In the octagon

A.J. Hoffman: Previewing UFC 223

When Healthy, Khabib Nurmagomedov is one of the best in the world. Wikipedia

UFC 223 is, at least on paper, the best card of the year for the promotion. Despite the efforts by the MMA gods to sabotage the card by injuring Tony Ferguson, Max Holloway steps in on six days notice to fight maybe the most dominant grappler the UFC has ever seen. The stakes are high for both men, as the UFC stripped Conor McGregor of his 155 lb. title this week and announced that the Nurmagomedov-Holloway fight is for the lightweight title. Unfortunately, there have been three fights drop off the card in the last 24 hours. Artem Lobov vs. Alex Caceres, Ray Borg vs. Brandon Moreno and Michael Chiesa vs. Anthony Pettis have all been dropped in the aftermath of the Conor McGregor chair-throwing meltdown. Here is a preview of the card. 

The headliner will feature Khabib Nurmagomedov, who has long been considered one of the best in the world WHEN HEALTHY, taking on the 145 lb. champion Max Holloway. Khabib is 25-0, and holds the longest MMA winning streak among active fighters, while his 9-0 start in the UFC gives him the fifth longest streak in the company. He has been an unstoppable force when the fight goes to the ground. He landed 88 significant ground strikes on Michael Johnson at UFC 205. He also hasn't had much problem taking opponents down. Holloway is one of the few fighters with a longer UFC winning streak than Khabib. He has won 12 straight fights in the organization. Holloway will obviously prefer to keep things on the feet. He has seven knockouts at 145 pounds, the most in the history of the division. The winner of this fight puts his name firmly in the mix for best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. 

Joanna Jedrzejczyk gets a shot at revenge against Rose Namajunas, who took her title and dealt her the first loss in her career back at UFC 217. Joanna, one of the sharpest and most technical strikers in UFC history, was overwhelmed by Rose in the first fight. Joanna has always had the mental edge in her fights, and has always exuded confidence. It may be tough to present that confidence against a woman who knocked her out just a couple of months ago. If Rose can throw her off her game plan early, she could have a big advantage. Rose made a quiet climb to title contention, and has burst into the spotlight since winning the title. The pressure is on her this time, and it will be interesting to see how she responds to not being a massive underdog like she was in the first fight. 

Renato Moicano takes on Calvin Kattar in a battle of fighters nearing top 5-10 in the division. Moicano is a BJJ black belt with good wrestling (a rarity sometimes in MMA), while Kattar is an excellent boxer that uses his superior footwork and jabs to control fights. Moicano will have to decide if he is better off counter-punching or counter-grappling. Kattar has yet to lose in the UFC, and Moicano's lone career loss came against Brian Ortega, who is the top contender in the featherweight division. 

Al Iaquinta fights for the first time in over a year, as he has been selling real estate while involved in a UFC contract dispute. He is a solid boxer with good power and a strong wrestling base. Paul Felder is on the best run of his career, using his nasty elbow game to give him 3 straight UFC wins. This is a step up in competition though. A win for Felder will move him into the rankings, where a loss to the dangerous Iaquinta basically firms him up as a solid gatekeeper in the 155 lb. division.

The prelims include several familiar faces, including Joe Lauzon, Karolina Kowalkiewicz and an exciting matchup between Evan Dunham and Olivier Aubin-Mercier. 

PREDICTIONS:

Nurmagomedov by TKO

Jedrzejczyk by DEC

Moicano by DEC

Iaquinta by TKO

Kowalkiewicz by DEC

Lauzon by SUB

Dunham by DEC

Magomedsharipov by TKO

Evans-Smith by DEC

Rodriguez by SUB

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Paying a kicker 17 million dollars? Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Head coach/general manager Bill O'Brien engineered questionable moves during the off-season that already have come back to bite the Texans in the butt. Fans have yet to see the Texans on the right track, at least on television for now. Here are the top three, or bottom three, contracts that have Houston raising eyebrows, shrugging shoulders, and shaking heads.

Randall Cobb: 3 years, $27 million

The 30-year-old wide receiver has been quiet so far this 0-2 season with seven catches for 82 yards. New offensive coordinator Tim Kelly is favoring "12 and 21" schemes which render Cobb the third option behind Will Fuller and Brandin Cooks. This could change now with Fuller nursing a hamstring injury sustained against the Ravens. To be fair, with no preseason games or extended practice, Cobb has not had time to build chemistry with quarterback Deshaun Watson. So let's mark him, "bad contract," but jury still deliberating.

David Johnson: 3 years, $39 million

Johnson has carried the ball 22 times for 111 yards. Normally, these would be acceptable, even commendable stats. However, Johnson carries the burden of being involved in the trade that sent DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona. BTW, Hopkins in tearing it up in Arizona with 22 receptions for 219 yards. Also, more evidence condemning Johnson's contract, the Texans could have made a run at Leonard Fournette (17 carries for 108 yards) or Adrian Peterson (21 carries for 134 yards), both chewing up more turf for less money.

Whitney Mercilus: 4 years, $54 million

Here's another 30-year-old who was being paid big and producing little. He was MIA against the Ravens with no tackles and no sacks, despite being on the field for 70 percent of the Ravens snaps. Mercilus was able to squeeze the Texans for huge money last year when he picked up the workload of injured J.J. Watt.


Honorable Mention

Ka'imi Fairbairn: 4 years, $17,650,000

Fairbairn is the third highest-paid kicker in the NFL. Fairbairn had a rough start against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 1, missing an extra point and a deep 51-yard field goal attempt. Meanwhile, up in Dallas, Greg 'The Leg' Zuerlein is being paid half of what Fairbairn makes, but knocking them down from the logo, including a last-second, game-winning field goal to beat the Falcons. Former Texans kicker Randy Bullock is enjoying greater success in Cincinnati for considerably fewer dollars, too. Fun fact: Fairbairn is paid more than most Texans secondary defenders.


But really, the worst, and most regrettable Texans contract of all might be Bill O'Brien's deal- 4 years, $20 million.

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