MMA Review: #635: UFC 222: Cyborg vs. Kunitskaya

-It’s not often that a UFC show gets improved by last-minute changes, but that was the case here – a weak card headlined by Max Holloway vs. Frankie Edgar was switched up when Holloway was forced out, and so we ended up with a cool-sounding Cris Cyborg main event co-headlined by Edgar against top contender Brian Ortega. Hey, at least the co-main was no longer Andrei Arlovski vs. Stefan Struve, no offense!

UFC 222: Cyborg vs. Kunitskaya

03/03/18
Las Vegas, Nevada

-Your hosts are Jon Anik, Joe Rogan and Daniel Cormier. The show opens with a tribute to longtime UFC producer Bruce Connal who passed away before the show and Rogan is literally in tears at this, evidently the guy was a great person.

Women’s Bantamweight Fight: Cat Zingano vs Ketlen Vieira

Despite not having won a fight since September 2014 and having been on the shelf since UFC 200 in July 2016, most fans – myself included – still saw Zingano as a possible title contender given she was the last woman to defeat current champ Amanda Nunes. She was faced with the unbeaten Vieira – coming off a tapout win over Sara McMann – here with the winner likely in line for a title shot at some point. Despite Vieira looking excellent in her UFC career thus far I couldn’t pick against Cat – one of my favourite UFC fighters.

First round begins and Cat pushes forward swinging punches, but Vieira lands a decent right hand counter to slow her right down. She wades into the clinch with a knee and they jockey for position, then break quickly. Takedown attempt from Zingano is blocked and she continues to wing punches, but she looks a bit rusty to me and eats a couple more counters. They clinch again and Cat lands a couple of knees to the body, but Vieira breaks off. Exchange continues and Vieira tags her with some more counters, but Cat takes her down. Vieira springs back up instantly though and the exchange continues. Nice body kick and an overhand right land for Zingano. More good strikes get through for Cat and they continue to exchange in and out of the clinch. Nice knees from Zingano but Vieira keeps pushing forward and she hits a nice trip into guard. She moves right into half-guard too and then looks for mount, pinning Cat’s legs down. Cat does enough to prevent the full mount but she can’t get out from under the Brazilian, and the round ends with Vieira on top. 10-9 Vieira largely for the last minute or so of top control.

Second round and Cat opens with some kicks that glance off their target before landing a left hand. She lunges into the clinch, but Vieira hits a beautiful hip throw right into mount. Zingano rolls and gives her back, and she’s in deep trouble as it looks like Vieira’s setting up an arm triangle. Zingano does an excellent job of defending though and kicks her away with an upkick, but she’s still stuck firmly on her back. She kicks at Vieira’s legs, but the Brazilian quickly drops back down into the half-guard to control her again. Action slows down as Vieira seems content just to hold Zingano down, but again she kicks the Brazilian away. She still fails to stand, though, and Vieira continues to work from top position. Round ends just as Cat attempts a reversal. Clear 10-9 for Vieira and Zingano likely needs a finish.

Third round and Cat opens with a BIG head kick and she clearly knows she’s got to get the finish. Couple of punches tag Vieira, but she lands a low kick that seems to hurt her own foot and Vieira takes her down when she appears to be in pain. That didn’t look good at all for Cat. She gets to full guard, and then manages to kick Vieira away again, but Vieira drops down into side mount. Cat keeps trying to get out from underneath, but Vieira’s top game is excellent even if she isn’t doing too much damage. Crowd begin to boo with about two minutes to go, and then suddenly Zingano turns things around with a foot sweep, popping up to take the back and land some big punches! Crowd go CRAZY as she works with some knees from the clinch, but Vieira forces her into the cage. She’s looking tired though and continues to eat knees, and with less than a minute to go the ref calls a break. Zingano comes forward swinging, and tags Vieira with some strikes before Vieira manages to tie her up. Round ends with Zingano landing the better shots from the clinch. 10-9 Zingano, but 29-28 Vieira overall.

Official scores are 29-28 Vieira, 29-28 Zingano (?) and 29-28 for Ketlen Vieira to win the split decision. Well, I’m about as big a fan of Zingano as you’ll find and even I can’t work out how she could’ve won two rounds there. Awful judging and thankfully the right woman won in the end. Good fight overall although there were some slow parts with Vieira not doing a lot from the top. It felt like Cat was just too rusty to really get off with any significant offense until it was too late, which makes sense given her layoff. I worry about whether all the injuries have just robbed her of her prime, but I think she could be okay if she can get back into action quickly. As for Vieira it’s onwards and upwards although I can’t see her getting a straight title shot off this win unfortunately.

Heavyweight Fight: Andrei Arlovski vs Stefan Struve

Somehow this was initially pegged as the co-main event despite Arlovski having won just one fight in his last six and Struve not having won at all since October 2016. With both men being glass cannons for the most part it was anyone’s guess as to who would win, so I was just hoping for something exciting.

Round One begins and they exchange leg kicks and holy shit Struve dwarfs Arlovski. Nice low kick wobbles Struve and Andrei is showing a lot of movement. They continue to exchange low kicks and some punches that don’t really connect cleanly, before Arlovski times a nice overhand right. Clinch from Andrei follows and he trips Struve down to half-guard. Big pop for that for some reason. Arlovski decides to stand over him and kick the legs, and then he lets Struve to his feet. Inside leg kick connects for Andrei. Big combo from Struve backs Arlovski up, but he clinches and trips him right back down to stop that. Never seen Arlovski work takedowns like this before. Again he stands over Struve rather than remain in the guard, and Herb Dean decides to call the Dutchman up to his feet. Couple of left hands glance for Arlovski before Struve tries a flying knee, only for Arlovski to clinch again. They jockey for position with thirty seconds to go, and the action ends with another Arlovski trip takedown. 10-9 Arlovski.

Round Two and Arlovski opens with some glancing punches as he tries to get inside the reach of Struve. Couple of sweeping right hands land for Andrei and they clinch up and jockey for position again. Beautiful takedown from Arlovski puts Struve down in guard again, and this time Andrei lands a couple of solid shots before Struve looks for a sweep. He switches off to a heel hook attempt, but Andrei seems okay and they go into 50/50 position before Struve sneaks into top position. He works to take Arlovski’s back from there, landing some punches from behind as Arlovski turtles, but the former champ works to his feet. Suplex attempt by Struve is blocked by a fence grab (boo!) but Herb Dean gives him a warning. Good job from Arlovski to turn into Struve in the clinch, and from there he hits a knee-tap to land some decent shots before Struve pops up. One minute to go and they remain clinched, but Herb Dean calls a break. Combo glances for Arlovski from the restart but he apparently takes an eye poke and Herb calls time. They restart and exchange kicks, and the round ends there. Very close round to call but I’d probably go 10-9 Struve I think.

Round Three and they trade leg kicks with Struve getting the better of it. He gets forced back by a combo, though. Heavy leg kick from Struve is countered by a right hand, but then Struve fires back with a hard right hand of his own. Exchange continues with both men landing some decent but not too damaging blows. Looks like Arlovski’s slightly getting the better of it, but it’s close. Andrei clinches again, but the action slows down and then they break with Arlovski using an eye poke. Crowd are pissed off with that one. Herb calls time again as the replay confirms the foul, and the doctors come in to check Struve over. He’s good to go and they restart, with both men landing some nice low kicks. This is a tricky fight to score. Big overhand right lands for Arlovski to counter a low kick, but Struve takes it well. Nasty leg kick connects for Struve. Exchange continues before Andrei looks for another trip, but Struve blocks it only to find himself thrown down. Side mount for Arlovski and if he can keep this position then he probably wins. Struve works back up to his feet though, and they exchange in the closing seconds of the fight. 10-9 Arlovski for a 29-28 win.

Judges have it 29-28, 29-28 and 30-27 all for Andrei Arlovski. I was expecting another split decision there with at least one judge giving the last two rounds to Struve, but I think the right guy won so fair enough. This was much, MUCH better on a rewatch actually as the pace never got too slow, both men got their shots in and while neither man came close to a finish it was nice to see Arlovski adding new wrinkles to his game like the takedowns and low kicks. Guess he isn’t done just yet! Overall this was a perfectly acceptable Heavyweight fight in my opinion.

Bantamweight Fight: Sean O’Malley vs Andre Soukhamthath

This was young prospect O’Malley’s second UFC outing following his December win over Terrion Ware, and there was quite a lot of hype around him coming into this one as he’d looked excellent in that fight. Soukhamthath was coming off a win over Luke Sanders, but I couldn’t see the UFC setting O’Malley up to lose and picked him to pull off the victory.

First round begins and both men circle and throw out some feints before O’Malley hurts Soukhamthath with a low kick. Wheel kick misses for O’Malley who is showing a bunch of odd movement in the early going. Nice step-in right hand lands for Soukhamthath. O’Malley keeps pushing forward though and he lands a few more kicks. Soukhamthath appears to be struggling with the length and reach. Spinning backfist into a high kick from O’Malley is followed by another head kick, and he shrugs off a takedown attempt. O’Malley is looking excellent. Right hand lands well for him. One minute to go and O’Malley continues to pick at Soukhamthath from the outside, and a big right hand has Soukhamthath in trouble! Spinning kick glances for O’Malley and he pours it on with another right and a couple more kicks. Soukhamthath is wobbly here. He goes on the run to avoid some more offense, but gets stunned by another right hand and he looks out on his feet. More shots from O’Malley end the round. Pretty clear round for Sean O’Malley. Maybe a 10-8 in fact.

Second round and Soukhamthath comes out swinging, backing O’Malley up, but a big overhand right connects for O’Malley to slow that down. Good leg kick lands for Soukhamthath. Couple of left hands land for O’Malley and he looks super confident. More shots land for O’Malley before he goes to the ground on his back following a scramble. Triangle attempt follows immediately though and it looks sunk in. He can’t quite lock up the knee and the foot to finish it though and Soukhamthath manages to survive despite not really defending it correctly. O’Malley switches off to an armbar instead, but Soukhamthath manages to shake his way free and lands in side mount. O’Malley works back to full guard and Soukhamthath doesn’t do a lot from the top, until O’Malley uses a guillotine attempt to sweep into top position. Scramble leads O’Malley to stand with Soukhamthath kneeling, and a soccer kick to the body drops him to his back. Seconds to go and O’Malley stands over him, then drops into side mount before taking the back. Choke follows, but he can’t sink it before the round ends. 10-9 O’Malley and this is a whitewash thus far.

Third round and Soukhamthath pushes forward again and lunges for a takedown. O’Malley works to defend it and they muscle for position, before O’Malley breaks and lands a front kick to the body. Couple more body shots from O’Malley and he dodges a big swing before backing Soukhamthath up with some more strikes. Head kick lands for O’Malley but his foot looks hurt and he’s hopping around. Low kick almost puts O’Malley down, but for some reason Soukhamthath follows with a takedown! Why would he do that? It looked like O’Malley might’ve been done there. Instead he does very little from the top despite almost getting full mount. Side mount now for Soukhamthath and he controls O’Malley but still doesn’t do much damage. O’Malley works back to his feet, and as they separate he literally can’t put any weigh on his right leg. Soukhamthath takes him down AGAIN though rather than just backing up and allowing a stoppage! That’s some terrible decision making. O’Malley again works back to his feet, landing a nice spinning elbow, but Soukhamthath gets him down again, ignoring his cornermen, who scream at him to let O’Malley up. Round instead ends with Soukhamthath on top and goes to him, but it’s 29-27 O’Malley overall for me.

Post-fight O’Malley can’t even get up as he’s in FUCKING AGONY with an apparent broken foot, which makes it even more ridiculous that Soukhamthath didn’t just let the guy stand and show he couldn’t continue. It would’ve been a TKO for Soukhamthath! Judges indeed go 29-27, 29-27 and 29-28 for Sean O’Malley, who proceeds to CUT A PROMO FROM ON HIS BACK and still shows more charisma than 90% of the whole roster despite being in serious pain. This dude is going to be a STAR if he keeps on winning so hopefully he does. Fun fight with some all-time bad gameplanning from Soukhamthath, but thankfully the right guy won in the end.

Featherweight Fight: Frankie Edgar vs Brian Ortega

As mentioned in the introduction this should’ve been Frankie’s title shot against Max Holloway, but credit to the guy when Holloway went down with an injury rather than wait he accepted this fight against the clear next guy in line in Ortega, who’d choked out Cub Swanson in December. This was a big step up in competition for Ortega, but I was rooting for him to somehow pull off the win, as Holloway/Ortega is a better fight to me than Holloway/Edgar.

Round One begins and Edgar pushes forward, putting Ortega on the defensive right away with his movement. Few nice combinations from Edgar back Ortega up, and he’s putting a ton of pressure on T-City right away. Ortega seems to be having trouble getting any kind of timing down. Head kick glances for Edgar and he follows with a right hand over the top. Couple more right hands connect for Edgar as he continues to dance around on the outside. Edgar continues to pick at him while making him miss, but Ortega still looks pretty calm. Pair of head kicks from Ortega are returned by a combo from Edgar. Flying kick glances for Ortega. One minute to go and Edgar lands a beautiful clean combination. Low kick from Ortega is caught but he goes for a guillotine, and that’s enough to force Edgar to quickly back out. Edgar continues to stick and move, landing his jab, but suddenly he walks into a HARD LEFT ELBOW and it wobbles his legs! BIG SHOTS follow for Ortega and then he grabs the back of the head and delivers a VICIOUS UPPERCUT that KNOCKS FRANKIE SILLY! Hammer fists are academic and it’s ALL OVER.

That was incredible – it looked like Edgar was comfortably picking Ortega apart from the outside but once he got hurt by that elbow, Ortega just showed insane killer instinct to become the first guy to ever put Frankie away. The ending uppercut looked like Francis Ngannou’s knockout of Alistair Overeem even. T-City might be *the* most dangerous man in the UFC right now pound-for-pound as not only does he always find a way to win, he always seems to find a way to finish his opponent too. Part of me feels bad for Edgar missing on his title shot but whatever, Holloway/Ortega is a better fight anyway. Might be my most anticipated one of the year now actually.

UFC Women’s World Featherweight Title: Cris Cyborg vs Yana Kunitskaya

With all of the weird contract negotiation tactics she tends to pull I never expected Cris Cyborg to be the type of fighter to bail the UFC out on a show like this, but there you go, I guess she’s a company woman now! Challenger Kunitskaya was a bit bigger than Cyborg’s usual foes but given she’d split fights with Tonya Evinger – who Cyborg destroyed in 2017 – I couldn’t see her being a real test and figured this would be a classic Cyborg squash.

Fight begins and Kunitskaya opens with a front kick, but gets stunned by a pair of overhand rights and has to dive for a takedown. Surprisingly enough she gets Cyborg down, managing to get into top position and from there she takes the back as Cyborg scrambles to her feet. Two hooks in and the crowd go crazy, but Cyborg stands and shakes the hooks off. They clinch up and Kunitskaya looks to get her down again, landing some knees to the legs and body, and she does a good job of controlling the champ too. She can’t get Cyborg down again though and the champ separates with a right hand. Body shot follows and a combo drops the challenger face-first. Looks like she’s in trouble as she tries to grab for a leg, but Cyborg’s having none of that and she gets top position and then lets her stand. Kunitskaya throws some front kicks to try to keep Cyborg at distance, but she takes another hard overhand right that puts her down, and some huge shots on the ground seal the deal there.

Fun fight – Kunitskaya actually did well early on with the takedown and clinch work, but she just wilted under the power of Cyborg once she got hit and it was all over. Can’t fault Kunitskaya’s effort though and hopefully the UFC keeps her around. Despite the stench of PEDs still surrounding Cyborg she is getting a Mike Tyson-type aura around her now and I just hope the UFC looks to match her with a proper 145lber – Megan Anderson – next rather than looking to make the Amanda Nunes superfight, because why have one of your champs lose when it won’t draw any better than a regular Cyborg match?

-Show ends as the announcers wrap up the action, discuss the upcoming UFC 223 (AWESOME CARD) and then pay another tribute to Bruce Connal.

Final Thoughts….

Show started off a bit slowly with the decent but not great Vieira/Zingano and Struve/Arlovski fights, but everything from Sean O’Malley’s fantastic performance onwards was pretty great here. Best thing on show was of course Brian Ortega’s incredible finish of Frankie Edgar, of course. It’s a thumbs up for this one then, definitely a card worth checking out at some point if you missed it.

Best Fight: Ortega vs. Edgar
Worst Fight: Arlovski vs. Struve

Overall Rating: ****

Until next time,

Scott Newman:
NewmanMMA@gmail.com