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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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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