Cris Cyborg vs. Yana Kunitskaya headlines UFC 222 this March 3, 2018 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
One Sentence Summary
David: 8mm Part 2: The Snuffening.
Phil: Holloway was struck down and the fates are displeased, so it’s time to feed another hapless victim to the Machine Goddess.
Odds: Cris Cyborg -1750 Yana Kunitskaya +1125
History / Introduction to the fighters
David: Usually total dominance is seen as either a dearth of divisional opposition, or an apex of pugilist engineering. For Cyborg, the twain have yet to be separated. Fans recognize her skillset, and ferocity, but the both the division (and the UFC) haven’t yet showcased those skills in a way that commands the kind of respect Fedor did back in the all-or-nothing-Zuluzinho days. Cyborg doesn’t have her CroCop or Nog equivalent, and unfortunately for everyone involved, Kunitskaya is neither. I’m not sure she’s a Gary Goodridge proxy.
Phil: The battle lines for people who liked or disliked Cyborg seemed to be fairly well drawn. She seems to be doing her best to blur them nowadays. Or at least whoever is running her Twitter account is. It’s a shame, because she’s still something close to appointment viewing, or would be if they could find anyone to fight her that stood a chance. Still, here we are.
David: Kunitskaya is something of a non X-factor. She’s skilled, and able-bodied, but she’s a talent beyond backyard wrestling, but maybe just below the UFC. And that’s the UFC in a nutshell—without growing the sport from within at the level of prospects, gyms, promotion, and general sport infrastructure, we continue getting half-athletes who could probably be better if they didn’t have to work side jobs just to make ends meet.
Phil: Yana Kunitskaya started MMA back in 2009 (the “first” Cyborg era) and took a sabbatical in 2012, just as Rousey-mania started. She managed to skip pretty much all of it bar the tail end, and comes back at what appears to be the second Cyborg era. She tapped Tonya Evinger out, only to have the win overturned by a weird referee call (who said that Evinger couldn’t step on Kunitskaya who couldn’t step on Evinger’s face when, in fact, she could). She lost the rematch, won the vacant belt, and is now here. She’s still a comparatively young 28 for women’s bantamweight with room for growth and a decent amount of skill. She’s almost certainly going to get murdered.
What’s at stake?
David: Even if Kunitskaya improbably wins, the world will call it a Matt Serra moment, and Cyborg dominance will go on. There’s no point in sugarcoating this one.
Phil: Most dominant women’s fighter in the world vs unfathomably huge upset. Kunitskaya is a short notice replacement. By that metric she stands even less chance than the standard Cyborg fare.
Where do they want it?
David: Cyborg was only a warring hound of offense for a relatively short moment in her career, and now she’s just a ridiculously good striker with expert mechanics who knows when to pressure, when to stalk, and when to pounce. In any era, she would be awesome. The Evinger fight was a good example of Cyborg at her deadliest because the finish was a direct consequence of labored patience, and opportunistic marksmanship. Against Holly Holm, she found a sort-of-almost technical equal. Holm floundered her strategy as much as Cyborg won it, but it didn’t represent a flaw in Cyborg’s skillset like some people thought. Nonetheless, Cyborg has found a pugilism home in knowing the old Wire adage; you come at the queen, you best not miss.
Phil: Cyborg is a stalking, aggressive counterpuncher who draws out return fire with a hard jab then comes back with a harder right hand. Once she’s landed the right hand a couple of times, she branches out into longer combinations, or opens up with her body and leg kicking offense. In close she similarly takes the best of both worlds: an active pursuer of both body lock takedowns and forearm frames and the Thai plum. On top she is a murderer.
In all, Cyborg is an exceptionally well put-together fighter on the basic level. Where there are flaws in her approach (she still tends to overcommit), they’re generally outside the physical or technical remit of any of the fighters she comes up against.
David: Yunitskaya resembles the problem with Cyborg’s division; not a high end threat, but solid meat and potatoes. Her left—while short—is strong and probing. She manages distance with quick front and side kicks. OK so maybe just the meat, and no potatoes. There’s nothing in her arsenal to trigger any defense alarms. Especially for a fighter like Cyborg. But I suppose, to the extent that she’s a warm body who can loyally oppose a professional fighter, she has enough skills
Phil: Yunitskaya resembles her teammate Holly Holm a little. Lots of movement, and a kick-heavy offense are the order of the day. She appears to actually pack less power than Holm, however- she has no shots in her arsenal which match Holm’s left head kick or counter left straight. Instead she has a tendency to spear with a teep kick from range. An advantage she has over Holm is that she is also a far more opportunistic ground fighter- jumping on leg locks, arm bars, and anything else she can get her hands on. Sometimes it puts her in bad positions, but, well, this whole fight is a bad position. May as well go for broke.
Insight from Past Fights
David: I think Kunitskaya’s fight against Raquel Pa’aluhi still has its own insights to offer. It was her most recent fight, and so it’s the latest iteration of her skills on display. The main takeaway? Pa’aluhi is not a good fighter, and Kunitskaya still struggled. It wasn’t a competitive fight, but it made clear Cyborg’s punch routes. Kunitskaya has no right hand to threaten with, so as long as Cyborg is attacking that left side, and takes away that limited distance jab, she’ll be easy pickings on the feet—more so than usual.
Phil: The Evinger fights were a little worrying for Yunitskaya, primarily because they illustrated a major strength differential between the two fighters. Once Evinger stopped sticking body parts into submissions, she started to overpower the Russian fighter. Given that Evinger was, in turn, absolutely mauled by Cyborg, it doesn’t look good.
David: This could be a townhall debate with Cyborg using Rubio as her only defense, and Kunitskaya still wouldn’t have a chance.
Phil: Fairly short notice, and an unknown opponent for Cyborg. Still, she made weight. That has to be the easy part.
David: I think Cyborg’s patience might make this fight look more competitive than it is early, but after that—and within that—it’s all Cyborg. Cris Cyborg by TKO, round 2.
Phil: Apart from getting clinched up and jumping guard into a guillotine or going for a hail mary flying triangle or armbar or something, I fail to see how Kunitskaya can possibly win this. I just don’t think the Jackson-Wink striking style is good enough to take on a force like Cyborg at both a technique and a physicality disparity. Yunitskaya’s never been stopped by strikes, but neither had Evinger. There’s always a first time. Cris Cyborg by TKO, round 2.