandler’s dismay. Chandler went on to meet Will Brooks for an interim title instead, while Alvarez would later be released from his Bellator contract after turbulent negotiations, finally making a long talked-about move to the UFC.

Following a recent barnburner with former WSOF champ Justin Gaethje, Alvarez remains unbooked. Chandler, in turn, is set to meet Brandon Girtz in the headliner of April 13’s Bellator 187. And while the two never got their rubber match, Alvarez continues to watch Chandler’s fights – and thoroughly enjoys them, too.

“He’s one guy who always brings it,” Alvarez said. “Always shows up prepared, in shape, and puts on a good show. Win or lose, he always is super prepared. There are always guys who are fun to watch, because they can fight from bell to bell. So I always watch Mike Chandler and his fights. I’m a fan in a sense. He’s one of the few out there who are always exciting.”

As for the relationship with the promotion that housed those memorable battles?

Given it at some point involved duelling lawsuits, one would understand if Alvarez looked back at it with a bitter taste in his mouth. But, as Bellator’s nine-year anniversary approaches, the former titleholder who was there for their very first event on April 3, 2009, says that is not the case.

“Bellator was a good experience overall; I learned a ton,” Alvarez said. “It was the one promotion that survived, that I was with. I was with EliteXC, MFC, BODOG. … I was with all the sinking ships. DREAM, all these promotions. Bellator was the one that survived.

“They came at the sport in a different manner, with a different way – with the tournament structure, which I love. And overall, regardless of how it ended, I am happy it happened and I was blessed to be able to get the opportunity to fight for them.”

To hear more from Alvarez, check out the video above.

And more on Bellator 197, check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.

MMAjunkie Radio broadcasts Monday-Friday at 1 p.m. ET (10 a.m. PT) live from Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino’s Race & Sports Book. The show is hosted by “Gorgeous” George Garcia, Brian “Goze” Garcia and Dan Tom. For more information or to download past episodes, go to www.mmajunkie.com/radio.

UFC vet Rafael Natal on eye injury that led to MMA retirement – and chances of coming out of it

Almost six months after announcing his retirement from MMA, Rafael Natal says there’s no offer that will get him back in the cage.

Well, … not for now, anyway.

Since the last fight of a seven-year UFC stint, a few things have changed in Natal’s life. He’s moved from his longtime home in New York back to Belo Horizonte, Brazil, where he’s been working on a gym he opened last year and helping his mom out in her own work ventures.

After 15 years dedicated to fighting, Natal gets to enjoy family life.

But then there are the things that didn’t change that much. He still has a job in MMA, though now now it’s in a management role. And while the recent move back to Brazil has meant a few adjustments to his day-to-day routine, not having a fight camp in sight hasn’t at all meant inactivity.

“The training is pretty much the same,” Natal told MMAjunkie. “I’m still training twice a day. I’m watching my diet. I’m training so hard that people who see me training think another fight is coming at any moment.”

But no, Natal clarifies: There is no fight coming. While he’s careful enough to add a “for now” to the end of his sentences, Natal says he’s not tempted by the idea of a return to the cage. And that’s coming from someone who’s had actual, palpable temptation thrown his way.

“I actually had an offer by a promotion,” Natal said. “My manager didn’t even have the courage to have a conversation with me about it; he just texted me: ‘I have an offer for you. It’s very good, but it’s up to you.’ But, to be honest, it didn’t make me waver.

“I’m quite certain of what I want right now. At least, for now, it won’t tempt me. I’m quite sure of my path. I said no to them. Also, it would have been bad for me to leave the UFC and start fighting somewhere else. I don’t think it would have been right.”

Eryk Anders and Rafael Natal

Natal’s (21-9-1 MMA, 9-7-1 UFC) swan song – for now – took place last July, at UFC on FOX 25. “Sapo” succumbed to a first-round knockout by Eryk Anders, which added up to a three-fight losing skid. He’d previously been knocked out by Tim Boetsch and, before that, lost a unanimous decision to now-champ Robert Whittaker.

A skid at the end of a UFC run that dated back to 2010 would be an understandable enough reason for anyone to decide to call it quits – especially someone with their own business to fall back on. But 35-year-old Natal, it turns out, didn’t take this step because he believed he was no longer fit enough to hang with his peers at a high level.

In fact, it was quite the opposite. Which only made it harder.

“One thing that’s a little frustrating is that I stopped, I think, at my best stage” Natal said. “Although I came off three losses, I had a fight with current champ Robert Whittaker, which I think was the toughest fight in the division. And then I had an eye surgery and I just wasn’t the same fighter.”

Unlike a lot of his peers, Natal’s body had held up over the years. He’d had no major hip, shoulder or even knee surgeries. But then, following consecutive wins over Chris Camozzi, Tom Watson and Uriah Hall, he suffered a detached retina that required two surgeries.

Rafael Natal and Kevin Casey

Natal returned from them victoriously, knocking out Kevin Casey to build his longest UFC winning streak yet. He went on to meet now-champ Whittaker and, despite taking a loss, hung in there for three rounds. But he’d later realize recovering from such a serious injury wouldn’t be that simple.

“It was very frustrating when I fought Tim Boetsch in New York, because I’d been training so well,” Natal said. “After the Whittaker fight, we fixed some mistakes and thought, ‘We’re at peak shape. It’s time to be champion.’ The plan was to fight Boetsch in New York, get a big win there and get close to the belt. When the loss happened, it really got to me. I realized the eye was hurting me. Boetsch is a very tough guy, but I think the fight would have been different.

“Either way, I thought, ‘It was a hiccup. He landed a punch and it will be different next time.’ But then, next time, with Eryk Anders, the same thing happened. When the fight started, I felt good, the camp was great. But the minute we started striking, I started moving my face out of the way, closing my eye a bit.”

Natal, who’d long been getting pleas from his parents to end what had already been a pretty good MMA career, had a meting with his coaches that very night. He told them he thought that maybe it was time to hang it up. They advised him to sleep on it and, in the meantime, don’t make any announcements. He obliged. It would be a few months before he went on “The MMA Hour” to make it official.

“(My coaches) said, ‘It’s your decision, and we’re with you.'” Natal said. “‘You see the eye is affecting you. You’re at the best stage of your life, you’ve never trained this well. The fight with Whittaker proved that you can still be champion, but it’s up to you.’ They respected it.

“I thought it was the best thing to do. I couldn’t go on getting knocked out, fighting the way I was: scared of getting hit in the eye. My doctor was surprised when I said I was retiring. He said the eye was fine. But I said it didn’t matter that it was fine when I wasn’t confident.”

So he decided to give it some time. Between his busy schedule and his constant training, Natal’s transition has been a somewhat peaceful one. But, still diligent about his shape and weight, he won’t rule out a return in the event he is able to shake off the eye injury.

“Let’s see if next year I feel it’s time to return or something,” Natal said. “Then I’ll talk to the UFC and other promotions. But this is the decision for now and I’m firm on it.” (via Instagram)

In any case, Natal hasn’t entirely kept away from fighting. Shortly after his UFC stint came to an end, it was also made public that Natal was joining Ali Abdelaziz at Dominance MMA management and become president of the promotion’s Brazilian branch.

Now back in Brazil, Natal says he’s already started going to events and talking to fighters. On his end, it’s been a good way of staying in contact with the sport. But he also believes that his experience as a fighter, as well as contacts within the UFC and the MMA community, can help fellow fighters make the best of their own careers.

“There are many Brazilian fighters losing money due to taxes; a lot of them have no access to training in the U.S,” Natal said. “And there are things there, especially wrestling, that still require fighters to go there. I can help with that, especially in New York and Las Vegas, where people can go train with other fighters we work with.”

And if his own fighting career happens to truly be over, Natal is fine with that. Sure, he admits, there is that tiny bit of frustration that comes with never having become No. 1. But the one thing that was missing is not enough to take away from all the other things that were not.

“I’m very proud of the career I built,” Natal said. “I made it to the top-10 of my division. I fought with the would-be champ and did a tough fight. I’m satisfied, because I did all that I could. I had the best coaches, the best training partners. It was 15 years in which I fully dedicated myself to it and gave up a lot.

“What I built in my career, what I did, my legacy, my work was well done.  I’m very satisfied with how far my career went.”

For more on the UFC’s upcoming schedule, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

If this 'Countdown' video doesn't get you hyped, check your pulse, son

We don’t have the main event we wanted. And that means the UFC doesn’t have the promo materials they wanted, either. But the co-feature is still pretty fantastic.

UFC strawweight champion Rose Namajunas (7-3 MMA, 5-2 UFC) puts her title on the line against the woman she defeated to claim the belt, Joanna Jedrzejczyk (14-1 MMA, 7-1 UFC), at UFC 223.

It’s a fascinating contest for many reasons, but chiefly among them is a single storyline – was “Thug” Rose the beneficiary of an off-night from the former champ, or is Jedrzejczyk just not capable of reversing the original result?

With the late opponent switch in the night’s main event, UFC 223 has lost a few promotional materials, But this one – the “Countdown” segment featuring the two top strawweights – is pretty damn intense.

Give it a watch.

For more on UFC 223, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

Gallery Rose Namajunas def. Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 217: Best photos view 20 images

Khabib Nurmagomedov opens as 5-to-1 betting favorite over Max Holloway at UFC 223

Max Holloway may have earned fans’ respect by stepping in on short notice at UFC 223, but the bookmakers didn’t share in the enthusiasm.

MMA oddsmaker Nick Kalikas opened Khabib Nurmagomedov as a -505 favorite, implying “The Eagle” has an 83.5 percent probability of victory in the UFC 223 headliner. Holloway stands at +365 as the underdog.

At those odds, a winning $100 bet on Nurmagomedov would result in a net profit of $19.80. A winning $100 bet on Holloway, meanwhile, would net a profit of $365.

“Max Holloway is a warrior for stepping up, and I will never count the guy out,” Kalikas stated. “That being said, Holloway’s finishing ability comes from wearing down his opponent, and to me, this is a stylistically bad matchup.

“Holloway has good takedown defense, but Nurmagomedov takes people down whether they have good takedown defense or not. I’m opening this price as steep as it is because of all the factors that are coming into play, including the fact that Nurmagomedov was already a -270 betting favorite against Tony Ferguson, who is bigger, stronger and a better wrestler than Holloway. With Holloway taking this on short notice, moving up a weight class and coming off an injury that forced him out of a UFC 222 headlining bout, I’m opening Nurmagomedov as a -505 favorite with the comeback on Holloway at +365.”

Holloway (19-3 MMA, 15-3 UFC) is currently the No. 1-ranked featherweight in the world according to the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA featherweight rankings. Nurmagomedov (25-0 MMA, 9-0 UFC) is No. 3 in the lightweight division.

After Tony Ferguson was forced with withdraw from Saturday’s event, Holloway and Nurmagomedov will compete with the undisputed lightweight title on the line.

UFC 223 will take place Saturday at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. The main card will air on pay-per-view following prelims on FS1 and UFC Fight Pass.

For more on UFC 223, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

Gallery Photos: Best of Khabib Nurmagomedov view 15 images

The five stages of grief after losing Ferguson vs. Nurmagomedov again, in Nurmagomedov gifs

The MMA gods giveth, the MMA gods taketh away.

In news that seemed too MMA-ish to be believed, we found out late this Sunday that we’d lost a matchup between Tony Ferguson (23-3 MMA, 13-1 UFC) and Khabib Nurmagomedov (25-0 MMA, 9-0 UFC).

Again.

Four a fourth time.

On April frigging Fool’s.

Sure, there is a lot of solace to be taken in the fact that featherweight champion Max Holloway (19-3 MMA, 15-3 UFC) immediately stepped up to meet Nurmagomedov in the headliner of UFC 223 and now has a chance to become a two-division UFC champ. And congrats to the ever-game champ for taking on the undefeated Boogey Man of a heavier division on (extremely) short-notice, but…

Four times, man? Why toy with our hearts like this?

We get your pain, everyone. We really do. So in order to help the MMA community heal and move on to what is also an awesome matchup, we decided to conjure a powerful internet force – the Nurmagomedov gif – to walk us through the grieving process.

Denial

This is April Fool’s, right? There’s no way it’s serious. What? There’s confirmation video from UFC President Dana White? Whatever, maybe it’s just a super elaborate prank. Maybe the camps are in on it. Hell, maybe even the media is in on it! A fourth time? Today, of all days? No way. Not today, Satan. Carry on, everyone.

Anger

Oh no. It’s serious. How is this even possible? We’ve lost them in 2015. We’ve lost them in 2016. We’ve lost them in 2017. Now 2018? WE CURSE YOU, MERCILESS MMA GODS. THIS IS THE LAST TIME WE BELIEVE YOU AND YOUR EMPTY PROMISES.

Bargaining

OK, sorry we got a little carried away here. But you must understand our frustration. Let’s just all chill and be reasonable here. There must be something we can do. Right? I mean … what if we promise to never repeat a tiramisu-related joke ever again? We’ll also learn to appreciate Ferguson’s peculiar use of intermittent capital letters. And hey, we do realize we tempted you by joking the fight had fallen through before it had. … We’ll cut it out, we swear.

Please? Pretty please?

Depression

I guess it’s time to break out that Sarah McLachlan I’ve been saving up for a special occasion and hit the grocery store for a tub of ice cream. Does Ben & Jerry’s make them tiramisu-flavored?

Acceptance

You know what? This isn’t so bad. We did get a Holloway fight out of it. Not only that, we get to watch him try to take a second UFC belt. This is actually an amazing stylistic pairing between some of the best fighters in the world. And hey, the longest combined winning streak for a single matchup in UFC history? We can roll with that.

For more on UFC 223, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

The Blue Corner is MMAjunkie’s blog space. We don’t take it overly seriously, and neither should you. If you come complaining to us that something you read here is not hard-hitting news, expect to have the previous sentence repeated in ALL CAPS.

Tony Ferguson 'frustrated, angry and in disbelief' after UFC 223 withdrawal

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Tony Ferguson is unsurprisingly crushed by the fact he had to withdraw from the UFC 223 main event on just six days’ notice.

Ferguson (23-3 MMA, 13-1 UFC) has released a statement on the knee injury which forced him to pull out of his planned lightweight title fight against Khabib Nurmagomedov (25-0 MMA, 9-0 UFC) on Saturday.

RelatedKhabib Nurmagomedov to Tony Ferguson: 'Hope this lesson will teach you watch your mouth'

After the news broke, reports surfaced that “El Cucuy” had torn his LCL after a “freak accident” saw him trip. Ferguson verified those reports in his his statement, and also apologized to everyone his withdrawal impacted.

Check out the complete statement, which Ferguson closes with a positive sentiment. (via Instagram):

Words Can’t Explain How Hurt, Frustrated, Angry And In Disbelief I Am Right Now. As I Was Completing My UFC Pre-Fight Media Obligations On Friday I Had An Accident On A Studio Set That Tore A Ligament In My Knee. My Doctor And the UFC Doctor Both Said I Can’t Fight And One Is Saying I need Surgery, So I Will See A Specialist To Make The Final Determination On How I Can Heal Up And Get Back In There To Defend My Belt ASAP. I Want To Apologize To All The Fans, The UFC, Khabib, My Teammates, My Coaches, My Friends And Most Importantly My Family. Happy Easter To Everyone Out There, I Believe There Is A Silver Lining In This NightMare Of A Reality, Because This Isn’t An April Fools. Good Health And Blessings To You All.

With Ferguson off the card, Max Holloway (19-3 MMA, 15-3 UFC) agreed to fight Nurmagomedov in the new UFC 223 headliner, which takes place at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. and airs on pay-per-view following prelims on FS1 and UFC Fight Pass.

For more on UFC 223, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

Gallery Photos: Best of Tony Ferguson view 33 images

Khabib Nurmagomedov to Tony Ferguson: 'Hope this lesson will teach you watch your mouth'

Khabib Nurmagomedov has provided his instant reaction to Tony Ferguson’s stunning withdrawal from Saturday’s UFC 223 to main event. And to no surprise, he’s not happy.

News broke today that Ferguson (23-3 MMA, 13-1 UFC) suffered a knee injury and would be replaced by featherweight champ Max Holloway (19-3 MMA, 15-3 UFC) in a lightweight title fight. It’s the fourth time the matchup with Nurmagomedov (25-0 MMA, 9-0 UFC) has fallen apart, and “The Eagle” is clearly as disappointed as anyone.

Nurmagomedov released a statement on the situation on social media. It made no mention of Holloway, and was entirely directed at “El Cucuy” (via Instagram):

Tony heal up man. Just want to advise you, don’t talk too much anymore. Lot of thoughts in my head right now, but I don’t want to become like you. Hope, this lesson will teach you watch your mouth.

UFC 223 takes place at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. The main card airs on pay-per-view following prelims on FS1 and UFC Fight Pass.

Nurmagomedov wasn’t the only person to take shots at Ferguson. His manager, Ali Abdelaziz, put out a string of tweets directed at the interim titleholder (via Twitter):

What happen to you @TonyFergusonXT kicked the pole walking to church and the pole kicked your ass back? Talking all this shit bye bye interim belt get your ass back in line now #elknockdowno

— Ali Abdelaziz (@AliAbdelaziz00) April 1, 2018

All bullshit aside, @TonyFergusonXT you have a family and I don’t wish injures in my worst enemy I hope you come back and wish you a speedy recovery

— Ali Abdelaziz (@AliAbdelaziz00) April 1, 2018

A very reliable source just told me @TonyFergusonXT tripped and injured himself in the fox lot doing an interview. Hire a damn walking coach

— Ali Abdelaziz (@AliAbdelaziz00) April 1, 2018

For more on UFC 223, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

Gallery Photos: Best of Khabib Nurmagomedov view 15 images

Trading Shots: Should Josh Barnett's case make us rethink USADA in the UFC?

With a favorable arbitration result, did UFC heavyweight Josh Barnett expose some of the flaws with USADA’s anti-doping efforts? MMAjunkie columnist Ben Fowlkes and retired UFC and WEC fighter Danny Downes discuss.

Fowlkes: So it turns out Josh Barnett did not knowingly or willfully take the Ostarine that caused his most recent drug test failure. Such is the finding of an arbitrator, who agreed that the culprit was a tainted supplement.

But unlike other fighters who successfully argued a similar defense and accepted a short USADA suspension anyway, Barnett refused to agree with USADA’s assessment that he should take an 18-month ban, and the arbitrator sided with Barnett, giving him no punishment beyond a “reprimand.” All it cost him was a bunch of money and time.

Is that the right call, Danny? You’re responsible for what goes into your body, but if you can prove you were duped by a supplement maker who promised to boost your testosterone, is that enough? Is this how we’d like to see it work for everyone for going forward?

Also, is it just crazy to think that maybe fighters shouldn’t take supplements? Can you be a pro athlete without the powders and pills?

Downes: I personally think supplements are a scam. They’re a multi-billion dollar industry with little to no scientific evidence backing their claims. And it’s just not me, Ben. Turns out a lot of reputable sources think the same. In fact, the Journal of the American Medical Association thinks those fancy Omega-3 supplements you spend your money on will have no effect on your cognitive function. Oh, and don’t get me started on your probiotic yogurt fascination.

Regardless of my opinion on supplements and their effectiveness (or lack thereof), that’s not the real story here. The story is that Barnett had his career taken away from him for no good reason. He hasn’t competed since September 2016.

At 40, it’s unlikely the “Warmaster” was thinking of getting on the Donald Cerrone fight plan, but it’s safe to assume he’d have fought a couple times if the USADA ban wasn’t hanging over his head. He had other avenues of income to keep him afloat and fight the charge, but most MMA fighters aren’t so lucky.

Because of previous PED use, Barnett may not be the most sympathetic figure, but his situation highlights the problems with the modern MMA anti-doping situation. Barnett was able to clear his name because he had the funds and time.

Most fighters don’t have that luxury. Most don’t keep track of their supplement intake either. They either experiment with different products or take whatever they get for free which makes their chances for isolating a tainted supplement even more difficult. As a result, their name is stained and high and mighty members of the so-called media label them a “cheat” for perpetuity.

This is where I ask, “What have we gained from USADA?” Other than losing out on great fights and depriving fighters of their career with dubious charges, what have we accomplished? We like the idea of anti-doping in the abstract, but we don’t really care.

If Brock Lesnar fights Jon Jones, will you ignore it because Lesnar is a PED cheat? You’re going to watch Cro Cop vs. Roy Nelson regardless of which slow train to Croatia Mike Mazulli boards. Do you plan on throwing out your PRIDE DVDs any time soon? Of course you don’t. So why is USADA necessary?

Fowlkes: We have a finite number of options when it comes to drugs in sports.

1. We can do nothing at all, allowing PEDs to proliferate to the point that they are basically required in order to be competitive.

2. We can try our best, through random, unannounced testing, to catch some doping cheats and deter others.

3. We can do the bare minimum, and that poorly, so that while no one can say we’re “allowing” PEDs, neither are we at risk at ruining our own fun.

MMA has tried all three at various times and places, but the third choice seems to me the worst. Doing minimal testing means that you’ll inevitably let some cheaters prosper, but still occasionally catch a couple. That’s not a level playing field. It’s just us lying to ourselves.

Option number one is untenable in mainstream American sports culture. Cage fighting is already a niche sport on the fringe. If it becomes the wrecking ground of human lab experiments, it’ll only be further isolated. Regardless of the libertarian doping fantasies we may share with one another online, greenlighting rampant drug abuse among pro fighters is a non-starter.

So basically it’s a choice between really trying and only trying enough to keep people off your back. Given that choice, I’m in favor of really trying.

Could USADA do a lot better with issues like transparency? Yep. Should fighters have a voice in how this program will work? Definitely. Do we need a more fair and consistent way of dealing with cases where accidental contamination can be proven? Sure.

But that doesn’t mean we should chuck the entire concept of real drug testing and just give up. I think USADA has made the sport cleaner, both by catching cheaters and deterring others. It can get much, much better, and more fair, but it’s the closest thing this sport has ever had to a meaningful anti-doping effort.

Are you telling me that you think the cost has been too great? A few cancelled fights, a few fighters tarred by the contaminated supplements they took, is that too much?

Or do you just not think the goal is worth the trouble? Would you rather go back to barely testing and trying not to think too hard about where the champ’s new muscles and cardio came from?

Downes: As an abstract concept, I might be inclined to agree with you. In practice, however, all your high-minded notions don’t hold up. You speak of punishing “cheats” and broad ideas of justice like USADA contributes to the social contract. Where is that true?

You act like USADA is the only thing holding us back from a dystopian cage fighting future where “human lab experiments” are juiced up with venom like Bane from Batman. What makes you think that’s even a possibility? Your beloved PRIDE has essentially already given us that environment and you speak lovingly about it all the time. I’m not pro-PED, but the level of hysteria you’re putting out right now sounds like you’ve been watching too many Nancy Reagan PSAs.

In the current system, you’re guilty until proven innocent. Correction: you’re guilty unless you have thousands of dollars to prove your innocence and can afford to lose thousands of dollars more as you wait for the arbitration process to end. How many MMA fighters do you know that can afford that? It’s more than a “few cancelled fights.” You’re talking about people’s livelihoods.

I know we’re used to high levels of power asymmetry in MMA, but the current anti-doping system is too much even by that standard. Fighters have had it thrust upon them without any input. Ask yourself, “Who is USADA helping?” Is it the fighters, the sport, or your guilty conscience? Because if it’s only helping the third one, maybe it’s not so valuable after all.

Ben Fowlkes is MMAjunkie and USA TODAY’s MMA columnist. Danny Downes, a retired UFC and WEC fighter, is an MMAjunkie contributor who has also written for UFC.com and UFC 360. Follow them on twitter at @benfowlkesMMA and @dannyboydownes.

Tony Ferguson out, Max Holloway now meets Khabib Nurmagomedov for undisputed lightweight title

Seriously.

UFC officials today announced UFC interim lightweight champion Tony Ferguson has been forced to withdraw from Saturday’s UFC 223 headliner, and featherweight champion Max Holloway will now meet Khabib Nurmagomedov for the UFC’s undisputed lightweight title.

BOOM!!!!!! We got Khabib vs The Champ Max Holloway for the 155lb title this Saturday in Brooklyn New York!!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/quvI3UqGXh

— Dana White (@danawhite) April 1, 2018

MMAjunkie subsequently confirmed the switch with UFC President Dana White. This now marks the fourth time the bout has been scheduled, though it has fallen apart for a variety of reasons each time. A Ferguson knee injury is said to be the culprit this time around.

UFC 223 takes place Saturday at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. The main card airs on pay-per-view following prelims on FS1 and UFC Fight Pass.

More on this in a moment.

For more on UFC 223, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

Gallery Photos: Best of Khabib Nurmagomedov view 15 images

Who's the best UFC champion in history? The title matchup is set

The semifinals of our 32-fighter tournament picking the best champions in UFC history have wrapped up, and you’ve picked the top titleholders of all time.

This past Friday, we asked what would happen if we took the best champions in UFC history and matched them up, bracket style? Who would wind up the best champ ever?

So with the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four weekend here, and the title game set for Monday night, we’re giving you the chance to vote for your favorite UFC champions ever.

In the semifinals, we had all four No. 1 seeds from our bracket. Current flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson, who recently set the promotion’s record for most consecutive title defense wins, took out former light heavyweight champion Jon Jones. Did the fact Jones has been stripped of titles three times and failed two drug tests play a factor in your votes?

And on the other side, former middleweight champ Anderson Silva, who held the consecutive title defenses record before “Mighty Mouse” took it, fell to former welterweight and middleweight champ Georges St-Pierre. Silva has two drug test failures, himself. St-Pierre now goes head to head with Johnson in our championship matchup.

Check out the bracket above (or open it in a new window here), then click through to vote in our poll for the final matchup. The championship voting will end Monday at 7 p.m. ET, when we crown our all-time best champ – through your votes – around the same time we have a new NCAA men’s basketball champion.

(Disclaimer: Fighter seeding was done largely based on total number of title defenses. To make the field, fighters had to have had at least two successful title defenses and/or have held the rare distinction of being a two-division champion. Two fighters qualified, but in part through interim title fight wins. In that case, Renan Barao and Andrei Arlovski met in a play-in game, and Barao got into the field based on one more win in a title fight than Arlovski.)

Sound off in the comments – but most importantly, just vote. And if you want to take a look back at all the rounds of voting, you can see the percentages in all the poll matchups here:

(Note that the polls may not show up in some versions of Firefox and may not work in some spots outside North America. It is recommended you use Google Chrome or Safari to vote.)

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Who's the best Bellator champion in history? You voted for this final matchup

The semifinals of our 16-fighter tournament picking the best champions in Bellator history have wrapped up, and you’ve picked the top titleholders of all time.

This past Friday, we asked what would happen if we took the best champions in Bellator history and matched them up, bracket style? Who would wind up the best champ of all time?

So with the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four weekend here, and the title game set for Monday night, we’re giving you the chance to vote for your favorite Bellator champions ever.

In the final, former welterweight champion and No. 1 seed Ben Askren topped fellow ex-welterweight champ Douglas Lima, a No. 6 seed. And former lightweight champ Eddie Alvarez, a No. 4 seed, was on pace to top current featherweight champion Patricio Freire until a late voting surge for “Pitbull” put him over the top and into the final.

Who will you give the nod to between the recently retired Askren, who left Bellator in late 2013 for ONE Championship, and “Pitbull” Freire?

Check out the bracket above (or open it in a new window here), then click through to vote in our poll for the final matchup. The championship voting will end Monday at 7 p.m. ET, when we crown our all-time best champ – through your votes – around the same time we have a new NCAA men’s basketball champion.

(Disclaimer: Fighter seeding was done largely based on total number of title-fight victories. To make the field, fighters had to have had at least two wins in title fights and/or have held the rare distinction of being a two-division champion. Not all fighters who qualified based on those criteria made the final field of 16.)

Sound off in the comments – but most importantly, just vote. And if you want to take a look back at all the rounds of voting, you can see the percentages in all the poll matchups here:

(Note that the polls may not show up in some versions of Firefox and may not work in some spots outside North America. It is recommended you use Google Chrome or Safari to vote.)

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MMAjunkie's 'Submission of the Month' for March: A record-setting last second stunner

With another action-packed month of MMA in the books, MMAjunkie looks at the best submissions from March 2018: Here are the five nominees, listed in chronological order, and winner of MMAjunkie’s “Submission of the Month” award for March.

At the bottom of the post, let us know if we got it right by voting for your choice.

* * * *

The Nominees

Darrion Caldwell def. Leandro Higo at Bellator 195

For about two minutes, it looked as though Darrion Caldwell (12-1 MMA, 9-1 BMMA) and Leandro Higo (18-4 MMA, 1-2 BMMA) were in for a competitive Bellator bantamweight championship bout.

Then Caldwell exploded across the cage, wrapped Higo’s neck with a guillotine choke, and secured a submission for his first title defense. As Higo tried to get up against the cage after a big takedown, Caldwell wrapped the neck and clamped down. Higo appeared to tap twice, once as the severity of his situation became apparent and again as it became clear there was no escape.

Tomasz Narkun def. Mamed Khalidov at KSW 42

In a champion-vs.-champion headliner, light-heavyweight champ Tomasz Narkun (15-2) met middleweight titleholder Mamed Khalidov (34-5-2) in a non-title 205-pound bout. Early on, things weren’t going well for Narkun, who suffered two knockdowns in the opening frame.

However, as Khalidov began to fade after an action-packed first round, Narkun took advantage and fired back. Khalidov briefly returned fire, but once Narkun forced the fight to the ground in the third frame, he got his opening for a fight-ending triangle choke.

TOMASZ NARKUN!!! Mamed Khalidov tapped out! #KSW42 pic.twitter.com/P8MUJMyNZ1

— KSW (@KSW_MMA) March 3, 2018

Paul Craig def. Magomed Ankalaev at UFC Fight Night 127

Paul Craig (10-2 MMA, 2-2 UFC) made UFC history with one of the most improbable comebacks in recent memory against Magomed Ankalaev (9-1 MMA, 0-1 UFC). To make things even sweeter, the win scored him a new contract with the UFC.

Ankalaev, who came into the light heavyweight bout with an unbeaten record, got the better of Craig for almost the entirety of the fight. In the final seconds, however, Craig threw up a triangle choke. Ankalaev shockingly tapped out at the 4:59 mark of Round 3, marking the latest submission ever in a three-round UFC fight.

OH MY!!!!@PCraigMMA pulls off the MIRACLE upset in the final 5 seconds and gets the submission victory!! WOW!!! #UFCLondon pic.twitter.com/iQ6en9TokC

— UFC (@ufc) March 17, 2018

Danny Henry def. Hakeem Dawodu at UFC Fight Night 127

While Hakeem Dawodu (7-1-1 MMA, 0-1 UFC) is known as a dangerous striker, it was Danny Henry (12-2 MMA, 2-0 UFC) who landed a big right hand and then sealed the deal with a brutal choke for a quick tapout victory.

As the two felt each other out, Henry scored a crisp right hand, wobbling his foe and sending him to the floor. Henry then latched onto the neck with a guillotine and began to squeeze. Dawodu did everything in his power to work free, getting back to his feet but never successfully pulling away. Henry was relentless with his grip and was able to score the tap just 39 seconds after the contest began.

Darren O’Gorman def. Salih Kulucan at Cage Warriors 92

Salih Kulucan (5-6-1) had nowhere to go in the final seconds of his bantamweight bout with Darren O'Gorman(6-3), so he did the only thing he could. He tapped out with his feet.

Working from a dominant top position, O’Gorman vigorously tried for a reverse triangle-choke and finally locked in the incredibly uncomfortable-looking move, leaving Kulucan no choice but to pound his heels on the mat in submission. Remarkably, the finish came at the 4:59 mark of the first round.

Darren O'Gorman submits Salih Kulucan via reverse triangle with 1 second left in the round. Buzzer beater. #CW92 pic.twitter.com/noq9Tqa086

— caposa (@Grabaka_Hitman) March 24, 2018

* * * *

The Winner: Paul Craig

Craig was one second away from his third-straight UFC loss before pulling off an incredible submission of UFC newcomer Ankalaev.

After starting at range, Craig opened with a kick to the body, though Ankalaev quickly answered with the same. Another Ankalaev kick to the body seemed to stun his opponent, and he rushed forward to clinch. Once there, Craig landed a knee to the groin, leading to a brief break in the action.

On the restart, Ankalaev pressed forward again, landing a nice left hand after just avoiding a big high kick from his foe. Craig rushed forward for a takedown, but Ankalaev defended well, until an adjusted effort from his opponent brought the action to the floor. Ankalaev quickly worked to a seated position and was able to take the top after pulling free from a missed guillotine attempt. Ankalaev postured for a bit and then pushed to mount, where he punched away until the bell.

RelatedUnbelievable! UFC-London's Paul Craig snatched victory from defeat with one-third of a second left

Ankalaev was the aggressor in the second, missing on a big overhand right but landing with a sharp left hand just after. Craig leaned heavily on kicks for his attacks before changing levels and looking for a takedown. Ankalaev again defended well and landed a few powerful hooks as he pulled free from the clinch.

Shortly after, Craig did get a clean takedown, though Ankalaev reversed the position shortly after. Working quickly to side control, Ankalaev grinded away from top position, remaining there until the bell.

Craig came out swinging in the third, but it backfired, with Ankalaev landing a high kick that rocked his opponent. Craig desperately wanted a takedown, but Ankalaev remained out of reach and forced his opponent back to the feet. Ankalaev was patient in his attack, picking his shots as they resumed in the standup department. The left hand found a home repeatedly, and Craig was hesitant to engage. Craig came up short on another takedown, and Ankalaev continued to punish him.

RelatedPaul Craig's joy from miraculous UFC-London win short lived as fear of being released sets in

A wobbly Craig missed a spinning strike and toppled to the canvas, where Ankalaev quickly followed and landed a few knees to the body before settling into his opponent’s guard. Craig did well to slow things down underneath, and then the unthinkable happened – with the final ticks winding off the clock, he locked up a triangle choke and earned a miraculous submission win, scoring a tap in the bout’s final second.

“Did you hear those fans? It didn’t go my way in Glasgow last time, so to be able to get that finish for the Scottish fans tonight was something special,” Craig said. “Listen, people say the Irish fans are the best, but the Scottish fans are so loud and so supportive. To come back after two losses and get that finish, it just means so much. My coach jumped into the octagon and said I had finished it with only seconds to spare. Now I’m going to take my kids to Disneyland and give them something special to make up for all the time I spend training and preparing.”

Gallery Paul Craig def. Magomed Ankalaev at UFC-London: Best photos view 5 images Take Our Poll (function(d,c,j){if(!d.getElementById(j)){var pd=d.createElement(c),s;pd.id=j;pd.src='http://s2.wp.com/wp-content/mu-plugins/shortcodes/js/polldaddy-shortcode.js';s=d.getElementsByTagName(c)[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(pd,s);} else if(typeof jQuery !=='undefined')jQuery(d.body).trigger('pd-script-load');}(document,'script','pd-polldaddy-loader'));

Fans invited to news conference, workouts, weigh-ins for UFC 223 in Brooklyn

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If you’re heading to the “Big Apple” for this week’s UFC 223 card, you have some fight-week events you can attend for free.

UFC 223 will take place Saturday at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. The main card will air on pay-per-view following prelims on FS1 and UFC Fight Pass.

In the main event, interim lightweight champion Tony Ferguson (23-3 MMA, 13-1 UFC) will take on Khabib Nurmagomedov (25-0 MMA, 9-0 UFC), and the winner will become the undisputed lightweight titleholder. In the co-feature, women’s strawweight champion Rose Namajunas (7-3 MMA, 5-2 UFC) will defend her belt against the woman she took it from, ex-champ Joanna Jedrzejczyk (14-1 MMA, 7-1 UFC).

Prior to the event, fans can attend several pre-event activities, including:

Wednesday (4 p.m. ET local time): UFC 223 news conference and open workouts at Music Hall of Williamsburg, 66 N. 6th St. (between Kent and Wythe) in Brooklyn. The main and co-main event fighters will work out for fans and meet the media after a news conference.

Doors open to the publich at 4 p.m. The news conference, presided over by UFC President Dana White, will take place at 5 p.m. The fighters will square off at 6 p.m. At 6:30, Jedrzejczyk will work out, followed by Nurmagomedov, Namajunas and Ferguson in planned 20-minute increments.

Friday (5 p.m. ET): UFC 223 ceremonial weigh-ins and 25th anniversary news conference at Barclays Center. The ceremonial UFC 223 weigh-ins start at 6 p.m. ET local time, and the doors open to the public at 5 p.m. After the weigh-ins, the UFC will hold a 25th anniversary news conference.

For more on UFC 223, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

Gallery Rose Namajunas def. Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 217: Best photos view 20 images

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