The Bloody Elbow staff has made its predictions for UFC 222, and to the surprise of no one, everyone is going with Cris Cyborg to dispatch Yana Kunitskaya in the main event. Only Fraser Coffeen and Harry Davies are picking Brian Ortega to upset Frankie Edgar in the co-main event, which for my money, ought to be five rounds.
Note: Predictions are entered throughout the week and collected the day before the event. Explanations behind each pick are not required and some writers opt not to do so for their own reasons. For example, if Phil Mackenzie entered all of his predictions on Wednesday without adding in any explanations, he has no idea if he’s going to be the only one siding with one fighter for any given fight.
Anton Tabuena: Cyborg’s technique has been so underrated by many, mostly due to her incredible power, but hopefully picking apart Holm makes people finally move on from that “she’s all just brute strength and aggression” narrative. She is just a terrific MMA fighter and I don’t see anyone in the UFC being able to beat her right now.
That being said, Cyborg is 32-years-old, and even if she has been incredibly dominant inside the cage, her body has been already through 13 years of hard training and competing professionally. She will eventually lose as she moves away from her prime -- which would be a shame since she’s only starting to become a bigger star now that the UFC has her division -- but until we actually see signs of her slowing down, there’s really zero reason to pick against Cyborg now. Cris Cyborg by TKO.
Mookie Alexander: It won’t be competitive. Cris Cyborg by TKO, round 1.
Victor Rodriguez: (Long sigh, pregnant pause) …. Fine. I’ll bite. Yana’s got some kicks in her game, but that evaporates as soon as punches are exchanged. Those punches? They’re not great. Her entries to submission are OK, but she often has difficulty finishing them because her grappling is more suited to just grappling as opposed to MMA. That means she’s open to strikes when she attempts a leglock or whatever else. Just… who the hell are we kidding here? Kunitskaya struggled striking against Cindy Dandois, and that was a few years ago. Think about that. Good for her in getting into the UFC, and at least Cyborg’s fighting someone that should have been at 145 for a while. We’re gonna get violence, and it seems everyone sees it coming except Yana. Cris Cyborg by body shot KO.
Fraser Coffeen: I see no reason to justify this. Cris Cyborg, KO, R3
Zane Simon: Kunitskaya enters on straight lines looking for the clinch with her head on line. She’s been hit with obvious wild right hands from slower, less technical strikers. That’s really all you need to know. Cyborg pressures, Kunitskaya steps in, eats right hand. Cris Cyborg via TKO, round 2.
Staff picking Cyborg: Bissell, Nick, Mookie, Phil, Victor, Harry, Stephie, Dayne, Anton, Fraser, Tim, Zane
Staff picking Kunitskaya:
Anton Tabuena: Edgar has to fight smart and avoid scrambles. While that’s usually his strength over most opponents, that’s probably the best (only?) place Ortega can manage to pick up a victory. He can win on the feet and on top as Edgar is mainly the better overall MMA fighter, but he will have to be extra careful on those in-betweens for the duration of the contest. Frankie Edgar by Decision.
Mookie Alexander: It’s the battle between a fighter who has been nearly finished multiple times over and a fighter who routinely finishes fights he’s not winning. Something has to give! Ortega’s dangerous moments are off scrambles. Whatever little openings he can find, he takes. I don’t think Edgar will present him those opportunities. There will be some scares on the feet, but Edgar will get some takedowns, work effectively in guard, and fend off Ortega’s submissions to get the W. Frankie Edgar by unanimous decision.
Phil Mackenzie: What are you even doing on this card, title eliminator between two of the top fighters in one of the UFC’s best divisions? Get outta here. You don’t belong here. Go on... get! *tearfully throws rocks. The fight slinks away, periodically stopping to look back mournfully* Frankie Edgar by unanimous decision.
Fraser Coffeen: Incredible fight here that I am all kinds of excited about. Smart money is on Edgar. He’s insanely durable, impossible to finish, a better striker, wrestler, and all around fighter. Ortega beats him in exactly one area - submission skills. But man, those sub skills. Ortega somehow manages to find a way to win again and again. It’s hard for me to envision exactly how he does it here, but my gut instinct says the kid keeps hat run going. We are yet to see his ceiling - I don’t think we do this time either. Brian Ortega, sub, R3
Victor Rodriguez: I dunno, Brian’s BJJ is going to definitely lead to him slapping on a sub attempt that Frankie hasn’t dealt with before. Edgar’s got the more complete game, and his striking is good enough to keep Ortega at bay. Ortega could certainly catch Edgar with a good shot or two, but not hard enough to turn the tide of the fight. Frankie Edgar by decision.
Zane Simon: I really want to pick Ortega, just because I don’t think Edgar will go 15 minutes without working his takedown/top game, and Ortega can likely catch just about anyone. But, Edgar is an incredibly well schooled, thinking fighter, especially with his wrestling. He uses soft shots to find defensive gaps that he can exploit later in fights to get takedowns right into dominant control positions. Add in that Ortega still has too many bad habits standing to win kickboxing rounds with ease, and Edgar should be able to fight his fight. Frankie Edgar by decision.
Staff picking Edgar: Bissell, Nick, Mookie, Phil, Stephie, Dayne, Anton, Tim, Victor, Zane
Staff picking Ortega: Harry, Fraser
Anton Tabuena: I am always partial to lanky, tall strikers who can use their reach and length properly, so I am interested in seeing how O’Malley develops. He showed some holes in his game the last time out, but he also showed a lot of promise. This is a good match up to see how much he has improved as of late. Sean O’Malley by decision.
Mookie Alexander: I have my doubts about O’Malley’s defense, but I don’t trust Soukhamthath to put together enough volume striking to win rounds, or for him to avoid getting suckered into the high-pace that O’Malley sets. Should be a fun one! Sean O’Malley by unanimous decision.
Phil Mackenzie: Soukhamthath is one of those strikers who is fairly well put-together, but has a clear focus for landing one or two things (counter left hook or right hand) and if he does it he visibly seems to say “there! how was that?” and settle into a less focused approach (see also: Till, Gastelum, although Soukhamthath lacks their pace).O’Malley is a wacky, gangly striker who throws a constant barrage of... stuff. As Sanders found, throwing consistent aggression against Soukhamthath can actually draw some efficient counters out of him, but unless O’Malley gets flatlined I think he just throws too much weird volume for Soukhamthath to get a bead on him. Sean O’Malley by unanimous decision.
Victor Rodriguez: I’ve liked Andre since the regional circuit, but it seems O’Malley’s in his head. Not only that, but Sean’s unusual style will give Andre serious fits. Andre’s gonna have to pressure him in the standup department and build momentum to do the kind of damage he needs to win this fight. Sean O’Malley by decision.
Zane Simon: At some point in round two, O’Malley will likely start gassing and Soukhamthath will have a real chance to end this fight in violent fashion. Up until then, and likely after that in round 3, I trust O’Malley’s high volume, high movement, slick style to keep Soukhamthath guessing too much to land his shots. Sean O’Malley by decision.
Staff picking O’Malley: Mookie, Phil, Harry, Stephie, Dayne, Anton, Fraser, Victor, Zane
Staff picking Soukhamthath: Bissell, Nick, Tim
Anton Tabuena: Arlovski is 39, and prior to beating up a manbaby, he lost 5 straight bouts. This means Struve should be able to easily handle him right? Well this is heavyweight and Struve’s defense isn’t the best, so I can’t really be confident in my pick. But still, I’m going with Stefan Struve by TKO.
Mookie Alexander: Arlovski is probably going to win because Struve is there to be hit and Andrei hits harder than Stefan, but this is heavyweight, and your heroes get old… even in that weight class. The Struve who was competitively kickboxing Alexander Volkov for about two rounds looked a lot better than virtually any iteration of Arlovski over the past several years. Buckle up for sadness. Stefan Struve by TKO, round 2.
Phil Mackenzie: The Arlovski who beat up the cabbage patch doll actually looked a deal better than he has for a while, throwing kicks and combinations that weren’t just a doubled right hand. More than that, I don’t feel like I’ve ever really seen a particularly significant drop-off in Arlovski’s baseline athleticism. I didn’t feel like the Arlovski who got KO’d by Ngannou was significantly worse than the one who got KO’d by Brett Rogers, for example. He is what he is, really: a pretty limited, defensively lackluster fighter with dynamite in his right fist. Assuming that he just runs up to Struve and bombs him in the face as hard as possible, I’ve never seen anything from Struve that’s indicated he can stop that. Andrei Arlovski by TKO, round 1.
Victor Rodriguez: I literally flipped a coin for this fight. I can’t tell who’s got the worse chin/defense combo here. We might see a double K.O. Oh god, wait… are there betting lines on that? You know what? What the hell. Draw/double knockout.
Zane Simon: Both guys looked good last time out, both guys can be KO’d. But, Arlovski’s habit of dipping his head to wing hooks is more troubling here than Struve’s ability to get cracked on the mat or gas himself out, or get stung by long overhands. Eventually I just see Arlovski leaning into a knee and getting KO’d. Stefan Struve via KO, Round 1.
Staff picking Struve: Bissell, Nick, Mookie, Harry, Anton, Tim, Zane
Staff picking Arlovski: Phil, Stephie, Dayne, Fraser
Staff picking draw/double KO: Victor
Mookie Alexander: I like Cat Zingano, but she’s literally won zero fights in four years, and while beating Amanda Nunes was a good victory, I believe this was also pre-ATT Nunes. She also has a horrible habit of making bad in-fight decisions and I don’t think that flies against someone like Vieira, who is well-rounded and quite strong. Ketlen Vieira by unanimous decision.
Phil Mackenzie: Cat Zingano is an odd fighter. Coming up on ten years as a pro, she averages a bit more than one fight a year, and throughout her fantastic athleticism and toughness have warred with her terrible decision making and defense. The flying knee against Rousey was the most obvious example, but also going for a wacky crucifix setup against Pena which lost her the second round. Reminiscent of Sara McMann, then, but less of a frontrunner, more of a whimsically unpredictable brainfarter. Vieira is going to give up takedowns and damage in this fight, but she rarely makes clanging errors and is a very underrated offensive wrestler. I’m also concerned that Zingano’s once-infinite cardio seemed to be fading in the Pena fight. Ketlen Vieira by unanimous decision.
Victor Rodriguez: I dunno. I want to give Zingano the benefit of the doubt due to her athleticism, grappling, tenacity and veteran experience. Coming back from such a long layoff with a new camp against a younger fighter with a hot streak? Sure, Ketlen’s a hell of an athlete and can threaten submission games once she establishes dominance, and Zingano sometimes takes more damage than I’m comfortable with. I just can’t. Not this time. Ketlen Vieira by decision.
Zane Simon: Zingano will likely have two or three moments where she could potentially finish the fight, but round to round, minute to minute, Vieira is the more controlled, and consistent fighter everywhere. Ketlen Vieira by decision.
Staff picking Zingano: Bissell, Harry, Anton, Fraser, Tim
Staff picking Vieira: Nick, Phil, Mookie, Stephie, Dayne, Victor, Zane
Anton Tabuena: UFC is hoping Dern breaks out into a superstar and while I’m not sure she’s anywhere close to being there yet, I think she is good enough to win this debut. Mackenzie Dern by Submission.
Victor Rodriguez: Dern should be getting a lot of attention here, mostly because of her looks, pedigree and very decorated BJJ background. Problem is she’s fighting someone with a more complete MMA game and Dern’s striking is atrocious. I’m not sure that Yoder can avoid some kind of inside trip takedown over the course of 15 minutes, though. We all have an idea what comes next. Mackenzie Dern by submission, round 2.
Phil Mackenzie: Dern showed in her Invicta fight that her striking is coming along: she’s still wooden, but she throws with power and commitment. Yoder is a tough MMA native, who could conceivably win an ugly kickboxing match, but I find it difficult to see her avoiding her natural tendency to scramble, which will get her into terrible trouble on the floor with Dern. Mackenzie Dern by submission, round 1.
Zane Simon: Yoder may be able to just land something fluky that hurts Dern bad enough to give Yoder the win. But unless that happens, Yoder’s willingness to fight off her back foot and to push the clinch when she steps forward likely means Dern gets to walk her down with big overhands until they tie up and Dern gets the submission. Mackenzie Dern via submission, Round 1.
Staff picking Dern: Bissell, Nick, Mookie, Phil, Harry, Stephie, Dayne, Anton, Fraser, Tim, Victor, Zane
Staff picking Yoder:
Phil Mackenzie: Alexander Hernandez is a talented prospect- a power wrestler who fights out of either stance and shows a decent understanding of range. Maybe he could replicate what Evan Dunham did - meet pressure with pressure, wear Dariush down over time. He also might be able to catch Dariush coming in, as Ramsey Nijem bafflingly managed to do way back when... but with sparse tape and not-great competition there’s no reason at all to assume Dariush just doesn’t put Hernandez on the cage and beat him up. Beneil Dariush by TKO, round 2.
Victor Rodriguez: Dariush has to have a lot of things go wrong for him to lose here. The veteran advantage, better striking and slicker transitions on the ground will rule the day here. Beneil Dariush by submission.
Zane Simon: Dariush’s biggest knock is a lack of truly high end athleticism, and the fact that he fights like he’s got it. It means he tends to wear himself down and get caught. Still, we don’t know where Hernandez falls on that list, and it’s doubtful that he’s elite in terms of technique. Assuming Dariush wins the battle for pressure and Hernandez doesn’t fight well going backwards, I’ll take Beneil Dariush via TKO, Round 2.
Staff picking Dariush: Bissell, Nick, Mookie, Phil, Harry, Stephie, Dayne, Anton, Fraser, Tim, Victor, Zane
Staff picking Hernandez:
Phil Mackenzie: I picked Dodson the first time, and I had him marked down as my pick this time too but... I can’t do it. Ever since that fight got booked I’ve had this conviction that Dodson just cannot defend leg kicks outside of trying to counter them with the leaping left hand, and the conviction has only grown over time. I think he probably counters successfully a few times, but just gradually gets worn down as Munhoz trades kicks for punches and rides durability and attrition to a decision win. Pedro Munhoz by unanimous decision.
Victor Rodriguez: Can’t bet against Dodson here. Especially not when it comes to keeping his cardio consistent in the long haul with better entries for strikes. Dodson’s going to find ways to mess with Pedro’s rhythm and be rewarded by the judges for fighting the way he does - looking busier than the other guy and landing a few takedowns. We’ll get some fun exchanges standing, but Dodson will do more than enough to edge this out.
Zane Simon: I don’t see Munhoz being fast enough anywhere to catch Dodson repeatedly. He might kick him apart, as Phil suggests, but I feel like it’s more likely he spends lots of time walking forward as Dodson circles away and leaps in with the occasional clubbing left. John Dodson by decision.
Staff picking Dodson: Bissell, Nick, Mookie, Dayne, Anton, Tim, Victor, Zane
Staff picking Munhoz: Harry, Stephie, Phil, Fraser
Phil Mackenzie: Dollaway is fragile and hittable. He’s often reliant on getting his wrestling going to be successful and Lombard has (had?) pretty solid TDD. On the other hand, Lombard’s previously excellent chin appears to have fled, his cardio is atrocious, and he’s not putting people away when he hits them any more. Unless he dunks on Dollaway early it’s hard to see him winning a decision against... well, almost anyone to be honest. CB Dollaway by TKO, round 3.
Fraser Coffeen: One win since 2014 vs. zero wins since 2014. Hmmm… CB Dollaway, Dec
Victor Rodriguez: True story: Lombard and I were walking on a pilgrimage through the Gobi desert in 2011, shortly before the Trevor Prangley fight. Maybe it was the fatigue or the fasting, perhaps a combination of the two. Riding on a wave of delirium, we were unable to discern what was real and what was not. The world itself an illusion, the air heavy with the unforgiving cold. The cold of the desert bit at us as we stumbled upon a most curious object - a cube with an incandescent purple hue. Hector grabbed the item in haste, clutched it to his chest with a heavy breath, then slowly raising it to the sky as an offering. The God of Combat emerged from the horizon, and the vibrations he emitted shook us to our core. Euphoria and confusion set in as we sensed that there was a ripple in time and space, we dropped to our knees as I begged the deity for mercy, to spare our miserable lives. I was wrong. The god was not out to punish us, but to grant us our greatest desires. Lombard demanded the god give him a release from his Bellator contract, complete with a mammoth advance. The god stood back, stroked his pink chin and gently touched the giant chain around his neck with his other hand. The skies turned dark, and lighting crashed around us. Lombard got his wish, and to ensure that he would keep his spot in the UFC, was granted the secret to Lorenzo Fertitta’s biceps being larger than Urijah Faber’s head, as this song played while the world faded to grey. Weeks later I realized that this was actually a malaria fever dream, and that it wasn’t the God of Combat, but rather a Cloverfield Monster-sized Frankenberry. He got his contract and I got a pair of nunchucks. It kind of worked out. Oh, and this fight sucks. CB Dollaway by TKO.
Zane Simon: Dollaway just looks like he gets hurt by everything out there. And say what you will about Lombard, but if wrestling him is your key to winning, that’s not very likely to happen. Either guy could easily get KO’d at any time, but in the time up until one of them gets KO’d, I think Lombard will be winning. Hector Lombard via KO, Round 1.
Staff picking Dollaway: Mookie, Phil, Stephie, Anton, Fraser, Victor
Staff picking Lombard: Bissell, Nick, Harry, Dayne, Tim, Zane
Phil Mackenzie: There are many fighters who are late bloomers with regard to their career, but it mostly comes with respect to their defense and craft. Mike Pyle is one of the weird exceptions whose late career success came from being MORE. VIOLENT. Sadly, his wonderful thai clinch and crushing top game have surfaced as his chin has gone. He never took a great shot, and now he doesn’t take one at all. Ottow is a blah welterweight wrestleboxer who is good at everything, and bad at nothing. He hits pretty hard, has poor finishing instincts and a bias towards defense. If he doesn’t knock Pyle out clean there’s a solid chance that Pyle just overwhelms him with his unique combination of craft and bemulleted brutality, but it all feels too much like the action movie cop passing around pictures of his kid. “Last day on the job.” The feeling of doom is pungent. Zak Ottow by TKO, round 1.
Victor Rodriguez: I want to think that Pyle’s reach and boxing skills can get him what he wants here, despite Ottow’s athletic advantages. I know it’s unlikely, but I’ll go with the reckless underdog pick here. Gotta root for the guy that wants to leave on his own terms on his last ride. The fight hasn’t even happened yet, but thank you for everything, Mike. Mike Pyle by wishful thinking.
Zane Simon: Pyle lives by the sword and dies by the sword. Only now he’s got a huge “insert sword here” sign painted on him. Tough break. Zak Ottow by KO, round 1.
Staff picking Pyle: Mookie, Harry, Dayne, Victor
Staff picking Ottow: Bissell, Nick, Phil, Stephie, Anton, Fraser, Tim, Zane
Phil Mackenzie: Caraway is not well-liked. Sanctimonious, awkward and smug, but also someone who was willing to come out with some genuinely unpleasant words for Rousey back in the day. That being said, the man has had a brutal go of it of late. Repeated injuries, the death of his coach, and splitting up with the woman who was probably the love of his life (who promptly got pregnant with another man). I find it difficult not to feel a little sympathy for the guy. Buried under all this is that he’s also a very good fighter. His range boxing improved dramatically over his time in the UFC, to the point where he could comfortably outpoint Eddie Wineland. He remains a functional (if not overwhelming) wrestler, and an extremely determined position-first scrambler. Cody “The Detroit Muscle Blossom” Stamann looks and fights like a Sherk-Cruickshank hybrid. I do worry that he starts a bit slow and often seems to rely on all parts of his game (including takedowns) clicking before he gets into a fight. Caraway is a consistent range striker who locks down on careless grappling transitions and often mandates fighting him in a single area. Reference: Perez or Sterling for seeing him fighting a kicky, inveterate phase shifter. Bryan Caraway by unanimous decision.
Victor Rodriguez: Say what you will about Caraway, he’s smarter than the average bear. Dude gets a lot of stick for being unlikeable, but he’s a better fighter than people think. His level changes and scrambles will give him more advantages here than most people realize. Bryan Caraway by submission.
Zane Simon: This is all about how well Stamann can fight off a really good wrestler for 15 minutes. Stamann’s kick heavy game likely gives Caraway a lot to work with, as does his tendency to back up with a high guard and just try to ride out opponent’s offense. He’s getting better about that, but if he can’t stuff the shots when the come, he’ll lose. If he can, then he’s got a very solid shot at an upset win behind his more creative striking style. Bryan Caraway by decision.
Staff picking Caraway: Bissell, Harry, Stephie, Anton, Phil, Fraser, Victor, Zane
Staff picking Stamann: Nick, Mookie, Dayne, Tim
Phil Mackenzie: Milstead got rag-dolled by Curtis Blaydes at heavyweight, but was able to take some comfort from the fact that Blaydes had only been able to do it because he’d been supercharged by the performance-enhancing powers of the Devil’s Lettuce. Now Milstead is moving down to light heavyweight where he’s facing... another high-end technical wrestler, Milstead is clearly gifted. He has pop in his hands, fairly shocking speed and cardio for a big guy. His wrestling defense is just not there, though, and Johnson is himself an ex-heavyweight, and a D1 Iowa wrestler. Jordan Johnson by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Johnson is a really good wrestler. Milstead is not a good wrestler. Milstead’s big hope is that Johnson’s disconnected boxing game leads him to enter exchanges where Milstead can square up and throw hooks without eating a quick counter double leg. But, that doesn’t seem like a safe bet, even if it’s a possibility. Jordan Johnson by decision.
Staff picking Johnson: Nick, Phil, Harry, Dayne, Fraser, Tim, Victor, Mookie, Zane
Staff picking Milstead: Bissell, Stephie, Anton
Who wins the UFC 222 main and co-main events?
This poll is closed
Cyborg and Edgar
Cyborg and Ortega
Kunitskaya and Edgar
Kunitskaya and Ortega