Saturday’s UFC 219 event is in the books, and now that the dust has settled in Las Vegas, it’s time to go to the scorecard to see who the big winners were at T-Mobile Arena.
1 – Cris Cyborg
There is no question that Cris Cyborg has been an elite fighter for over a decade, but despite all her big wins over quality foes like Marloes Coenen, Shayna Baszler, Leslie Smith and Tonya Evinger, to the mainstream world, her biggest win came in 2009 over Gina Carano. So for her to defeat Holly Holm in last Saturday’s main event, it cements her place as one of the best ever, if not the best. And from a mere aesthetic point of view, her work under coach Jason Parillo was on full display, as she patiently pressured Holm and picked her shots beautifully, showing the evolution on her game and marking her as perhaps even more dangerous than ever. The only question left is, who’s next?
2 – Khabib Nurmagomedov
It’s been interesting watching the rise of Khabib Nurmagomedov in the UFC. Yes, a 25-0 record is a talking point anyone can get behind, but what’s more notable is seeing how he’s captured an international fanbase without any of the usual prerequisites for stardom. He’s a swarming ground-and-pound artist who doesn’t produce highlight reel finishes, but like boxing’s Gennady Golovkin and Vasyl Lomachenko, he captivates fans with his dominance, his technique, and his no nonsense way of going about his business. Saturday night was a prime example, as he dismantled the game, but overwhelmed, Edson Barboza with an effort that produced a Performance of the Night bonus without a finish. That says something about “The Eagle,” whose next fight will likely be against someone holding a UFC lightweight title, and whether it’s Conor McGregor or Tony Ferguson, it’s going to be a fun one, both before and during the bout.
3 – Carla Esparza
I told you not to judge Carla Esparza on her 2015 loss to Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Winner of three of four since that bout, the UFC’s first strawweight champion came up big at UFC 219, upsetting previously unbeaten Cynthia Calvillo. It wasn’t a blowout by any means, but it was one of those gritty wins that showed Esparza’s experience and championship heart. Calvillo will be back, but for now, the moment belongs to “The Cookie Monster.”
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4 – Neil Magny
Layoff or not, not just anyone beats Carlos Condit. Since late-2009, that list reads St-Pierre, Hendricks, Woodley, Lawler and Maia. That’s four world champions and a former number one contender. So with his UFC 219 victory over “The Natural Born Killer,” Neil Magny joins a very exclusive club, and it’s time for him to start making that push for a title in 2018. He’s been close before, but then lost bouts to Maia in 2015, Lorenz Larkin in 2016, and Rafael Dos Anjos last September. He’s got the talent, he knows he can beat the best, so expect to see an even better Magny this yeat.
5 – Matheus Nicolau
Opening up the FS1 prelim portion of the UFC 219 card, Matheus Nicolau showed off a crisp striking game and solid ground attack in winning a lopsided three-round decision over a fighter that no one has an easy time with in Louis Smolka. And yes, Hawaii’s Smolka was game throughout the bout, but the power and speed of Nicolau was something to watch. In a flyweight division dominated by Demetrious Johnson, any time a new prospect can make his mark and enter the fray, that’s good news for the sport, and Nicolau may be that guy.