The UFC will see 2017 come to an end this weekend with a women's featherweight title fight headlining the final show of the year as Cris Cyborg puts her belt up for grabs for the first time against former women's bantamweight champion Holly Holm.
UFC 219 marks Holm's second shot at capturing the 145-pound women's title after she came up just short of winning the inaugural belt back in February. Now Holm will challenge arguably the most dominant women's fighter of all time in Cyborg, who has looked virtually unstoppable since arriving in the UFC.
Also on the card, undefeated Russian wrecking machine Khabib Nurmagomedov will look to solidify his spot at the top contender in the lightweight division as he takes on noted knockout artist Edson Barboza, who has looked better than ever during his recent three-fight win streak.
In today's fantasy preview, we're going to examine these fights and several more to see who has the edge going into Saturday and if there might be an upset brewing on this final card of 2017 at UFC 219: Cyborg vs. Holm.
These are the fights that are just too close to call, but a few minor differences between favorite and underdog could lead one fighter to victory and the other to defeat.
Cris Cyborg vs. Holly Holm
For more than 10 years, Cris Cyborg has arguably been the most dominant force in women's mixed martial arts thanks to a string of knockout victories against virtually every opponent she's faced. Cyborg is a force of nature when she's at her best and there hasn't really been a fighter to test her in quite some time, but she'll certainly face a tough challenge this weekend against Holly Holm.
Holm will certainly be the most accomplished fighter Cyborg has faced in years, as the former women's bantamweight champion not only touts wins over some very tough competition in the UFC but she's also a multi-time boxing champion as well. Holm has shown throughout her UFC career that she feasts on fighters who get too aggressive with her, as head kick knockouts of both Ronda Rousey and Bethe Correia proved. Holm may get a chance to show off those kicks again in this fight, along with her counterstriking, because Cyborg is best known for an old school style where she barrels forward and looks to terminate an opponent with pressure and power.
The biggest disaster for Holm would be getting locked in the clinch with Cyborg, where she's just getting mauled against the cage. Cyborg will undoubtedly be the bigger, more physically strong athlete, so Holm doesn't want to allow the reigning champion to batter her inside the clinch or potentially take this fight to the ground, where she will have a definite advantage.
On the flipside, Holm's ability to hit and move will be key for her in this fight. If she can use good footwork to make Cyborg miss and then circle away while throwing combinations, possibly ending with that signature head kick, she could give the 145-pound queen a lot of headaches in this fight. Holm is infinitely patient and rarely makes mistakes, so it's going to be up to Cyborg whether to go on the attack and risk getting hit on the way in or stand on the outside just waiting for the opportunity to move forward for the clinch or takedown.
As dangerous as Holm has been with her counter striking, Cyborg has been equally as good at just overwhelming her opponents round after round. For all her knockout finishes, Cyborg has gone past the first round numerous times, including her fight against Tonya Evinger in July to capture the title. Cyborg may seem like an aggressive powerhouse who just swings with wild power, but there's a method to her madness and she rarely makes many mistakes. If Cyborg stays composed and doesn’t allow Holm to control the distance with her counter striking, she should eventually be able to get the job done.
This might be a rare occasion where Cyborg goes to a decision, but it's still entirely possible that she punishes Holm round after round until getting a finish late in the third or fourth round. Either way, it's still tough to see Cyborg handing over the title just a few months after she won it.
Prediction: Cris Cyborg by TKO, Round 4
Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Edson Barboza
In a matchup that could determine the next title challenger in the lightweight division, Khabib Nurmagomedov faces off with Edson Barboza in the UFC 219 co-main event. This fight truly is the classic grappler versus striker matchup, with Nurmagomedov pitting his wrestling against Barboza's highlight reel knockout power.
Nurmagomedov has rarely been touched in any of his fights, as he has dominated the competition throughout his UFC career. Nurmagomedov's biggest enemy has been his own body, with injuries knocking him out for long stretches during his tenure with the UFC, but when he's healthy, it's tough to argue against the fact that he's one of the most fearsome lightweights in the world.
Nurmagomedov lands over six takedowns per 15 minutes in the Octagon, which is a ridiculous rate, while also hitting with just under 49 percent accuracy - another mind-boggling statistic. Nurmagomedov will never claim to be the world's best striker, but he has worked tirelessly with his coaches at American Kickboxing Academy to get better on his feet just in case the takedown isn't there. It can't be ignored, however, that Nurmagomedov did get his head snapped back a couple times in his last fight against Michael Johnson when they were on the feet. Nurmagomedov eventually took over on the ground, but he can ill afford to play that game with someone like Barboza.
Barboza is a lethal striker with knockout power in both hands, both feet, knees and elbows. There's nowhere Nurmagomedov will be safe with Barboza still standing. Barboza has arguably the best kicks in all of MMA, with blistering power and incredible quickness as well. Barboza also showed off his deadly knee strikes in his last fight against Beneil Dariush, when the noted grappler ducked for a takedown and instead got clocked with a shot from the Brazilian that put him down and out. Nurmagomedov cannot telegraph his takedowns or he might eat one of those same knees and that will be lights out for the Russian if it lands.
That said, Nurmagomedov knows that getting Barboza to the ground is his fastest path to victory and he's not likely going to look to test himself on the feet in this fight. Look for Nurmagomedov to set the pace early with a takedown and then punish Barboza on the ground round after round until he either bludgeons his way to a decision win or he gets the stoppage due to strikes.
Prediction: Khabib Nurmagomedov by TKO, Round 3
Carlos Condit vs. Neil Magny
Former interim welterweight champion Carlos Condit makes his return to the Octagon this weekend with his first fight in over a year. Meanwhile, Neil Magny will look to bounce back from a loss in his last fight while taking on one of the toughest 170-pound fighters of all time.
On paper, there appears to be a clear path to victory for Condit due to his nasty kickboxing skills, knockout power and ability to throw some of the most creative and explosive strikes in the entire division. At his best, Condit is arguably one of the best strikers to ever compete in the welterweight division, with his long reach, nasty combinations and willingness to engage with any opponent on the feet. Condit has stood toe to toe with the best of the best in the division and never backs down from anybody.
Now that might seem like a tough matchup for Magny, who has struggled at times against elite welterweights in the past, but he's no easy mark for anybody and that includes Condit. With his long reach and incredible conditioning, Magny can push the pace on anybody in the division and he'll have no fear of pressing the action to find out if Condit is really ready to be back after more than a year away. Magny isn't the most technical striker in the world, but he's tenacious with his attacks and that can throw anybody off their game. Magny is also tough as nails, which helped him get fighters who have been fast starters like Hector Lombard and Kelvin Gastelum. Condit isn't known as a fighter who comes firing quickly out of the gate but that only means he might be playing into Magny's hands for his style of fighting.
Still, Condit has been in there with the best of the best throughout his career and when he's on the top of his game, he's an elite welterweight contender. Condit is ferocious with his striking attacks and he might look at a fight like Magny had with Lorenz Larkin as a key to victory. Look for Condit to attack Magny's legs and then start firing up high with punches, elbows and maybe even a few kicks as he looks for the knockout. Magny won't go away easily so Condit can't be deterred if he doesn't get the finish, but he should still do more than enough to get the win.
Prediction: Carlos Condit by unanimous decision
MORE FROM UFC 219: The Watch List | Magny Prepared For Whatever Condit Brings | Cyborg vs Holm - One Crazy Fight | Free Fight - Holm vs Correia | Pre-order UFC 219 Digitally
These are the fights that appear to be a little more one-sided, but remember that this is MMA, where anything can - and usually does - happen.
Khalil Rountree Jr. will look to cap off his 2017 campaign with a third victory inside the Octagon as he takes on newcomer Michal Oleksiejczuk.
Oleksiejczuk is a solid 22-year-old prospect out of Poland, who has won his last nine fights, with seven of those ending by way of knockout. Oleksiejczuk doesn't waste a lot of time with his fights either, as he's earned several first-round finishes and he'll likely come out aggressive in this fight to shake loose those notorious Octagon jitters. Now make no mistake, Oleksiejczuk will gun for the knockout in this fight and there's always a chance he lands it, but he's facing a very tough test in his UFC debut.
Rountree Jr. has jaw-dropping power in his hands and he absolutely feasts on opponents willing to stand and trade with him. Rountree Jr. has improved leaps and bounds since suffering a pair of losses in the UFC after appearing on The Ultimate Fighter a couple seasons ago. Working with head coach John Wood in Las Vegas, Rountree Jr. has added solid takedown defense to his grappling to ensure he's comfortable wherever this fight goes. Chances are, however, Roundtree Jr. probably won't have to worry much about Oleksiejczuk diving for his legs unless he gets hit real hard and the Polish light heavyweight has no choice but to search for the takedown.
Rountree Jr. is a very interesting prospect to watch going into 2018 and he should cap off the year with a third win in the UFC and the potential of another highlight reel knockout to add to his resume.
Prediction: Khalil Rountree Jr. by knockout, Round 1
Tim Elliott will make a short stop in the bantamweight division for his upcoming fight against late replacement Mark De La Rosa, who just accepted this matchup last week. Elliott was originally expected to fight at the FOX UFC Fight Night card in Winnipeg two weeks ago, but his opponent fell off the card at the last second. Now Elliott will finally get his fight but he'll move up to 135 pounds to accommodate De La Rosa as his new opponent.
De La Rosa is no slouch and could be an interesting addition to the UFC's bantamweight division. Training out of Texas, De La Rosa enters the fight with a perfect 9-0 record and a slick submission arsenal that he'll likely try to use to keep Elliott guessing when they fight this weekend. De La Rosa has submitted four of his past five opponents, so he has no fear of going to the ground with anybody.
That being said, De La Rosa taking this fight on short notice is always going to be a tough task, especially with this being his debut inside the Octagon. Elliott is an imposing fighter at flyweight but he's still very good while competing at 135 pounds as well. Elliot is incredible in the scrambles, which means he'll be happy to grapple with De La Rosa on the mat while showing off his own submission skills as well. Elliott is tough to figure out on a good day, so it's not going to be easy for De La Rosa to solve that puzzle with less than two weeks to get ready for this one.
De La Rosa might survive to the final horn but Elliott remains the pick just based on preparation and overall skill set to get the job done in this one.
Prediction: Tim Elliott by unanimous decision
Cynthia Calvillo has been one of the breakout stars of 2017, with three wins already under her belt since she joined the UFC roster in March. Now she'll go for No. 4 while facing the toughest test of her career against former strawweight champion Carla Esparza.
Esparza has bounced back and forth between wins and losses over her past four fights, but one defeat came to former champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk and the other was a heartbreaking decision loss to Randa Markos. Outside of that, Esparza has been dominant throughout her career, including a submission win over current strawweight champion Rose Namajunas. Esparza is a gritty wrestler with a long history in grappling, but she's shown off some solid striking in recent fights as well. Still it's Esparza's wrestling that really could help her pull off the upset against Calvillo this weekend.
Calvillo has dominated every opponent she's been able to take to the ground, but that's going to be a tough task against someone as seasoned as Esparza. Calvillo may have to get a little unorthodox to drag this fight to the mat, but if even she's able to get Esparza to the ground, there's no guarantee she'll win. Esparza was not only a high-level collegiate wrestler, but she's shown off he grappling skills numerous times in the past and she has no problem trading submission attempts with anybody in the UFC.
Look for Esparza to set the tone early with her striking while potentially stuffing any takedown attempts from Calvillo. From there, Esparza can pick her poison if she wants to just work her way to a win on the feet or if she finds out just how good Calvillo is on the ground by taking her to the mat repeatedly. Calvillo is the real deal, but she's facing an uphill battle against a former champion this weekend, and that might result in a loss for the first time in her professional career.
Prediction: Carla Esparza by unanimous decision