UFC 223 had a lot of hype surrounding it, largely because of the title fights in the main and co-headliner.
Along with women’s strawweight champion Rose Namajunas facing off against Joanna Jedrzejczyk in a highly anticipated rematch from their UFC 217 clash last year, there was the prospective clash between Khabib Nurmagomedov and interim lightweight champion Tony Ferguson.
This was the fourth time UFC officials had tried to put the fight together, leaving many to believe the bout was cursed. While a wild sentiment on the surface, it seemed to be eerily true as a knee injury forced Ferguson to withdraw and marked a tetralogy of failed fights between the two 155-pound standouts.
It didn’t help that the announcement was made on April 1, a day when most people are on their guard about being tricked. But the sad situation was revealed to be truth rather than a prank, leaving the UFC scrambling to find a replacement.
UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway was chosen. Named by many as the 2017 fighter of the year and carrying a dozen-fight winning streak, Holloway made for an interesting replacement. Though known primarily for his high-volume striking game, he brought a lot of star power even if he didn’t match up stylistically as well as Ferguson did.
However, disappointment struck again. Holloway, who came in on only six days’ notice, was deemed medically unfit to compete after attempting to cut down to 155 pounds. Though the limit was ten pounds over his normal class, Holloway had been out of competition and only recently recovered from an injury of his own which caused him to miss a scheduled featherweight title defense against Frankie Edgar.
UFC officials continued to scramble for a replacement with the fight mere days away. Anthony Pettis was originally considered to replace Holloway. Pettis, a former lightweight champion, was originally scheduled to face TUF winner Michael Chiesa. However, Chiesa was injured in Conor McGregor’s infamous bus attack during UFC 223 Media Day, leaving him unable to compete.
The Pettis bout failed to materialize, with some reports stating he priced himself out of the spot as Holloway’s replacement. Finally, Al Iaquinta was selected as the final replacement to take on Nurmagomedov. Since only Nurmagomedov made weight, only he will be eligible to win the lightweight title should he be victorious.
Iaquinta has a 13-3-1 professional record and is primarily a striker. The 30-year-old has roughly a decade of professional MMA experience, scoring his first win all the way back in 2009. He’s currently on a five-fight winning streak with victories over Joe Lauzon, Jorge Masvidal, and Diego Sanchez.
Iaquinta may not have the name of Holloway or Ferguson, but he’s still an interesting choice for the matchup. He trains out of the Serra-Longo Fight Team under the guidance of former welterweight champion Matt Serra.
Interestingly, Iaquinta’s bout with Nurmagomedov is 11 years to the day of Serra’s victory over Georges St.-Pierre, which is still considered by many to be the greatest upset in UFC history.