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Fortunes changed for five at UFC 223

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

In the space of a few days, we learned that there is almost nothing that Conor McGregor can do that would get him fired from the UFC.

Firing beverage cans at a press conference in the direction of his opponent and his entourage, and endangering fans was just child’s play. Shoving a referee? That was at a Bellator show. Throwing a dolly through the window of a van, injuring two fighters badly enough that their fights had to be scrapped from this past weekend’s show? No problem. There’s simply too much money on the table with too many different prospective opponents to think about firing or suspending the biggest revenue generator in the sport.

Saturday’s UFC 223 show had enough issues without McGregor taking ruining the show into his own hands.

The subject of his and his crew’s insane rampage, Khabib Nurmagomedov, who was in the van, came out unscathed and moved to 26-0 with a five-round decision win over his fifth different prospective opponent in the last week, Al Iaquinta.

Because this kind of behavior, no matter how badly it reflects on the sport in one way, it also has set up a prospective McGregor vs. Nurmagomedov being far bigger than ever before.

Dana White had earlier in the week talked of the Nurmagomedov vs. Max Holloway fight as trending stronger in advance than anything since UFC 205, the McGregor vs. Eddie Alvarez headlined debut from Madison Square Garden. That sounds totally implausible, given fights like Ronda Rousey vs. Amanda Nunes, Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier and Georges St-Pierre vs. Michael Bisping have all taken place since UFC 205.

Still, predictions of numbers like 500,000 buys were being thrown around a few days from the fight. And while, thanks to McGregor, there was probably more talk about UFC in the days before the fight this week than any in a long time, the talk was about arrests, bail and potential lawsuits, and then about Holloway’s weight-cut problems.

In the end, UFC was tempting fate. Almost as soon as Holloway was announced, when the word was how much weight he’d have to cut, it all seemed like a bad idea. For Holloway, the potential reward, becoming the second double champion in UFC history and perhaps winning the McGregor sweepstakes, was enough to risk his 12-fight winning streak. UFC risked major problems in quest of a fight that would change the company’s pay-per-view fortunes after what has been a year without any big money fights. This came at the same time UFC has been adamant to fighters about not making big weight cuts because of health concerns. But contradictions run deep when you’re desperate for a replacement main event on a pay-per-view show.

In the quest for those somewhat rare big money main event, promoters will take risks, whether it be on a fighter who was too heavy to lose weight in an even remotely healthy manner less than a week before the fight, or not firing someone who, had it been nearly anyone else on the roster, would have been instantly gone

Let’s look at how Fortunes changed for five stars of Saturday’s show.

KHABIB NURMAGOMEDOV - The UFC’s new champion in arguably its deepest division is the most logical fighter to face McGregor (21-3) next. Nurmagomedov holds the lightweight title that McGregor never lost in competition, so that’s reason enough. But when you throw in the grudge match aspect of Nurmagomedov being the target of the McGregor rampage, it makes sense from every standpoint.

But you can’t count on McGregor. Nurmagomedov himself issued the challenge to Georges St-Pierre (26-2) for a November fight in Madison Square Garden. St-Pierre didn’t appear to be interested, and after fighting at 185, the idea of cutting to 155 doesn’t sound that would be healthy for him to do. But if Nurmagomedov wants to move up, that’s a very viable big fight. There is still Tony Ferguson (23-3) in a fight people would want to see, but it appears to be jinxed and Dana White said he wouldn’t try to make it again. And if all that fails, there is always Eddie Alvarez (29-5).

ROSE NAMAJUNAS - With two straight wins over Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Namajunas (9-3) should defend her strawweight title against the very clear next contender, Jessica Andrade (18-6). Andrade has earned the next title shot with wins over Claudia Gadelha and Tecia Torres.

JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK - After losing twice to Namajunas, Saturday being in a five-round war, it clearly established the first fight wasn’t a fluke. Unfortunately, there is really nowhere for Jedrzejczyk (14-2) to go at strawweight. She’s beaten every top contender in the division with the exception of Torres (10-2). And even if she won that fight, she has no short-term shot at another title match as long as Namajunas remains on top.

The best call would be to move up to flyweight. She could likely immediately get a shot at the winner of the proposed Nicco Montano (4-2) title defense against Valentina Shevchenko (15-3).

ZABIT MAGOMEDSHARIPOV - Even fighting with a broken hand, Magomedsharipov (15-1) won one of the best fights so far this year over Kyle Bochniak. He immediately challenged Yair Rodriguez (10-2) to a fight in September in Moscow, Russia, an event that has been rumored for months but has never been officially announced.

If that fight doesn’t happen, another good alternative would be Alexander Volkanovsky (17-1).

KAROLINA KOWALKIEWICZ - Kowalkiewicz (12-2) should face the winner of the June 9 Chicago fight between Gadelha (15-3) and Carla Esparza (13-4). Kowalkiewicz lost last year to Gadelha. A win over the winner of the June fight would likely be enough to get a strawweight title shot.