Cris Cyborg makes one of the shortest turnarounds in her career when she puts her UFC featherweight championship on the line vs Yana Kunitskaya at UFC 222 on March 3. Cyborg will enter this main event as one of the biggest favorites the UFC has seen in years.
However, once you get past the lopsided main event, the rest of the main card is stacked with tough-to-call, competitive bouts. At the time of this writing, none of the four fights on the main card outside the title bout has a favorite bigger than -190.
Cris Cyborg vs Yana Kunitskaya
We watch Cyborg (-1600) because she has made a career out of destroying her opponents. Cyborg has always been one of the most aggressive fighters in the business but the featherweight champion has learned to harness that and become more patient. The real meat to her game is the jab, as Cyborg will relentlessly throw the jab out until an opponent feels the need to fire back – then she will counter with quick, fight-ending intentions.
Cyborg is a massive fighter who possesses huge strength for tough clinch battles, though she is technically well served in this area as well. Her natural balance and core strength make takedown attempts typically ineffective.
Yana Kunitskaya (+800) is an unknown to many but she is far from a novice. The challenger has spent her entire life practicing martial arts and has a well-versed striking repertoire thanks to her extensive training in Muay Thai and taekwondo. Kunitskaya does her best work when she can dictate the pace and distance of a fight, working from the outside with her kicks.
In terms of grappling, Kunitskaya is solid but largely relies on her sneaky strength. The technique still has not caught up fully, though there have been noticeable improvements. If Kunitskaya can get top control on the ground, she moves well and has good ground and pound.
To be perfectly frank, this is horribly one-sided. Cyborg is literally better in every area of the game. Kunitskaya is a good add for the new UFC featherweight division but she is nowhere near good enough to beat Cyborg.
Prediction: Cyborg (-1600) via knockout
Frankie Edgar vs Brian Ortega
Frankie Edgar’s (-175) game revolves around his ability to move. His consistently amazing footwork allows Edgar to get into range, throw a quick combination and get out before most opponents can ever react. This footwork also allows Edgar to position himself to shoot in for the takedown. His combination of technique, speed and quickness makes him one of the best wrestlers at featherweight – something that could be missed when he fought at lightweight. Once in top control, Edgar passes with relative ease and has some seriously underappreciated ground and pound.
Brian Ortega (+145) is an aggressive, forward-moving striker who is built to pressure opponents. His technique is still raw – though it’s becoming more refined every time we see him – but he pressures exceptionally well with his feet, keeping his opponent moving back. “T-City” has pop in his hands and will gladly brawl but can be hittable. The real reason Ortega can move forward on the feet is due to his grappling skills. He is not a good wrestler but he is one of the most lethal fighters in the division working from the guard. Ortega might actually prefer if an opponent takes him down, so he can work his exceptional submissions from the back.
Edgar is one of the smartest, most experienced fighters in the UFC and that will likely be the determining factor in this fight. Edgar knows that Ortega loves being on his back but he also knows that T-City won’t have the ability to take him down. Edgar will patiently chip away a victory on the feet.
Prediction: Frankie Edgar (-175) via decision
Sean O’Malley vs Andre Soukhamthath
Sean O’Malley (+115) is a whirling dervish of energy in the Octagon. He is constantly feinting, switching stances and throwing unorthodox strikes in order to keep his opponents off balance. Though exciting to watch, this style requires O’Malley to have the space to move around freely and is taxing on his cardio. A good pressure fighter should be able to take the space away and drain his cardio.
Andre Soukhamthath (-145) is a solid, technical striker who has some pop in his hands. “The Asian Sensation” typically works at distance, preferring to methodically chip away or look for counter-striking opportunities. However, he can be too passive and allow his opponent to dictate the striking exchanges – which is an issue because Soukhamthath is at his best when pushing the action.
Soukhamthath has a real chance of countering O’Malley with the latter keeping his hands far too low in striking exchanges. However, O’Malley is the more aggressive fighter and should easily outpoint Soukhamthath due to his work rate.
Prediction: Sean O’Malley (+115) via decision
Stefan Struve vs Andrei Arlovski
Stefan Struve (-190)is a massive human being who has yet to properly utilize his ridiculous 84.5-inch reach. That’s not to say the Dutchman has not gotten better – especially in using his kicking game to create space – but he can get sucked into brawls far too often. Struve has 17 career victories via submission and is one of the most active fighters in the heavyweight division once a fight goes to the mat.
Andrei Arlovski (+155) is one of the all-time greats in MMA heavyweight history but age is catching up to him. “The Pit Bull” still has lethal speed and power in his hands – specifically his right – but he gets into firefights that his deteriorating chin can no longer sustain. Arlovski has good clinch work and great takedown defense but his grappling is there to keep a fight standing.
Both fighters have a bad tendency to get into brawls, making the likelihood of a short fight very high. This is a heavyweight fight between two opponents with suspect chins, which means I give the edge to the harder puncher – Arlovski.
Prediction: Andrei Arlovski (+155) via knockout
Cat Zingano vs Ketlen Vieira
Cat Zingano (+130) is a solid all-around fighter who has made it to the top thanks to her athleticism and physicality. Though she has good Muay Thai and can strike, Zingano’s best work comes in the grappling game. She was a four-time all-American wrestler in college and has some excellent BJJ skills. That being said, Zingano can struggle if an opponent takes the fight to her.
Ketlen Vieira (-160) is a grappling ace with a black belt in both BJJ and judo. You may forget that because the Brazilian has a tendency to get into brawls. However, when she is not winging bombs, Vieira is aggressively chasing takedowns. No matter what she is doing, she is doing it aggressively. That does make her hittable in striking exchanges, though.
To be honest, Vieira feels like a more well-crafted version of Zingano. Both are fighters who use aggression as the catalyst to initiate their more skilled areas but Vieira is younger, has been far more active and has better grappling credentials.
Prediction: Ketlen Vieira (-160) by decision