Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:04 AM

UFC 223 Best Bets

It is a week that will live in UFC infamy, and it’s not even over yet. ‘Raging’ Al Iaquinta was booked to face unbeaten Khabib Nurmagomedov shortly before 4:00 p.m. Eastern on Friday in the UFC 223 headliner at Barclays Arena on Saturday night.

In the span of six days, Nurmagomedov has been asked to face five different fighters. First, it was supposed to be Tony Ferguson, then Max Holloway, then Anthony Pettis, then Paul Felder and now the only New Yorker on what is a card that’s been reduced to nine scraps, down from 13 on Thursday afternoon.

Oh, there’s also that matter of the promotion’s superstar spending Thursday night in jail after he and his entourage attacked a bus that caused injuries to two fighters, resulting in the loss of a pair of fights. McGregor’s teammate, Artem Lobov, was also removed from the card when he joined McGregor in swarming the bus.

McGregor Melee shakes up UFC

As if the show hadn’t already gone through an unfathomable amount of changes, more news broke late Friday morning when UFC doctors deemed Holloway unfit to compete during his weight-loss attempt on just six days of notice. Holloway wanted to continue to try and cut weight and his team told reporters the cut was going fine, but UFC officials scrapped the fight nonetheless.

Then there was a short period of time when it seemed that former lightweight champ Anthony Pettis would get a shot at the belt he used to hold. However, when he asked the UFC for a bump in pay, the organization countered with a pay cut that ‘Showtime’ declined. It appeared as if Paul Felder would get the next shot and he had already made the championship weight at 155.

However, the New York City Athletic Commission wouldn’t allow this because Felder isn’t currently ranked. What?! Neither is Pettis. Felder, in my opinion, would be favored over Pettis and the Philadelphia product creates problems for any 155-pounder on the lightweight roster.

As it turned out, Iaquinta gets to compete in a UFC main event in his own backyard. He won’t become champ with a win, though, at least not technically. Since ‘Raging’ Al tipped the scales at 155.2 pounds early this morning, there’s a regulation the commission has that prevents this bout from officially being a championship bout.

At the time Iaquinta weighed in, the Long Island native had no idea he could be in the mix for a shot at the title. He left his shorts on to weigh in but if he had taken them off and used a towel, he almost certainly would’ve hit 155.0 lbs. and been eligible to win the lightweight strap.

For several hours Friday afternoon, it was widely reported that Nurmagomedov could only win the belt. When Dana White took questions from the media after the ceremonial weigh-ins at the start of the UFC’s 25th anniversary presser Friday night, however, he said that all technicalities would get worked out.

In other words, White stated and then confirmed after multiple follow-up questions that Iaquinta indeed will be the new lightweight champion if he wins Saturday night in Brooklyn.

[...] opened ‘The Eagle’ as an enormous -1050 favorite, but those odds were all the way down to -530 within 20 minutes. As of early Friday night, the global shop had Nurmagomedov listed as the -525 ‘chalk’ with Iaquinta as the +415 underdog (risk $100 to win $415). No books are offering an ‘over/under’ yet, but there’s a proposition wager at [...] for the fight to go the five-round distance (yes, +300; no, -420).

Adding even a bit more intrigue to this script is how Iaquinta’s long-time mentor Matt Serra pulled what most consider (with apologies to Holm over Rousey) to be the biggest upset in UFC history over Georges St-Pierre on April 7 of 2007. That’s 11 years to the day when Iaquinta will look to earn UFC gold in his and Serra’s backyard.

Iaquinta (13-3-1 MMA, 8-2 UFC) has won five consecutive fights and is 8-1 in his past nine Octagon appearances. The Long Islander has four knockouts during his five-fight surge, including a first-round KO over Diego Sanchez last April.

Iaquinta has spent much of the last three years feuding with the UFC over fighter pay and other matters. It’s ironic – to say the least – that he’s the benefactor of all the craziness that’s occurred in the Big Apple. After all, the promotion wanted his scheduled opponent, Felder, and Pettis to face Nurmagomedov initially. And considering how Michael Chiesa submitted Iaquinta to become the Season 15 Ultimate Fighter in June of 2012, you know Chiesa would’ve been given a title shot before Iaquinta if he hadn’t been declared unfit to fight after suffering cuts on his face and brow from the glass broken by McGregor’s actions.

Let’s get to my picks before mentioning some other nuggets…

Best Bets

My favorite play is Joanna Jedrzejczyk at a -105 price ([...]) to defeat champion ‘Thug’ Rose Namajunas and become the two-time women’s strawweight champ. I like Joanna for four units. I’ll also go with one unit on Under 3.5 rounds (+115).

I’ll go with Evan Dunham, who has a 4-0-1 record in his past five fights, for 1.5 units at a -110 price to beat Olivier Auburn-Mercier in a lightweight tussle.

My apologies for the lack of action. Can I blame it on Conor McGregor? I was ready to fire down on Chiesa and the ‘under’ his fight with Pettis. I was also poised to recommend a monster play on the ‘under’ for Felder vs. Iaquinta. Alas, things change.

B.E.’s Octagon Nuggets

-- White said earlier in the week that Brock Lesnar intends to return to the UFC. He must get back into the USADA pool for six months and then can compete. The UFC President added at Friday’s presser that Lesnar is still under contract with the UFC and when asked if Lesnar might face the winner of the UFC 226 headliner between heavyweight kingpin Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier, White said, “Yes, that’s a possibility.”

-- McGregor posted $50,000 bail after being arrested late Thursday on three counts of misdemeanor assault and one count of felony criminal mischief. His lawyer told the judge he “is the most recognizable person in the world” and would not be a flight risk. A hearing for June 14 was set for ‘The Notorious,’ who left the hearing in cars presumably headed back to the airport, where his private plane does have permission to fly him back to Ireland.

--When Felder and Pettis were denied the title shots, both were removed from the card. They are teammates, so fighting each other wasn’t an option. Both will be re-booked to fight extremely soon.

--The fight I’ve been jonesin’ to see for 5-6 years – Carlos ‘The Natural Born Killer’ Condit vs. Matt Brown – has been cancelled for a second time. Brown tore his ACL training last weekend. Alex Oliveira has stepped up on short notice and will battle Condit in the UFC Phoenix co-main event next weekend.

Follow Brian Edwards' sports gambling opinions on Twitter at @vegasbedwards

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