The Rickety Old Shack

The 4th Time Isn't The Charm — Nurmagomedov/Ferguson Off Again

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At first, when I got home from an Easter dinner, I assumed the Twitter posts I was seeing were some unfunny folks sharing some very late April Fool's material. It took a while for the reality to set in: that Tony Ferguson got injured on the set of a TV show — not even in training! — and was now unable to fight for the lightweight title at UFC 223. Furthermore, the announcement was a two-piece shock to my senses as the UFC also announced an immediate replacement in Max Holloway.

"Isn't he the featherweight champion?"

Yes - yes he is.

Wasn't he supposed to fight a month ago, at UFC 222 before he got hurt?

Why yes, yes he was.

Aside from the initial disappointment of having this fight cancelled — for the fourth time, no less — the replacement leaves me feeling some mix of numb and vexed. Under almost any other circumstances, this is an intriguing, cross-divisional match-up — but not on six days' notice. Max Holloway is an extremely talented fighter, and none of what I am writing in this article should be constrewed as a slight on him or his abilities, but this booking is utterly ridiculous.

The UFC is throwing one of their champions into an incredibly dangerous match-up, with precisely zero preparation; Holloway's pre-fight concerns are to make weight, somehow, and worry about the rest later. It's a terrible situation for any fighter to be in, now add the fact that his opponent is Khabib Nurmagomedov. Someone in Holloway's camp should have nixed this fight; it's not to say that Holloway has zero chance, but he's given himself the worst odds possible.

It is unknown at what weight Holloway is currently walking around, but considering he was injured and didn't have a fight booked — and the simple fact he is a visibly large featherweight — the safe assumption is that he was nowhere near 155 pounds. Without giving a number, Holloway's nutritionist, George Lockhart provided the following in an interview with Bloody Elbow.

Is this a big cut for Max?

Yeah, this is literally tied with the biggest cut I've ever done. It's the exact same number as the biggest cut that I've ever done in my life.

What are the difficulties of cut this big on short notice?

We usually want to start 10 days out, so this is definitely going to give us some challenges. The flight itself, that 18 hours of flying, is going to have an impact on the amount of water he's holding.

Considering Mr. Lockhart's list of clients includes Conor McGregor and Cris Cyborg, 2 fighters known for incredibly large cuts, when he says "tied for the biggest cut I've ever done," some serious weight (har har) should be given to those words — even without a specific number. The extra 10 pounds, above Holloway's normal weight class of 145, is small consolation considering the lack of advanced preparation. As Mr. Lockhart explains in the interview, the weight loss process for fighters is two-part: diet and train off body fat during fight camp, then cut the remaining difference in water just prior to the weigh-ins. In this case, Max has little usable time to lose weight the proper way.

I won't speculate as to whether or not Holloway will make weight for the fight. I would hope that he does, but I do feel uncomfortable, given what I do know about extreme weight cuts, with this timeline. I don't doubt Max Holloway's drive or desire to make weight and save this fight card, but human biology has its limits. There is no such thing as a healthy weight cut; I just hope Max Holloway doesn't incur long-term damage for a short-term gain. Maybe I am overly concerned with the weight issue, but it seems like the UFC is exactly the opposite — and will almost assuredly use the severity of Holloway's weight cut as a selling point.

This whole situation is unfortunate, and the UFC's handling of it seems haphazard. I understand the need to retain a title fight, or risk cancelling the pay-per-view event, but even the replacement fight is tenuous. A number of things can go wrong, still; Max could miss weight, or suffer post-weigh-in complications from the cut, and Khabib Nurmagomedov still has to make weight. Lest we forget, the third time this fight was scheduled, at UFC 209, Nurmagomedov was hospitalised following the weigh-ins. Khabib has had 1 fight since then, and claims he weight cut was easier but a single data point doesn't tell us much.

I want to give Max Holloway credit for making this attempt, and my concerns are not meant to undercut the potentially historic outcome we may see. Should Holloway prevail, he will become a two-division, simultaneous champion — an extremely rare feat. There is a lot to be said about the UFC's recent devaluation of the titles themselves, but beating Khabib Nurmagomedov on less-than a week's notice would be borderline miraculous — the stuff legends in the fight game are made of. The risk and reward are both very high here; UFC 223 was supposed to give us a great fight we'd been anticipating for almost half-a-decade, and now we've been given a lottery ticket instead.

If Max can do this... If Max can do that... There is the potential to see something amazing happen. There is a greater likelihood that a primed lightweight is going to waylay an unprepared fighter, regardless of how talented and tough they happen to be. I will analyse the fight more, prior to the event; for now, I have concerns, mostly pertaining to long-term health than anything else. I can appreciate what Max is doing here, I just hope he does too.

—by Derek

Published: April 3rd, 2018.