The Ultimate Fighter
As we close the book on a wild night in Las Vegas, the event known as UFC 222 left onlookers with plenty to reflect upon. A champion continued to show us what a champion looks like, a contender showed us what happens when you overlook him once too often, an undefeated bantamweight made her case and the floodgates of the youth movement burst wide open.
These are the UFC 222 talking points.
The Unstoppable Cyborg
There was a moment, however brief, when Yana Kunitskaya had Cris Cyborg in the clinch that allowed some in attendance to wonder if perhaps this underdog contender was about to surprise the world. But when the champ’s strikes started landing, and her opponent visibly withered with each one, reality and awe snapped back into focus.
It’s time to stop using words like “arguably” or “perhaps”: Cyborg is the greatest women’s mixed martial artist of all time. Her dominance and her skill are so complete that we lack the imagination required to conjure up what defeating her would even look like. Who has that level of game?
There is one fighter that comes to mind, and after Saturday it seems more realistic than ever. “Nunes wants the fight, [Cyborg] wants the fight, I want the fight,” Dana White said at the post-fight presser. “That’s the fight to make.”
The Arrival of Brian Ortega
The fact that Brian Ortega was undefeated in his professional career and finished every UFC fight he participated in was still not enough to garner the respect of the masses going into Saturday. How quickly things can change.
“They said I wouldn’t be able to take Tavares on short notice. I did and I finished him,” Ortega explained earlier in the week. “They said I wouldn’t finish Diego Brandao, and I finished him. They said Clay Guida has never been knocked out. I did that. They said I couldn’t get Cub Swanson, and I did that as well.”
If doubt was something Ortega was used to hearing, Saturday might have permanently placed those days in the rearview mirror. A first round uppercut cemented him into the history books as the first fighter to ever finish the legend Frankie Edgar, and the performance set up one of the most hotly anticipated featherweight title fights since a certain Irishman was in the division.
“When [Holloway] is cleared to fight,” Dana White confirmed, “we’ll make that fight immediately.”
“Fenomeno” = Phenomenon
Already ranked No. 5 in the women’s bantamweight division, Ketlen Vieira moved solidly past her days as a mere “dangerous contender” and into realistic conversation for a shot at the title.
The scorecards somehow gave her a split decision, but to anyone watching, it was never that close. Vieira was calm, poised and tactical at every turn, not betraying the slightest hint of emotion or frustration on her way to spoiling the return of Cat Zingano with a positively ruthless top game.
Like Ortega, Vieira sports an undefeated professional record and it will no longer be possible to be dismissive of her threat to the division. ‘Fenomeno’ is already being whispered as a possible future opponent for Amanda Nunes and even Cyborg, and after UFC 222, there are fewer and fewer reasons why that shouldn’t happen.
Children are the Future
Both Ortega and Vieira are part of a larger motif that has been rapidly unfolding in 2018 and reached an undeniable apex at UFC 222: the next generation of talent has arrived.
An alumni of Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, ‘Sugar’ Sean O’Malley, has already cultivated a legion of followers (not the least of which is Snoop Dog) just two fights into his UFC contract. But far from being simply a charismatic showman, O’Malley has legitimate fight game, evidenced in his Fight of the Night performance over Andre Soukhamthath that saw him victorious despite hurting his leg so badly that he did his already-legendary Octagon interview with Joe Rogan from flat on his back and had to be wheeled out on a stretcher afterwards.
Hot prospect MacKenzie Dern made her long awaited UFC debut Saturday, and while her match with Ashley Yoder saw her make some rookie-level mistakes in her stand-up game, her prowess in BJJ was evident in a third round takedown that took final control of the fight. As humble in victory as is humanly possible, it’s no secret why she was heavily coveted by every promotion. Her raw talent, fight IQ and attitude bode well for her future in the sport.
That sound you heard as Beneil Dariush dropped to the canvas was the sound of hundreds of thousands of fingers Googling the name “Alexander Hernandez.” Twenty-four hours later, his division is certainly more aware of who the man was that only needed 42 seconds to dispatch an always-dangerous Dariush. Taking the fight on just a week’s notice, UFC debuts rarely go much better than they did for Hernandez.
Couple those performances with the recent emergence of undeniable young talents such as Israel Adesanyu, Tai Tuivasa, Zabit Magomedsharipov, Tyson Pedro, Curtis Millender and several others, and you have a resounding answer to the question UFC detractors love to ask about the next generation of talent.
Steve Latrell is a digital producer and writer for UFC.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TheUFSteve