UFC 222 marks the end of a consecutive eight-week stint of UFC events and the crescendo is a PPV event that is geared towards the possibility of new stars being created.
In the main event, the greatest women’s fighter of all time will look to defend her UFC featherweight title yet again as Cris ‘Cyborg’ takes on the former Invicta FC bantamweight champion Yana Kunitskaya. Supporting the late notice title fight is one of the most interesting bouts of the year as veteran Frankie Edgar squares off against the rising prospect Brian Ortega in the co-main event.
The rest of the main card is filled with competitive match-ups but the preliminary card is one of the best in recent memories. Bryan Caraway vs. Cody Stamann, John Dodson vs. Pedro Munhoz and Ashley Yoder vs. Mackenzie Dern are the biggest and most interesting bouts outside of the PPV portion but a special mention is needed for the retirement bout of Mike Pyle. Pyle’s career started in 1999 against ‘Rampage’ Jackson and 19 years later, the 42-year old will hang them up against Zak Ottow under the bright lights of Las Vegas, Nevada.
Cristiane ‘Cyborg’ Justino (19-1, 1 NC) vs Yana Kunitskaya (10-3, 1 NC)
As is the case for 99% of Cyborg’s fights, it’s hard to see a path for victory of her opponent outside of hoping she has hit the wall in her career.
In her last bout against Holly Holm, the toughest test of her career, the Brazilian passed with flying colours and proved she was more than a power puncher. Under the tutelage of Jason Parillo, Cyborg’s striking has become better and better and her ring cutting was exemplary against Kunitskaya’s training partner.
Kunitskaya will have the advantage over previous Cyborg opponents of being physically similar in size but there’s little else that can be comparable in terms of skills. The Russian fighter has decent kicks and grappling but her entries are too linear for someone of the talent of Cyborg.
Expect nothing less than a dominant showing from the champion.
Pick: Cristiane ‘Cyborg’ Justino
Frankie Edgar (22-5-1) vs Brian Ortega (13-0, 1 NC)
I think the fact that this fight is three rounds as opposed to five plays a big factor.
Over 25 minutes, Ortega’s window and ability to jump on a submission is greater so, over the shorter period, he’ll have to adapt and learn much quicker against the best opponent of his career.
Frankie Edgar is the more well-rounded out of the two but ‘The Answer’ is 36-years-old and susceptible to taking damage. Ortega will have to capitalise on scrambles to win this bout but with Edgar’s fight IQ, it’d be a surprise to see the New Jersey native give too much rope to hang himself.
It’ll no doubt be the toughest fight of Ortega’s career on Saturday night and with Edgar’s style and ability to shine in every facet of MMA, I think the former lightweight champion can exploit ‘T-City’s’ porous striking defence en route to a decision
Pick: Frankie Edgar
Sean O’Malley (9-0) vs Andre Soukhamthath (12-5)
This is a tough fight for the highly touted O’Malley.
Soukhamthath could have easily gone 3-0 in his UFC career thus far and he’s a talented striker who can fight both on the front foot and on the counter.
O’Malley, however, is the definition of a gung-ho striker. He throws an exorbitant amount of strikes of every type in the hope of a finishing blow.
As for a prediction, I think O’Malley’s volume and style will court favour with the judges but the 23-year-old will tire and face a battle to survive in the final stanza.
Pick: Sean O’Malley
Stefan Struve (28-9) vs Andrei Arlovski (26-15, 1 NC)
Arlovksi dis a good job in his last fight against Junior ‘Big Baby’ Albini to put an end to a five-fight skid but his chin is still extremely suspect.
The same criticisms can be levelled at Struve however but the Dutch fighter certainly has more paths to victory than the former champion standing across from him.
It’s a heavyweight lottery but I’ve been impressed more frequently and more recently with ‘The Skyscraper’.
Pick: Stefan Struve
Cat Zingano (9-2) vs Ketlen Vieira (9-0)
Zingano hasn’t fought since UFC 200 and hasn’t won a fight since 2014.
Zingano to her credit is the more aggressive and dominant fighter when she is in form but Vieira has been active and improving with each bout.
It’s simply too much of an ask to see Zingano return from injuries and inactivity to defeat the Brazilian over 15 minutes.
Pick: Ketlen Vieira
(Last Predictions: 2/4, Total: 19/34, 56% Success Rate)
(2017: 60% Success Rate)