- The UFC travels to Vegas this Saturday (March 3rd) for UFC 222
- Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino defends her featherweight title against former Invicta FC bantamweight champ Yana Kunitskaya.
- Hot prospect Brian Ortega faces the well-tested Frankie Edgar for a top-notch featherweight scrap
UFC 222 didn’t turn out as planned, but that’s ok. The matchmakers scrambled to throw together an entertaining card and they’ve done exactly that. Women’s featherweight champ Cris “Cyborg” Justino was called upon to headline the event against newcomer Yana Kunitskaya, and Frankie Edgar faces Brian Ortega for what should be a fascinating stylistic match-up.
Let’s take a look at the two big fights ahead of us, odds provided by Bovada. (Learn the advantages and drawbacks of Bovada’s sportsbook.)
Cristiane Justino (-1600) vs Yana Kunitskaya (+800)
The women’s featherweight division suffers from a dearth of talent, leaving Cris Cyborg (19-1) without a worthy challenger. Bantamweight champ Amanda Nunes is entertaining the idea of a two-champ superfight, but that’s still in the works. For now, Cyborg will have to make do with UFC debutant Yana Kunitskaya (10-3).
Kunitskaya is vacating her Invicta FC Bantamweight title to take on Cyborg at 145 lb. She’s fought at featherweight before, but she’s definitely a natural bantamweight. Making the leap in weight to take on the most dangerous fighter in women’s MMA is an enormous gamble, and as you can see, the odds are heavily stacked against her.
This has all the trappings of another dangerous mismatch in the UFC. Kunitskaya is outmatched in almost every department. She’s far smaller, less technically adept, weaker, and has no experience against truly elite-level fighters. Last year, she was submitted by Tonya Evinger, a fighter Cyborg finished with ease.
There is a glimmer of hope for Kunitskaya, though. Cyborg is large even at featherweight, and her weight cuts are notoriously grueling. Taking the fight on short notice forced her to cut an insane amount of weight in a brief period of time, and that could haunt her on the night of the fight.
That’s not nearly enough to entice me to pick Kunitskaya, even at +800 odds. Even if she isn’t at her best, this shouldn’t be a difficult fight for Cyborg. You’re probably not interesting in making pennies on the dollar by picking Justino to win outright at -1600 odds, so consider a few props. Cris Cyborg by KO TKO or DQ is running at a decent -260, and picking a first round stoppage pays out at +110. Both seem like pretty likely outcomes.
Pick: Cristiane Justino (-1600)
Frankie Edgar (-175) vs Brian Ortega (+145)
It’s the old guard against the hot prospect. Frankie Edgar (22-5-1) was lined up to face Max Holloway for the featherweight title, but a leg injury ruled the champ out of commission. Instead, he’ll face the undefeated Brian Ortega (13-0) for a three-round scrap. It’s a shame an interim title wasn’t attached to make this a five-round affair, but in the wise words of the champ, “it is what it is.”
This is a significant moment for the featherweight division. Edgar has been a major player at 145 since making his debut in 2013, and has twice fought for the title, coming up short against Jose Aldo both times. He’s one of the most complete fighters in the UFC, able to handle himself on his feet and on the ground regardless of his opponent.
This isn’t the first time he’s been matched with a young, rising star. Yair Rodriguez was in a similar position to where Ortega is now, a marketable up-and-comer with a ton of promise. But when Rodriguez came face-to-face with Edgar, his flashy style and spectacular kicks didn’t count for much. He was ruthlessly mauled over two rounds and all the hype was quickly stripped away.
Brian Ortega has had six UFC appearances, and hasn’t allowed a fight to reach the judges. His win against Cub Swanson late last year propelled him to the top of the division, opening him up to be a potential title contender. While his striking leaves a lot to be desired, his jiu-jitsu is some of the best we’ve seen in a long time.
It’s an interesting stylistic match-up. Edgar is a master of transitioning from strikes to a takedown, but he’ll be extremely wary of giving up his neck to a fighter with such a good submission game. Ortega is comfortable fighting on his back, and requires only a momentary lapse in concentration to lock in that triangle choke.
I don’t believe Ortega is a hype-job, but he’s not quite ready to take on a fighter like Frankie Edgar. There are just too many holes in his striking, and a fighter as experienced as Edgar will be able to identify and exploit his flaws very quickly.
Pick: Frankie Edgar (-175)