Arguably the most highly anticipated women’s fight in UFC history has been set, with the featherweight queen Cris Cyborg set to put her title on the line against reigning bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes in a match fitting for the UFC’s traditional end of the year card.
Despite the UFC being all set to make their third appearance at Madison Square Garden, New York City in ten weeks time, there has still been no announcement from the promotion regarding the main event.
We know the co-main event will see Dustin Poirier and Nate Diaz throw down in something of a lightweight title eliminator. While there can be no denying that it’ll be a fun fight, as a co main event it’ is something of a step down from previous PPV’s held at MSG.
It feels like we’ve spent a lifetime talking about the possibility of Amanda Nunes () stepping up to featherweight to face Cris Cyborg (20-1-0).
Just last week the two champions engaged in an online spat following Nunes tweeting a photo of her signing a bout agreement to face 145lb champ Cyborg in December. Cyborg however, feels this is simply too long to wait considering she hasn’t fought since emerging unscathed following a first round KO of Yana Kunitskaya back in March.
On Saturday night, we were treated to one of the most dominant, complete and composed title defending displays in recent octagon memory, as hometown hero Amanda ‘The Lioness’ Nunes retained her bantawmeight championship in a one sided beat down of the talented Raquel Pennington, over five rounds.
The victory marked the Brazilian’s third successful title defence. Nunes’ previous outing was a narrow, decision victory over two time former foe Valentina Shevchenko, which followed a dramatic knock out of former bantamweight division queen Ronda Rousey at UFC 207.
Struggling with a broken nose between rounds four and five, Raquel, despite her initial unwillingness and under eventual corner orders, began the fifth and final round. In the early exchanges, which were again dominated by Nunes, the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt scored an outside trip and established both hooks on a defense less ‘Rocky’ Raquel. With Nunes pounding on the challenger from back mount, the referee had no choice but to step in with Pennington’s nose decorating the cage with claret.
After another dominant and almost routine win for Nunes on the biggest of stages, who can challenge her next?
Cris Cyborg featherweight superfight
The only logical step forward for Brazil’s two biggest stars is an eventual, exciting Superfight. Featherweight champion Cris Cyborg continued her similarly dominant reign over the albeit shallow division with a late notice knockout victory over promotional debutante Yana Kunitskaya at UFC 222. Were it not for the untimely injury to Max Holloway ahead of UFC 222, we may have originally had Cyborg vs. Nunes for the 145lbs gold at UFC 224 last weekend.
Initially, it seemed Justino had no intention of meeting her compatriot in a defense of her strap, but after her win over Kunitskaya, Cyborg admitted that if the UFC, the fans and Nunes herself were interested in a bout, she would entertain it. Both women are arguably #1 and #2 in terms of natural striking ability with former strawweight queen Joanna Jedrezjczyk coming in a close third in terms of the female ranks, not to mention both Brazilian’s are excellent grapplers. Expect this title tilt to finally get the green light toward the tail end of 2018.
Ketlen Vieira clash
Another all Brazilian affair, would see Nunes pitted against talented grappler and undefeated phenom Ketlen Vieira in search of her fourth successful title retention. The Manaus native burst onto the UFC scene in April, 2017, with a decision win over Ashlee Evans-Smith and extended her unbeaten run with a submission victory over Sara McMann at UFC 215. Her most notable career win to date came against former title challenger ‘Alpha’ Cat Zingano at UFC 222, utilizing her Judo black belt to out score the returning striker over three rounds. The split decision victory more than likely earned her a potential shot at Nunes’ throne. Vieira offers an interesting match up for Nunes, particularly with her grappling prowess, but in terms of striking, they are oceans apart.
Cat Zingano vs. Marion Reneau winner
While this may be the least likely of all of these meetings, it would be a hugely dangerous match up for Nunes, particularly if former foe Zingano emerges victorious against Reneau. Nunes suffered her lone UFC defeat against Cat back in 2014, finding herself on the receiving end of some brutal elbows from the Minnesota fan favorite.
Zingano will of course meet wily BJJ player Reneau this summer at UFC Fight Night Boise, and a notable finish for either contender could catapult the winner toward a shot at the Bahia bruiser Nunes, especially considering the slim pickings within the division’s top five. Number one ranked contender Holly Holm is currently exploring the featherweight division and will meet Invicta FC great Megan Anderson at UFC 225. Number two ranked Pennington just had her siege halted while top three challenger Julianna Peña is coming off a surprising submission loss to now flyweight title chaser Valentina Shevchenko, and recently gave birth to a baby girl in January so a return in the current climate is on hold.
Words by Ross Markey.
UFC 222 is in the books and the main card delivered some fantastic fights. Ketlen Vieira, Sean O’Malley and Brian Ortega maintained their undefeated records, Andrei Arlovski proved he still has some gas in the tank and Cris Cyborg once again proved untouchable at 145lbs.
Let’s take a look at what could be next for each of the main card winners.
Ketlen Vieira (10-0-0)
Ketlen “Fenomeno” Vieira extended her undefeated streak to 10 fights with a confusing split decision victory over “Alpha” Cat Zingano. Vieira dominated the fight from start to finish as she looked to make her case for a title shot in the near future.
With Raquel Pennington looking likely to miss out on her rumoured title bout with champion Amanda Nunes, a match up between Vieira and Pennington to establish a number one contender seems like a good fit. Both fighters are carrying 4 fight UFC win streaks and while Pennington hasn’t fought since November 2016, she would still represent the stiffest test of Vieira‘s career.
Andrei Arlovski (27-15-0, 1 n/c)
Andrei “The Pitbull” Arlovski rolled back the years with an impressive decision victory over top 10 contender Stefan Struve. The win gives Arlovski his second successive victory putting his previous 5 fight losing streak firmly in the rear view mirror.
A rematch with number 9 ranked heavyweight Marcin Tybura who handed Arlovski his last loss would give The Pitbull an opportunity to show that he has truely evolved as a fighter over the last year. His display against Struve showed new aspects to his game with Arlovski landing more take downs in this fight than in the rest of his UFC career combined. It seems you really can teach an old dog new tricks. A second bout with Tybura would give the 40 year old former champion the perfect platform to prove that is the case.
Sean O’Malley (10-0-0)
In a gutsy performance, “Sugar” Sean O’Malley hung on despite a serious looking foot injury to claim a decision victory against Andre Soukhamthath. Sugar Sean dominated the fight for the first two and a half rounds, displaying noticeable improvements since his last bout in December 2017. For the final two and a half minutes, O’Malley fought on one leg, at one stage hopping up and down while still firing punches at Soukhamthath.
O’Malley has the personality, skills and toughness to go a long way in the batamweight division and naturally, people have been getting a little carried away with calls to push him into a fight against a ranked opponent.
I’m a firm believer in taking your time with prospects and Sean is no exception to that. He is undoubtedly talented and has an extremely bright future. At just 23 years old, why rush things? At a perfect 10-0, it would be beneficial to see O’Malley test himself against someone with experience in his third UFC fight. Iuri Alcantara would provide an appropriate test for the young prospect. With a record of 35-9-0 with 1 no contest, Alcantara certainly ticks the experienced box and would give “Sugar” Sean a chance to prove he is ready for the next step before being rushed into a fight against someone in the top 15.
Brian Ortega (14-0-0, 1 n/c)
With just three weeks preparation, Brian “T-City” Ortega achieved something that 27 other fighters have tried and failed to do. He stopped Frankie Edgar. In the first round no less. Ortega is often celebrated for his outstanding Jiu Jitsu but in this instance it was his calm, patient boxing which delivered him a stunning victory. Ortega retained his unbeaten record and added another huge scalp to his list of victims.
There is no point in beating around the bush here. There is only one fight which makes sense for T-City. His next fight has to be against reigning featherweight champion Max Holloway. Originally scheduled to defend his strap against Edgar at UFC 222, Holloway sustained a leg injury which ultimately ruled him out. With Ortega beating Edgar in dominant fashion, he absolutely deserves the next crack at the belt. Undefeated in 14 fights, Ortega will take a 6 fight UFC win streak into the fight to go with Holloway’s 12 fight UFC win streak. It has all the makings of an incredible fight and my hope is that this kicks off a rivalry which can follow these two around for many years to come.
Cris Cyborg (20-1-0, 1 n/c)
Once again, Cris Cyborg proved she is without equal at featherweight. Cyborg saved the show following an injury to Max Holloway by taking the fight on short notice against Invicta bantamweight champion, Yana Kunitskaya. Cyborg took little time in establishing her striking dominance and picked up her 17th TKO win 3 and a half minutes into the opening round.
Prior to Cyborg confirming she would be facing Kunitskaya at UFC 222, Amanda Nunes was pushing for an opportunity to step up a weight class and challenge Cyborg. The featherweight champion was initially reluctant to face off with a fellow Brazilian, however in her post fight interview she appeared to have had a change of heart.
“I am waiting for Amanda now,” said Cyborg. “She called me out, and I want to fight her. I just want to remind everyone that she called me out, and when you call out Cyborg, Cyborg will answer.”
UFC president Dana White confirmed that this is the match up he wants to see next.
“The fight to make is her and Nunes,” White said. “She wants the fight, Nunes wants the fight, I want the fight, and I’m sure the fans want the fight.”
With all parties now on board with the fight, we can look forward to finding out if Nunes has what it takes to end Cyborg’s 20 fight win streak later this year.