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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

UFC 222 is here. It’s not a great pay-per-view event, but if you look closely, it has several gems here and there.

This event is being headlined by a women’s featherweight title fight between champ Cris Cyborg and challenger Yana Kunitskaya. The main event might not be too exciting, given the fact that Kunitskaya is fairly unknown, but there are several other interesting match-ups.

UFC 222 features an unofficial title eliminator bout between top featherweights Frankie Edgar and Brian Ortega, the UFC debut of jiu-jitsu star Mackenzie Dern, the return of former women’s bantamweight title challenger Cat Zingano – who takes on undefeated contender Ketlen Vieira – and the interesting booking involving fan-favorite bantamweight Sean O’Malley and Andre Soukhamthath.

What: UFC 222

Where: T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas

When: Saturday, March 3. The three-fight UFC fight Pass preliminary card begins at 6:30 p.m. ET, the four-fight FOX Sports 1 preliminary card begins at 8:00 p.m. ET, and the five-fight main card begins 10:00 p.m. ET on pay-per-view.

Cris Cyborg vs. Yana Kunitskaya

Well, here’s another fight where Cris Cyborg is taking on an opponent who is a few levels below her.

Cyborg is likely the best female fighter of all time. The Brazilian has a dangerous, powerful and technical striking game. Cyborg also has great movement and a solid chin. She’s not really known for her jiu-jitsu, but Cyborg has pretty good grappling. She’s also an explosive athlete, which aids both her striking and grappling.

Yana Kunitskaya is not a bad fighter by any means. She’s very knowledgeable on the ground and has dangerous submissions from both top and bottom positions. Kunitskaya is not much of a threat on the feet, but she can stick to a game plan and remain composed when striking. The former Invicta FC champ has a low output standing, but she manages range well. Kunitskaya is also pretty athletic and strong compared to many of the other female bantamweights.

It’s hard to pick against Cyborg. I don’t see Kunitskaya bringing anything that can pose a significant threat to the champ. Holm at least had better movement than Cyborg, and a respected striking background that posed interesting questions and obstacles for Cyborg. I see Cyborg dominating in every area of the fight.

Pick: Cyborg

Frankie Edgar vs. Brian Ortega

This is an interesting one.

Frankie Edgar is a skilled wrestler with excellent boxing and movement. Edgar also has solid top control and good ground-and-pound. The New Jersey fighter is one of the most experienced fighters at 145 pounds.

Brian Ortega is a young prospect who has finished all of his UFC opponents. Ortega is a serious contender and he’s likely still a long ways from his prime. Ortega has good boxing, but he can be hittable. Even with that, he’s proven to have a great chin. Ortega is most dangerous with his grappling. The jiu-jitsu black belt has an insane ability to lock up submission in small windows.

Worth noting, Edgar has never been submitted. But I find Ortega to be the most dangerous grappler Edgar has ever faced, so there’s that. I think Ortega is definitely capable of submitting Edgar, but I think Edgar will be too quick, experienced and smart to get in a grappling exchange with Ortega. I see Edgar using plenty of movement and out-striking Ortega from the outside.

Pick: Edgar

Sean O’Malley vs. Andre Soukhamthath

Fun fight between two very promising bantamweights.

Sean O’Malley is an unorthodox striker with reach and good movement. O’Malley has some grappling, but he shines best on the feet. Andre Soukhamthath is somewhat similar to O’Malley. Soukhamthath is a well-rounded fighter, but he’s most dangerous striking. Soukhamthath has respectable power behind his striking and size for the division.

Close fight. I find Soukhamthath to be more technical and powerful than O’Malley, but that’s what I thought about O’Malley’s last opponent Terrion Ware. Tough call, but I think O’Malley is a little busier on the feet and that should help him win a decision.

Pick: O’Malley

Stefan Struve vs. Andrei Arlovski

I find this heavyweight match up to be intriguing in an odd way. Neither Stefan Struve nor Andrei Arlovski are anywhere close to title contention, but stylistically this booking draws my attention.

Struve is a versatile striker with a great deal of reach. Struve is very technical on the feet. He’s also a skilled grappler with solid ability to lock up submissions. Meanwhile, Arlovski is not nearly as well-rounded as Struve, but he’s definitely far more experienced than Struve. Arlovski has good boxing and good power. His chin might not be great at this point of his career, but he still remains dangerous. Arlovski has plenty of experience and he’s not afraid to trade leather.

It’s hard to pick Arlovski due to his questionable chin. Sometimes it hold up, but more often than not it doesn’t. At the same time, Struve can also be unreliable, as he’s sometimes able to get in his groove and sometimes he’s not. Who knows how this one will play out, but I see Struve having the better chance of leaving victorious.

Pick: Struve

Cat Zingano vs. Ketlen Vieira

Big fight for the UFC’s women’s bantamweight division. Cat Zingano vs. Ketlen Vieira might be a title eliminator. Zingano has wins over the champ Amanda Nunes and the No. 1 contender Raquel Pennington. Vieira is undefeated and 3-0 in the UFC.

Zingano is a powerhouse at 135 pounds. The former title challenger is an explosive athlete with a strong grappling game. Zingano has good takedowns and solid ground-and-pound. She’s also very durable and tenacious.

Vieira is a pretty solid fighter. The Brazilian has very underrated takedowns and dangerous submissions. Vieira is a versatile grappler as she’s competent in both top and bottom positions. Vieira is also a decent striker who remains composed under pressure.

This is a very tough fight for Zingano. She hasn’t fought since UFC 200 and she’s facing an opponent carrying plenty of momentum. I don’t think fighting Vieira is the best way to get back in the game. Also worth noting, Vieira is very consistent with her performances and Zingano is not. I see Zingano looking good for the early potion of the bout, but I believe Vieira will eventually find her rhythm and best Zingano in a decision.

Pick: Vieira


Mackenzie Dern def. Ashley Yoder

Beneil Dariush def. Alexander Hernandez

John Dodson def. Pedro Munhoz

C. B. Dollaway def. Hector Lombard

Zak Ottow def. Mike Pyle

Cody Stamann def. Bryan Caraway

Jordan Johnson def. Adam Milstead