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UFC 219: Holm vs Cyborg - Winners and Losers

2017 ends with a UFC card for the dedicated fan.

Media Day: Press Conference with UFC Featherweight Champion Cris Cyborg Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images

After a tumultuous year that could very well be the most circus/sideshow-filled in recent memory, the UFC finally ends 2017 in a discreet manner. Not much promotion was really rolled out for this, and in other times it could perhaps be even seen as something of a love letter to hardcore fans.

Headlined by a women’s title fight featuring two competitors with impressive resumes, the card had a very anticipated lightweight fight with title implications and the return of Carlos Condit. The expectations for the action-hungry fan were healthy for Hooker vs Diakiese and a possible coming out party for rising talent Cynthia Calvillo. On paper, it looked like a very promising affair. In practice, it was more measured card that had some great moments, but not the kind of “going out with a bang“ that the UFC may have hoped for to end the year as they’ve attempted in the past.

Now, that’s not a complaint. Every time you order an event, you’re rolling the dice. This was a good event hindered by higher expectations, which is not unusual in this sport. Some items of significance took place, though. Let’s focus on those spots here.

Winners

Cris Cyborg - This was an important fight, because Cyborg was facing what was undoubtedly the best opponent in her career. What we got was a solid back and forth battle that ended with a decision closer than many thought it would be. In fact, a lot of fans and media thought Cyborg would just crush Holm as she’s done to so many over her long and storied career. Cris looked crisp and had some beautiful violence to dish out with slick boxing and movement, and made Holm pay with some brutal counters. For someone that had an entire division made specifically for her, she made the absolute most of it in this fight with a worthy rival and opponent in Holm. She netted herself a comfy payday in the process, which throws a wrench into the reasoning of everyone that’s claimed her management hasn’t been effective. All around, she had to dig in deep to win and ends up on top in all respects here.

Khabib Nurmagomedov - This was a proper mauling. Not as bad as the Abel Trujillo drubbing or latter portions of the Michael Johnson fight, but it was rough. Khabib’s sheer force of will seems to be a perpetual engine to ruin opposition, and he really tested Barboza’s resolve here. What I truly found surprising was that he’d find such success early with the takedowns and pressure and that Edson wasn’t better equipped to handle that. The only bad thing about this situation is looking at Nurmagomedov’s options from here. He’s probably not fighting McGregor (whenever he comes back, if at all), and will have to likely finally face Tony Ferguson in the match that seems destined to never happen. Even then, it’ll be for an interim belt that continues to feel more legitimate than the actual belt, it’s not the major event that both Ferguson and Nurmagomedov deserve of fighting the actual champion already.

Neil Magny - Magny’s output and forward pressure made the difference, and was able to repeatedly take down Condit with bodylock takedowns. I was totally wrong about Condit’s takedown defense here, as I underestimated Magny’s abilities on that front. He bounces back from his submission loss to Rafael dos Anjos this past September, a loss that looks a lot better in retrospect given dos Anjos’ success.

Carla Esparza - Never count Carla out. The loss to Joanna Jedrzejczyk continues to color the perception of Esparza’s skills, and it shouldn’t. She handed her opponent her first professional defeat and racks up her second straight win.

Tim Elliott - Another day, another scrappy submission win for Elliott. Despite the shenanigans that led to the cancellation of his last fight, he had a fun, scrambly match against a very game opponent to get the tap in the end to recover from that loss to Ben Nguyen back in June.

Myles Jury - After consecutive losses to Donald Cerrone and Charles Oliveira, Jury’s gotten himself into two good back to back wins against Mike de la Torre and former WSOF champ Rick Glenn. As a mostly standup affair, Jury used his timing, movement and output to get the judges’ nod.

Daniel Hooker - While the first round was not anything to write home about, Hooker slapped on a great finish to end up with his first two consecutive wins in his UFC career.

Michal Oleksiejczuk - That was a bold performance. After surviving a hard first round in which he ate some power shots, Oleksiejczuk attacked the body relentlessly and it paid off. Slowing down Rountree led to him capitalizing later with combinations and the eventual takedown to control. He showed a ton of heart and fought smarter after getting clocked, which will serve him well in this division.

Matheus Nicolau - At age 24, Nicolau now works his way to his third straight win. He’s showing evolution in his game that has led to improving his takedowns, but his striking really looked fluid here as well.

Losers

Edson Barboza - While still a solid top ten fighter, Barboza didn’t have many answers to Khabib’s game until he began to go to the body in the second and third rounds. It slowed Nurmagomedov down, but not enough to make a major difference. Edson got dragged into quicksand and could have ended up with a title shot (although at lightweight, who knows what that would look like - see above). Instead, he’s likely to stay entrenched in the middle of the top ten pack and continue to be a threat.

Carlos Condit - After a year out of commission, Condit just looked... old. I don’t mean to disparage the man, especially with everything he’s done and gone through. His head movement was great, and he was able to get some action going, but he still seemed more passive than before. Getting taken down repeatedly and not gaining much ground from guard really hurt him on the scorecards as well. That’s also his third straight loss, and nobody would fault him at all if he decided to call it a career after this. He’s still got some fight in him, but I seriously doubt that’s the wise choice to make here.

Marc Diakiese - Even with an exciting and dynamic style, I wonder if Diakiese’s been figured out. Hooker barely bit at any of the feints and setups that Marc went with early, then got submitted later on in the third. Maybe Hooker was ready to deal with some of his tendencies, or maybe it was a bad and strange night at the office. That’s two straight losses in a talent-rich division, which doesn’t spell trouble for now. His next outing should tell us a lot. Bonus points for the walkout, though. That was dope.

As much as I hate having to say this, looks like Louis Smolka’s getting cut. 5-5 in the UFC with four straight losses might just lead to getting his pink slip. Khalil Rountree got outworked after eating a ton of body shots, which he consistently failed to defend against. Rountree drops to 2-3 in his UFC run, but may stick around due to the dearth of talent at 205 and the athleticism and fun that Rountree brings to the table.

Neither

Holly Holm - Bear with me here - yes, she lost. Yes, she’s now 1-4 since the Rousey win. But she gave Cyborg a hell of a fight, and almost won the damn thing on the scorecards. Is it entirely unreasonable that these two end up having a rematch relatively soon? I don’t know how likely it is, but it’s certainly possible. Suppose she drops back to bantamweight, do you really think she’s not fighting for a title after one more win? Wins and losses don’t matter as much as they used to when you’re at a certain level in this sport, and Holm didn’t really have anywhere near as much to lose as Cyborg did. She took her lumps and acquitted herself well, got a decent payday and has her pick as to what to do next. Besides, it’s not like there’s a wealth of featherweights that the UFC can use their marketing (ugh, I know) to push. If you take a step back, you’ll see this doesn’t affect her that much.

Cynthia Calvillo - For her first professional loss, Calvillo didn’t look bad at all. She had great use of her jab, got a great takedown to start things off in the first and held her own against a more experienced opponent. She loses nothing here other than a win bonus, and will only continue to improve.

Rick Glenn - With a UFC record of 2-2, Glenn’s hit a rough patch in the UFC’s featherweight ranks. While still improving even at the age of 29, a loss to a more established fighter like Jury shouldn’t really do much to his standing in the division.

Omari Akhmedov and Marvin Vettori - Akhmedov came into this fight with back to back wins, and Vettori came into it with a 2-1 UFC record. Considering how nebulous everything outside of the top ten is at middleweight, this doesn’t do any damage to either fighter.

Mark De La Rosa - Bumblebee came in on short notice and gave Tim Elliott a few spots of trouble in his UFC debut. There’s far worse people to lose to, and I’m not gonna knock a guy with as much potential as him in his UFC debut.

And one more thing - due to scheduling conflicts this may be the last Winners and Losers I do for a long while, or possibly ever. I’ve been doing most of these pieces for most of the last two years and love doing them, so it makes me a bit sad to stop doing them. Either way, Thanks to all that have enjoyed this run, and even to those that haven’t. Don’t worry, the piece will continue just as it was before I did them. It was here before me, and will continue on with other great folks that work here.