The Ultimate Fighting Championship returned to Las Vegas for it’s latest pay-per-view card, UFC 222, which took place at the T-Mobile Arena.
Originally scheduled to be headlined by Max Holloway defending his featherweight title against Frankie Edgar, an injury to ‘Blessed’ meant Cris Cyborg stepped up to face UFC newcomer, Yana Kunitskaya, for her featherweight championship.
We take a look at some potential matches to make for the winners and losers from the main card…
Cris Cyborg def. Yana Kunitskaya via TKO (R1)
In the main event of the evening, there was no surprise as Cris Cyborg defended her featherweight championship with a first round TKO victory over UFC newcomer Yana Kunitskaya. Both women took the fight on three weeks’ notice in order to save the card but the result was little more than a formality.
The UFC needs to build a division around Cyborg, one of the best pound-for-pound fighters on the planet. She has defended the belt twice, but the women’s rankings at 145lbs remain empty. Nevertheless, the only fight that makes sense is the current UFC bantamweight champion – Amanda Nunes. ‘The Lioness’ will defend her belt against Raquel Pennington at UFC 224 with Cyborg waiting in the wings for her next title defence.
Kunitskaya had nothing to lose by accepting the fight and will likely move back to bantamweight following the loss. She is the former Invicta bantamweight champion but couldn’t hang with the Brazilian after moving up in weight. She has a plethora of potential challengers at 135 including former featherweight champion, Germaine de Randamie, who hasn’t fought since beating Holly Holm at UFC 208.
MATCHES TO MAKE: Cyborg vs Nunes/Kunitskaya vs de Randamie
Brian Ortega def. Frankie Edgar via knockout (R1)
The first finish on the main card came in the co-main event as Brian Ortega became the first man in history to finish Frankie Edgar. Ortega took the fight on three weeks’ notice following Holloway’s withdrawal and was the slight underdog heading into the bout despite coming off four straight finishes. ‘T-City’ caught ‘The Answer’ with a huge elbow strike before landing a vicious uppercut to end the contest and continue his unbeaten streak.
The win should give him a shot at UFC gold against the reigning featherweight champion, Max Holloway. Ortega has finished all five of his UFC fights and is quickly emerging as one of the UFC’s biggest stars. Holloway vs Ortega is a dream matchup for fans. UFC Hawaii anyone?
Both men should be applauded for agreeing to the short-notice fight, but a title shot slipping out of his grasp will add insult to injury for Edgar. Unwilling to withdraw and disappoint fans, Edgar pays the price. Jeremy Stephens took his knockout total in 2018 to two following his win over Josh Emmett and a rematch with ‘The Answer’ makes perfect sense with the winner likely to get a shot at the belt.
MATCHES TO MAKE: Ortega vs Holloway/Edgar vs Stephens
Sean O’Malley def. Andre Soukhamthath via unanimous decision (29-27, 29-27, 29-28)
One of the UFC’s most popular rising prospects, Sean O’Malley, welcomed the UFC 222 crowd to the ‘Sugar Show’ with a unanimous decision victory over Andre Soukhamthath. A graduate of Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, O’Malley’s diverse striking attacks caused plenty of problems for his opponent. A foot injury in round three could have ended the bout but Soukhamthath pursued a finish on the ground despite his opponent being unable to stand.
O’Malley told Joe Rogan in his post-fight interview, while on the ground that he was unable to feel his foot meaning his return to action will depend on the extent of his injury. Nevertheless, it’s clear the UFC have a star in the making on their hands. Tom Duquesnoy fights Terrion Ware at UFC London later in the month and could be a good matchup for O’Malley if he is victorious.
Soukhamthath will be disappointed when re-watching the fight that he did not force the action back to the feet. His next fight could be against Aiemann Zahabi who last fought at UFC 217 when he picked up the first loss of his professional career against Ricardo Ramos.
MATCHES TO MAKE: O’Malley vs Duquesnoy/Soukhamthath vs Zahabi
Andrei Arlovski def. Stefan Struve via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
After five losses in a row, it seemed former UFC heavyweight champion, Andrei Arlovski’s illustrious career was coming to an end. However, now training with American Top Team, ‘The Pitbull’ followed up his win over Junior Albini with a dominant decision victory over Stefan Struve. Arlovski added new weapons to his arsenal, landing more takedowns against Struve than in his entire UFC career.
Arlovski wants to hold championship gold again and looks reinvigorated after making many changes to his game. His next opponent could be Marcin Tybura who recently lost to Derrick Lewis at UFC Austin. Tybura has lost his last two bouts and would pose a tough test for the 39-year-old.
On the other hand, Struve is now 1-3 in his last four fights after failing to get his offence going against the former champion. His inability to effectively use his reach again proved to be his downfall, and the Dutchman needs to change up his game in his next outing. The heavyweight division is scarce at the moment, but ‘Skyscraper’ could face Tai Tuivasa who recently knocked out Cyril Asker at UFC 221. A win over a prospect like Tuivasa would get Struve back on track while giving the Australian the chance to add a highly respectable name to his knockout reel.
MATCHES TO MAKE: Arlovski vs Tybura/Struve vs Tuivasa
Ketlen Vieira def. Cat Zingano via split decision (29-28, 28,29, 29-28)
The main card began in the women’s bantamweight division with Cat Zingano returning to action following a two-year layoff to face rising prospect Ketlen Vieira. Zingano’s toughness was evident, but Vieira was ultimately too much to handle as she cruised to a decision victory.
Vieira wants a title shot, but she should face Holly Holm next. ‘The Preachers Daughter’ last fought at UFC 219 when she was defeated by Cyborg during her second attempt at winning the featherweight title. She is the #1 contender at bantamweight but needs a win to move into title contention. Vieira moves to 10-0 following the victory and victory over Holm should grant her the title shot she craves.
Zingano’s return to the octagon was unsuccessful, but ‘Alpha’ proved just how tough she was yet again. She is now 0-3 in her last three fights and desperately needs a win in her next contest. Bethe Correia has not fought since being knocked out by Holm and could be the perfect opponent.
MATCHES TO MAKE: Vieira vs Holm/Zingano vs Correia
What matches would you like to see be made following UFC 222?