The UFC returns to Las Vegas this weekend for what promises to be a solid night of fights at UFC 222. The peerless Cyborg will defend her featherweight strap against former Invicta batamweight champion, Yana Kunitskaya. Also Frankie Edgar and Brian Ortega do battle in what should be a featherweight title contender fight and two heavyweight veterans will clash in a fight that promises fireworks. Read on for our preview of all the big fights.
Cris ‘Cyborg’ Santos poses a weird conundrum for the UFC. While her incredible skill and physical gifts make her a big draw; the lack of high level female fighters her size has made the finding of worthy challengers particularly difficult. Cyborg’s first three UFC fights were mismatches of epic proportions. Leslie Smith, Lina Lansberg and Tonya Evinger were all game opponents, but clearly not on Cyborgs level and were summarily dispatched. Then in her last fight Cyborg came up against former boxing champion and Ronda Rousey conqueror; Holly Holm. We finally saw Cyborg challenged and she passed with flying colours. The back and forth five round war allowed Cyborg to show off the full array of her talents and she ended up winning a clear unanimous decision. Holm had a lot of success with straight lefts and body kicks, but Cyborg was able to take the shots and make the necessary adjustments. Unfortunately in this title fight, it looks like we are back to the overmatched opponents.
I had barely heard of Yana Kunitskaya when it was first announced that she would make her octagon debut against the rampaging Cyborg; but thanks to the fightpass app I now much more acquainted with the current Invicta batamnweight champ. Kunitskaya won the vacant Invicta title after former champion; Tonya Evinger was called up to the UFC to fight Cyborg in July of last year. Cyborg went on to make short work of Evinger, which is a bad sign considering Kunitskaya’s last loss was a second round submission to Evinger in March of 2017. Kunitskaya comes from a Muay Thai and Tae Kwon do background, so is obviously a diverse and high level kicker. She has excellent footwork and is good at keeping opponents at the end of her strikes. She also has a strong clinch game and likes to throw knees, particularly if she can get the Thai plum. Her distance control makes her difficult to take down and she does have solid transitional grappling. One interesting wrinkle to this fight is that Kunitskaya trains out of Jacksons MMA, one of the best and most tactically savvy gyms in the sport. Holly Holm also trains there, so were Greg Jackson and Mike Winklejohn able to pick up on any exploitable holes while watching Cyborg for 25 mins cageside?
Prediction: The skill disparity between these two fighters makes the result almost a forgone conclusion. On top of the that, Yana Kunitskaya is taking this bout on short notice, moving up a weight division and is making her octagon debut against the most dominant fighter in Women’s MMA history. Kunitskaya’s control of distance, striking defense and footwork should mean she can avoid being completely blown out of the water. But sooner or later, Cyborg will get her in the clinch or backed against the cage and put her away. Cris Cyborg Santos by 3rd TKO.
TIP: Total rounds over 1.5 - $2.25 at Sportsbet
This fight will most likely determine who is next in line to take on current featherweight champion Max Holloway. But even without the title implications; this is fascinating stylistic matchup. Former lightweight champion is a perfectly well rounded wrestle-boxer, while the undefeated Brian Ortega has the best offensive grappling in the division. Since moving down to featherweight, Edgar has amassed a 7-2 with his only two losses coming against Jose Aldo. He has blown the doors off anyone else thrown at him with a combination of constant forward pressure, accurate striking and an unwavering ability to stick to game plans laid out for him by coach Mark Henry. Edgar has crisp, accurate boxing which is complemented by his constant movement. Edgar is always circling away from his opponents punches to create angles, avoid power shots and sap opponent’s energy. Not only is he an excellent technical striker, but has the ability to seamlessly transition from striking to the takedown. Opponents always have to wary of a level change, which leaves them open on the feet. But Edgar’s greatest weapons are the intangibles. He has incredible cardio and heart. Edgar comes out hard from the start of the first round and continues at an incredible pace through all 5 rounds. He also has an incredible ability to take punishment. Edgar can take your best shot and just keep powering through (see the Gray Maynard fights). Through 28 professional fights; he has never been KOed or submitted.
Brian Ortega is undefeated so far in his career and has 5 straight UFC victories. However he hasn’t been as dominate as those numbers suggest. Due to his wild striking, tendency to jump to guard and slick grappling, Ortega’s fights tend to be all action, back and forth contests. Three of his last 5 fights have been awarded fight of the night and all multiple occasions he has been staring down the barrel of a decision loss only to pull off a late third round finish. On the feet Ortega is a brawler. He loves to get in close and wing wild punches. But this is intentional. Ortega’s style relies on opponents making mistakes and him capitalizing with a takedown or submission. However the downside to this approach is Ortega eats a lot of punches, particularly counters. But on the ground it’s a completely different kettle of fish. Ortega is a dangerous and diverse submission artist and might be the most dangerous grappler off his back in UFC history. He forgoes control to chase submission, so often opponents are able to break, but it is in the ensuing scramble the Ortega is so often able to sink in a submission. This will be a massive step up in competition for Ortega; his most credential opponent to date has been Cub Swanson, a fighter Edgar breezed through.
Prediction: Traditionally the wrestle-boxer has been the submission artists’ kryptonite. They are able to out strike opponents on the feet and use their superior wrestling to keep the fight standing and avoid the submission threat. On paper this looks by far and away the most likely outcome here. Edgar will find a lot of success on the feet with a massive volume and accuracy advantage. I think he will circle away from Ortega’s looping punches and step in with angles to counter. Even if this fight hits the ground, I expect Edgar’s top pressure and discipline to mean he will outscore and avoid the submission threat. Ortega will obviously always have the submission threat, but I think Edgar dominates here and once again shows the gulf between very good fighters and elite fighters. Frankie Edgar by 30-27 decision.
TIP: Frankie Edgar to win by decision - $1.83 at Sportsbet
Best of the rest
Heavyweight veterans Andrei Arlosvki and Stefan Struve have 43 UFC fights between them. However the more telling statistic is that they also have a combined 17 KO loses. I like Arlosvki here as a sizeable underdog, but I think the under 1.5 rounds is the smarter play. Female BJJ phenom Mackenzie Dern also makes her UFC debut on this card. They have put the undefeated prospect up against another submission specialist in Ashley Yoder. Dern should be far too good here, but I think she will struggle to get the submission finish, so like a bet on her to win by decision. Australian Cuban Hector Lombard also makes his return on this card. Lombard is riding a 4 fight losing streak and doesn’t have a victory in four years. However CB Dolloway is a tailor made opponent for him and I think he wins by first round KO. May favourite bet of the night comes in the batamnweight division where John Dodson takes on BJJ black belt Pedro Munhoz. Not even Demetrious Johnson has been able to take down and control Dodson, so I don’t expect Munhoz to be the first. Dodson has a massive speed and power advantage on the feet and I think he makes short work of Munhoz and will be betting accordingly.
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