UFC 222 - Breakdown & Predictions
Cris Cyborg vs Yana Kunitskaya
Cris ‘Cyborg’ Justino defends her featherweight crown in Las Vegas against the next UFC debutant willing to take on the feared Brazilian. It is great to see Cyborg finally headlining UFC events but has struggled to find competition in a UFC division that hardly exists.
There are only a few fighters in the featherweight division which was only created because of Cyborg and rightly so. It is hard to argue that she is the best female fighter of all time and as she cannot cut down to the more populated bantamweight division at 135 lbs – the UFC are trying to build a division around the star.
So, up steps the next challenger, Yana Kunitskaya, who is the current Invicta bantamweight champion who many feel is just being poached and dragged up to featherweight to be another victim. She may well be another victim but she has serious pedigree that can test the dominant champion.
The Russian is experienced and comfortable fighting at 145 lbs. She has a large frame and built on a foundation of Taekwondo, she crucially possesses knockout power of her own. Although we may never see a female knockout artist like Cyborg ever again, Kunitskaya will not be intimated by her stand up skills and will look to counter with her own long striking.
Kunitskaya will unsurprisingly be the heavy underdog and the bold fans may put a small bet on a shock knockout considering the powerful striking of the Russian but in all likelihood, this will be another convincing win for Cyborg.
She will start the fight in her usual scary, hunched over stance warming up for a tirade of technical and brutal striking which she should land at ease especially with the four-inch reach advantage.
Expect her to throw heavy and often in search for the finish which is unlikely to go the five rounds. As this is Kunitskaya’s debut there are no UFC stats to go on so see below for a breakdown of their finishing with their knockout ability standing out as the key stat.
Winner: Cyborg via KO/TKO
Frankie Edgar vs Brian Ortega
This is the fight that may save the card in terms of viewing figures. It has only come about due to the current champion Max Holloway pulling out of the headlining fight with an eye injury. Thus, the number three ranked contender – Brian Ortega – has stepped up to fight Edgar.
As if anyone needed convincing of just how game Edgar is, he has accepted this fight on short notice against an unbeaten prodigy with skills that are unmatched in the division. These skills come in the form of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu that are simply on a different level. He is a lot bigger than Edgar and is adding to his skillset with every fight and finished his last five fights, disposing other contenders with ease.
Edgar’s resume is well-known as the former lightweight champion and a top five ranked fighter for the last eight years. The lionhearted veteran is never out of the fight, is as well-rounded as it gets with possibly the best cardio in MMA.
Ortega has rampaged his way up the division with unmissable performances as you know when he gets his hands on his opponents you will be witnessing some of the most well-developed skill in the sport, which was displayed in his last bout against Cub Swanson. Adjusting his grip in mid-air to cinch a guillotine, he put away the biggest and most experienced opponent of his career.
Edgar’s work rate is relentless which has overwhelmed the majority of his opponents. He throws a constant output of strikes capable of putting people away but his key weapon is his takedowns. His takedown accuracy is only 33.45% but refusing to give up - he will eventually complete a takedown and maintain top position, delivering suffocating damage.
But what makes this contest so exciting is that Ortega will be the only fighter Edgar has faced that will welcome being put on his back. His submission game is so aggressive and clinical he can submit anyone from anywhere.
That said, Edgar has never been finished but has to respect the strengths of Ortega, so the majority of this bout could easily remain on the feet.
Winner: Edgar via Decision
Sean O'Malley vs Andre Soukhamthath
Sean O’Malley is another rising star and put his name on the map after his performance on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series. Earning a spot on the show with a thrilling fighting style and unbeaten record, he starched Alfred Khashakyan with one blistering right hand. He went on to win his first UFC fight with a decision win over Terrion Ware and although this wasn’t a convincing win, he still carries a lot of expectation.
Andre Soukhamthath also arrived to the UFC with a lot of expectation as the CES MMA bantamweight champion but struggled, losing his first two UFC fights. They were both close decisions which he put to bed with an exceptional knockout over Luke Sanders in his last fight.
Both youngsters don’t quite have the profile as other fighters on the card but will hope to make up for that by putting on a show. They are both very aggressive strikers and will look for the finish.
O’Malley decides to keep his hands down to lure his opponents into range and counter but this will be a dangerous tactic against Soukhamthath who will oblige with venom. Their striking will surely be the key to victory with little grappling to offer.
Winner: O’Malley via KO/TKO
Stefan Struve vs Andrei Arlovski
A seismic clash is expected to shake up the main card in Las Vegas in the shape of veterans Stefan Struve and Andrei Arlovski.
Arlovski is immensely accomplished and has been slugging it out for 20 years so it is inevitable that Father Time is catching up on him. He recently lost five fights on the bounce which included three devastating knockouts at the hands of Francis Ngannou, Alistair Overeem and Stipe Miocic. However, the war beaten veteran showed his fighting spirit by accepting another fight back in November (2017) against the up-and-coming Brazilian, Junior Albini. He proved his class and outpointed him, spurring him on to take this fight against Struve.
The Dutchman is a unique match-up for anyone standing at 7-foot (the tallest in the UFC). He has experienced a topsy-turvy journey as most heavyweights do but his potential has been limited with a heart condition which has kept him on the sidelines for a large chunk of his career. However, he is still only 30 years old and desperate to add more stellar names such as the current champion Miocic to his record, with Arlovski being a suitable addition.
Both fighters have received an unholy amount of damage throughout their careers and their chins are becoming more and more susceptible to that knockout blow. Struve has a savage submission game, leveraging his long limbs into all sorts of positions but considering the power they possess in their hands and the vulnerability of their chins – it is likely that more brain damage will occur before any grappling.
Winner: Struve via KO/TKO
Cat Zingano vs Ketlen Vieira
Cat Zingano promised so much when we first saw her compete in the UFC. On her debut she put on one of the best female fights in MMA history with Miesha Tate, finishing her off with vicious knees and elbows to set up a fight with the imperious Ronda Rousey.
However, this was back in 2013 and afterwards she suffered a range of severe injuries that required multiple treatments and surgeries on her knees. She returned over a year later against the current champion, Amanda Nunes, and got back to usual ways by finishing her off with more elbows and knees.
This earned that deserved shot at Rousey a few months later but one mistake in the first few seconds led to an armbar. This crushing loss was followed by more injuries until she eventually returned to fight Julianna Pena at UFC 200. Unfortunately for her, this was her second career loss and has been at the drawing board since, awaiting her fight with another top contender, Ketlen Vieira.
This is one of the hardest fights available. The Brazilian is not a well-known name but is young, unbeaten and very well-rounded. She has three impressive UFC wins already including a brilliant triangle choke against Olympic wrestler Sara McMann, proving she is a threat in all areas.
Terrible injuries have forced Zingano to compete only once a year since 2011 so who knows what kind of form she will be in. What we do know as that she has all the skills but so does Vieira. We should expect the stand-up battle to be intense and even but the real battle could end up in the grappling department.
Zingano rarely fails to get her opponents to the ground but Vieira is as slick and slippery as they come and her submission over McMann must cause a rethink of her usual game plan. With the form and youth, Vieira may just have enough to change the guard.
Winner: Vieira via Decision