The final version of the fight card for UFC 222 might look a lot different than its original draft, but it is certainly no less interesting. The Las Vegas Pay-Per-View event is brimming with expert matchmaking, diverse fighting styles, pivotal division battles, history-in-the-making, and perhaps most importantly: fun.
These are the reasons to watch UFC 222: Cyborg vs Kunitskaya.
History, Excellence and Cris Cyborg
For folks that aren’t yet convinced that Yana Kunitskaya will be the opponent to unseat champion Cris Cyborg, the reigning champ nonetheless eyes her quick turnaround bout as having Fight of the Night potential.
"I want to make this my fight and give the fans the violent performance they have come to expect from me," Cyborg recently told the L.A. Times. It’s true, fans do expect it. Given her legacy to date, it has become difficult to imagine how it could go any other way.
If it does end up being the lopsided affair some are suggesting, that shouldn’t diminish the experience of watching what is becoming less and less arguable every day: the greatest women’s mixed martial artist of all time. Like the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s or the New England Patriots in recent years, the historic and repeated levels of success can make it difficult to appreciate greatness in the moment. But Cyborg shouldn’t have to wait for the passage of time to be lauded; her time is now and her talent is generational. Soak it in.
Who’s got next at featherweight?
Brian Ortega was waiting patiently for the outcome of the originally scheduled title bout between Frankie Edgar and champ Max Holloway, hopeful that his undefeated, decision-free résumé would earn him a shot at the featherweight belt. When injury forced Holloway out this time around, Ortega jumped at the chance to cement his place in line.
The wrestling, ground game and speed tilt the scales towards the veteran Edgar, whose only losses in the last five years have been decision losses to Jose Aldo. Age, size and chin seem to favor newcomer Ortega, who is known for his ability to eat some punches while he waits for his opening. He’ll need it against Edgar, who, unlike Ortega, maintains a positive striking differential across his entire career.
Whatever the outcome, there’s no way this fight won’t be fun, and will leave no mystery as to who deserves the next shot at Holloway.
Debut of a jiu-jitsu virtuoso
One of the most sought-after prospects in all of MMA will finally make her UFC debut this Saturday.
Mackenzie Dern, like both of her parents, is a black belt in jiu-jitsu, and her walls are already adorned with dozens of national and international world titles in the sport, a sport which she has been competing in since the age of six.
Not content to rest on those laurels, Dern is determined to show off a well-rounded MMA game that stretches beyond her natural discipline and will enter the Octagon looking for a finish. She’ll face Ashley Yoder in her UFC debut, the first time she’ll have ever faced a southpaw.
“Welcome to The Sugar Show! This is my show!”
Sean O’Malley shouting at Dana White and the judges from the top of the Octagon, announcing his arrival to both the UFC and the world, was easily the most iconic moment of the first season of Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series.
The wispy Irish kid with a mop of Sideshow Bob-level curls was an immediate fan favorite (including Snoop Dog), and he followed up his first-round KO victory on Contender Series with a similarly convincing decision win over Terrion Ware in his official UFC debut. Following that win, he stated from the Octagon that he wanted to be on the March Pay-Per-View, and here he is.
A singular personality and a fun, flashy fighter, O’Malley has the genes of a superstar if he can continue his winning ways. He’ll get his next test against Andre “The Asian Sensation” Soukhamthath on Saturday’s main card.
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A Pit Bull and a Skyscraper walk into a brawl…
In what could be a sleeper pick for Fight of the Night, veteran heavyweights Stefan Struve and Andrei Arlovski will meet in a battle of desperation to turn around their recent fortunes in the division.
Former champ Arlovski finally broke his nearly inexplicable five loss streak last November in a decision over newcomer Junior Albini, while No. 10 Struve has gone 2-2 in his last four, most recently on the wrong end of a TKO against Alexander Volkov.
Records aside, there’s a lot to be interested in here. Arlovski still is the all-time heavyweight leader in takedown defense, and Strive is second all time in the division in both submissions and submission attempts. In fact, he’ll move into first place if he attempts even one against “The Pit Bull”. They also boast ten fight night bonuses between them, including several Fight of the Night awards.
Given the desire of both fighters to move beyond their status as gatekeepers, and the crackerjack matchmaking going on here, don’t be surprised if this one turns out to be a show-stealer.
Steve Latrell is a digital producer and writer for UFC.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TheUFSteve