UFC 222 is a card that has been kind of overlooked due to the buzz that has been surrounding UFC 223 but upon closer inspection, you will see that there are more than a few reasons to tune in.
It might seem as a non-factor, despite its position as the night’s main event, but Cristiane ‘Cyborg’ Justino cannot afford to overlook the challenge her opponent Yana Kunitskaya will present to her when the octagon doors close.
We all know exactly how good Cyborg is and how she will more-than-likely have the edge on Kunitskaya in every facet of her skill set but this is MMA, and to ignore the possibility of a shocking upset would simply be ridiculous. We’ve seen it before, people. It may seem like a mismatch on paper, but if indeed the massive underdog Kunitskaya managed to do the unthinkable and dethrone the dominant Brazilian, could you live with yourself if you missed it?
At the very least, we’ll get another finish and with it, further proof that Cyborg is the very best female mixed martial artist on the planet.
With the somewhat underwhelming fight for the 145lb belt out of the way, the real reasons to tune in on Saturday night are plentiful.
At first, he was set for a spot in the main event, but when an injury befell the featherweight champion, Max Holloway, Frankie Edgar was forced to take a fight against one of the sport’s most dynamic grapplers.
Brian Ortega, up until recently, might not have been a name that jumped off the page at anyone who wasn’t deeply engrossed in all things MMA, but after his truly stunning second-round submission victory over Cub Swanson, the name ‘T-City’ became synonymous with this Rener Gracie black-belt.
It’s the savvy veteran skills of the legendary Edgar against the raw, exciting talent of the unbeaten Ortega and while the night’s top-billed fight is for the women’s featherweight title, make no mistake, this is the matchup that the fans are most eager to see underway.
Down the card, a pair of the UFC’s most highly-touted prospects make their first respective appearances on a PPV event, with ‘Suga’ Sean O’Malley being the first. He may not have seen all too much in the way of top-level competition up until this point, but O’Malley’s height, diverse striking attack and overall gutsiness made him an instant hit with the fans when he was spotted first on an episode of Dana White: Looking For A Fight.
On paper and from what we’ve seen so far, it does appear as though he has it all – the skills, the look and the confidence – but with an opponent like Andre Soukhamthath in front of him, we’ll get a real indication of what stage of his development he is at.
Mackenzie Dern is the second prospect who will compete on Saturday’s card and despite the fact that this will stand as her UFC debut, she has already been described as having some of the finest Brazilian jiu-jitsu in the sport.
The UFC have been known, in the past, to put a few too many eggs in a basket or two that might not fully deserve it, (we’re looking at you Paige VanZant), but in Dern, they could well have a world-beater on their hands. She faces Ashley Yoder on the last bout of the prelims.
Two heavyweights who don’t appear to be going anywhere fast meet on the main card as the legendary Andrei Arlovski meets ‘The Skyscraper’ Stefan Struve. Sure, neither man is about to set the division alight and make a push at the title at this stage of their respective careers but with both chins well on their way towards full-deterioration, do not be surprised to see a nasty finish, one way or another.
Bantamweight will see four of its very best outside of the top five compete across a pair of bouts that should make the pool of contenders a bit more clear-cut when all is said and done. The former two-time flyweight title challenger John Dodson still stands as the only man to knock out the current champion TJ Dillashaw, but in a matchup against the much larger Pedro Munhoz he’ll have to be at his very best.
Bryan Caraway hasn’t competed in MMA in just under two years but with the 16-1 Cody Stamann looking to spoil his return, he will no doubt be thrown straight into the deep-end. Stamann managed to steal some considerable wind from the sails of the highly-rated French prospect Tom Duquesnoy in his last outing, a true upset given the hype surrounding his opponent and with Caraway’s position just shy of the top five, look to the winner of this one to make some serious strides towards a title challenge.
In another long-awaited comeback, the longtime contender Cat Zingano will finally make her return to the women’s bantamweight division. Her last two fights, a pair of losses against Julianna Pena and Ronda Rousey, may not have shown ‘Alpha Cat’ in the best of lights but with finish wins over Miesha Tate, Raquel Pennington and the current champion Amanda Nunes, one would hope that she manages to put her best foot forward with a good showing against the unbeaten Ketlen Vieira.
Elsewhere, the retirement fight of the veteran Mike Pyle, the return of Beneil Dariush and a fun scrap between Hector Lombard and C. B Dolloway can be found, and while the card as a whole may lack the glitz and glamour of April’s UFC 222, there are more than enough reasons to be found in its selection of fights to tune in when Saturday night comes around.
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena