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UFC 222: Cyborg vs. Kunitskaya - Fights to Make

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All the best, most interesting, and unquestionably coolest fights the UFC should book following their latest PPV card in Las Vegas, NV.

Photo via Stephen R. Sylvanie|Graphic via Chad Stanhope

This last card feels like a look at what a successful (fight wise, I have no idea what it’ll do for numbers) average PPV event will be going forward. A couple of big fights at the top that deliver some really strong action, above a bunch of mediocre fights that nobody is going to remember come next week. Basically the UFC is lucky that Ortega and Cyborg went out and did work, because without them this was not a strong night. Even given that, Sean O’Malley and Mackenzie Dern kept their prospect status rolling (the former moreso than the latter), and the UFC has some marquee matchups they need to put together.

To figure out just what those fights are, I’m going to be employing the classic Sean Shelby/Joe Silva strategy of years past. That means pitting winners against winners, losers against loser, and similarly tenured opposition against one another, at least whenever possible. If you’d like to take your own crack at some fantasy fight-booking immortality, leave a comment below starting with, “It really hurts, but nothing a little medicine can’t fix after the fight at my after party.” I’ll pick one response to join me for the next card.

This week’s winner is BE reader ‘berg_ryman’:

Hey BE readers, berg_ryman here. While I am new to the site as a member I’ve lurked for bit and am by no means a newcomer to MMA. Some of my early MMA memories were renting VHS tapes at age 7 or 8 of single digit UFC events to watch Royce, Shamrock, and Severn mix it up in matches best remembered as… not great. I’m going to try and follow typical UFC matchmaking rules, but we’ll see how it goes. If you want to give me a follow on Twitter, it’s @berg_ryman, but be warned, I don’t use it all that often. Now, let’s pick some fights!

CRIS CYBORG

Berg - Another event, another victim for the woman known as Cyborg. I think it’s interesting how much she’s become a team player after the acrimony with Dana over the years, so her coming to save UFC 222 should not go unnoticed by match-makers. Problem is, there are really only two fights for her right now and that’s Megan Anderson or Amanda Nunes. There’s no doubt that Cyborg deserves that big superfight, and without knowing if Anderson is ever getting over her “personal reasons”, the fight to make, provided Raquel Pennington doesn’t upset the applecart, is Cyborg v. Amanda Nunes.

Zane - I could be ‘by the book’ here and say Cyborg vs. the Nunes/Pennington winner, but let’s be real, I just want to see Cyborg vs. Amanda Nunes. And it sounds like the UFC does too, since Dana White is talking about seeing if he can scrap Nunes/Pennington to make the Cyborg fight happen. Nunes’ camp has been making noise about the fight, Cyborg called her out after her latest win, and there’s just nobody I want to see either woman fight more. Book that fight, let the other 135ers scrap it out to be a true no. 1 contender. Also... sign some more 145ers so we aren’t scraping for which bantamweight wants to get slaughtered every single time.

YANA KUNITSKAYA

Berg - Outgunned, outmatched, outclassed, but I think we all knew that coming into this fight. Fair play to ‘Foxy’ though for getting a hefty payday, putting the champ in a spot of danger and again, probably earning brownie points with the higher-ups for helping save this card in some way. I think it’s safe to say that Kunitskaya is probably going down to 135 after this performance since that’s her more natural weight class. I say you give Kunitskaya a chance to avenge an Invicta loss against another former Cyborg challenger and book Kunitskaya v. Tonya Evinger III

Zane - If Kunitskaya is staying at 145, I’d be totally fine to see her take on Megan Anderson, who probably just needs any kind of bout before she gets booked in a big fight. If – as the UFC broadcast team intimated – she goes back to 135, then a fight with Sara McMann seems like a good booking. McMann would likely have her usual physical edge, but her tendency to totally self destruct after early success would be make for a fascinating contest and a very winnable high profile bout for the former Invicta champ. If that fight can’t get made, since there’s a chance McMann drops to 125, a bout against Cat Zingano or Sarah Moras would also be fine.

BRIAN ORTEGA

Berg - No doubt ‘T-City’ is the biggest winner from tonight. His first round finish of Frankie Edgar was both a touch surprising and a fulfillment of all the potential we knew Ortega had to offer. I’m not going to bore you with a few more sentences here, we know the fight to make. It’s Brian Ortega v. Max Holloway

Zane - We’ve got to see Ortega vs. Max Holloway. Edgar vs. Holloway was an awesome fight that I couldn’t wait to watch, Ortega vs. Holloway just has me all kinds of hot. Holloway carries a big volume edge and the ability to fight way out from range for round after round if he needs to. But Ortega is very clearly the better one-opportunity finisher. If Holloway approached him like he did Jose Aldo, rather than how he approached Swanson and Stephens, then Ortega could make him pay for being willing to get hit clean. It’s must see stuff. Max Holloway vs. Brian Ortega.

FRANKIE EDGAR

Berg - You got to feel for Frankie in this spot. He was booked to fight Max twice before the injury bug bit them both. After last night’s KO loss, Frankie goes back down away from the title for a bit, but it’s tough to find a suitable opponent because “The Answer” remains one of the best in the world at the weight class and a problem for so many ranked below him. I was considering going winner/loser here with Jeremy Stephens getting a chance to get that win back from UFC 205, but that’s only 15 months ago. Instead, let’s go with another guy in the top 5 who wants another crack at Edgar, even though he might be testing the open market, and book Edgar v. Cub Swanson II.

Zane - Bad break for Edgar, but there are still bouts out there waiting for him. Most notable among them is a fight with Ricardo Lamas. He could also fight Josh Emmett, but I’d love to see Emmett vs. Yair right now. Lamas and Edgar are both longtime veterans with a lot of quality on their records, it feels like a fight we need to see before one of them decides to hang ‘em up. Still... my real dream is a catchweight fight between Frankie Edgar and Dominick Cruz. Cruz’s path to a title fight is anything other than clear right now, as is Edgar’s. Why not make a bout could really showcase the best parts of both men’s style? Frankie Edgar vs. Dominick Cruz at 140 lbs.

SEAN O’MALLEY

Berg - Ok, honest truth, tonight was my first experience with “The Sugar Show” I watched his highlight reel in prep for this assignment, saw the KO on the Contender series and watched him work Terrion Ware. The dude has heart, moxie, and a full serving of charisma and that means Uncle Dana sees dollar signs. The problem though is that the dude also has a broken foot. However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing as bantamweight has a lot of upcoming fights to offer interesting match-up possibilities for O’Malley. He should get a ranked guy next time out, so I say give him Eddie Wineland to see if he can start making a push up those rankings.

Zane - Well, his foot ain’t broke, so that’s great news for anyone hoping to see O’Malley back soon. Otherwise, for as good as O’Malley looked in rounds 1 & 2 the UFC should only give him a small bump up in competition. Someone who’s been winning a few fights in the UFC to date. A fight with Ricardo Ramos wouldn’t be a bad idea, but I really like the idea of a fight with Kyung Ho Kang, coming off his recent win over Guido Cannetti. Kung Ho likely couldn’t hang standing, but is much more consistent and dangerous in his pursuit of the ground game. Should make for a wild fight. A fight with someone like Johnny Eduardo or Frankie Saenz could also be an interesting test if they want to push him against a seasoned vet. But, O’Malley vs. Kyung Ho is the fight I want to see.

ANDREI ARLOVSKI

Berg - So, stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Andrei Arlovski is done, can’t win, and then rattles off a couple fights in a row and then he can find his way back to the title. The Pitbull just won’t go away and that what makes picking for him tough. He’s a great gatekeeper for a young prospect to prove himself against and a good name for a potential contender to add to the cap. I almost went for the prospect here in Tai Tuivasa, but there’s another fight I want to see more. I feel bad for booking this because of the damage Arlovski has taken recently from Stipe, Francis, and Alistair, but it’s an interesting fight for a couple of dudes looking to get closer to challenge for that belt, so bring it on. Andrei Arlovski v. Derrick Lewis

Zane - This feels easy to me. There are very few free top-end name heavyweights out there for Arlovski to fight right now, but there’s one notable name he hasn’t faced yet: Mark Hunt. Hunt is a big enough puncher to be an extreme danger to Arlovski, but what are the other options? Derrick Lewis? Marcin Tybura? Hunt vs. Arlovski feels like a fight that should have happened 3 years ago. Let’s get it done now, when both men are in position to likely want the bout. It would be a big bounce back win for Hunt if he picks it up. And if Arlovski wins, it’s a sign that he should be getting another crack at guys like Overeem and Werdum (who he already beat).

KETLEN VIEIRA

Berg - A great performance by Vieira against a former title contender in Zingano. This real problem is that she’s stuck behind a potential superfight after a title matchup at UFC 225. Best case scenario for Vieira is that Pennington takes the belt away from Nunes in a fashion that doesn’t make sense to have an immediate rematch, which seems unlikely. With Nunes v. Cyborg on the cards, Vieira could ride the pine and wait that out, but I think the UFC will try to make a fight in the interim against the only other main contender at 135, and a former champion at that. Ketlen Vieira v. Holly Holm

Zane - Especially if the UFC plans on bumping Raquel Pennington from her bout with Amanda Nunes, then Vieira needs to fight Marion Reneau. Pennington can wait for her shot, or either woman could potentially eclipse her with a really good win, but they can’t all sit around and wait to be noticed. ‘The Belizean Bruiser’ vs. ‘Fenomeno’ is a fun matchup since Vieira is at her best stalking forward and getting takedowns and Reneau is at her best countering and fighting off her back. Should make for a good style clash and has a chance to put some real fire into one of them as a top contender. Ketlen Vieira vs. Marion Reneau, get it done UFC.

JOHN DODSON

Berg - With last night’s contest being the final one on the contract of “The Magician”, he may have made himself disappear from the roster after another split decision. However, let’s work on the assumption he gets resigned. His call out of anyone who can get him closer to the title limits the options a little bit, but there’s a fight coming up in Atlantic City that I think gives us an opponent who could benefit with a win over Dodson and give John the chance to cement his spot as a real contender in the division. Book John Dodson v. The Winner of Aljamain Sterling and Brett Johns

Zane - There’s a better than slim chance that this was Dodson’s last fight in the UFC, even off a win. He’s become something of a pariah at 135, too difficult a fighter for most other ranked competition to want to face off against, and not thrilling enough a stylistic matchup for young fighters to hope to make a name off of. When Dodson’s at his best, he’s darting in and out of range, landing left hands, and slipping away before you can counter. With his contract done, the UFC may not make him the kind of offer he wants. If they do, however, I’d like to see him in a bout against Rafael Assuncao. Assuncao’s shown that he’s an underrated top tier striker, as well as being a strong wrestler and grappler. He’s also likely fast enough to catch Dodson on his predictable entries. It’s a big fight for Dodson off a win, but – much like he himself – against a dude who most fighters would rather avoid than try to get past for a chance at the belt. John Dodson vs. Rafael Assuncao to see who’s the most avoidable bantamweight.

MACKENZIE DERN

Berg - Perhaps the most hyped women’s MMA prospect since a certain judo star, Mackenzie Dern looked far from the finished product tonight against Ashley Yoder. There is no doubt that she can be the face of the division like Ronda before her, but the UFC must take it easy. She has holes in her stand-up and needs to get a better wrestling base to show the explosive ability she showed on the ground in the last two minutes of the fight with Ashley Yoder. I thought about Angela Hill here, but that seems a step-up too big for a highly touted prospect with glaring stand-up issues. Instead, let’s give Dern another chance to potentially showcase herself and show if she can patch those holes in her game. Book Mackenzie Dern v. The Winner of Poliana Botelho v. Syuri Kondo

Zane - Dern needs the slowest of slow plays here. Fighters that are just barely at the point in the UFC where they’re picking up wins. Even then there’s a solid argument that they should keep her fighting the Maia Stevensons, Alex Chambers-es, and Kailin Currans. Instead I’ll go with the best looking fight on paper and say she should match up with Nadia Kassem. Kassem’s kickboxing is a mess, just like Derns, and she’s a decent, very willing grappler. Sounds like the right kind of next fight for the BJJ ace as she’s going to need all the best matchmaking she can get. Mackenzie Dern vs. Nadia Kassem.

OTHER BOUTS: Soukhamthath vs. Grant, Struve vs. Johnson, Zingano vs. Aldana, Yoder vs. Chan-Mi, Hernandez vs. Krause, Dariush vs. Trinaldo, Munhoz vs. Silva de Andrade, Dollaway vs. Lombard 2, Ottow vs. Anzai, Stamann vs. Font, Caraway vs. Almeida, Johnson vs. Pedro, Milstead vs. Fortuna