Brian Ortega emerged as the biggest winner of the night when he punched his ticket for a chance at Max Holloway’s belt. Who else emerged from UFC 222 standing tall?
Heading into the meat of the PPV, UFC 222 was a real downer. There were a record tying number of split decisions with none of them particularly memorable contests. In fact, some were very tedious. Fortunately for fans, the event closed with a flourish, leaving most satisfied with what played out. We got a couple of new title contenders. Some young blood showed why many are excited for them. And of course… Cyborg tore through yet another challenger. Did I say challenger? I’m sorry, I meant victim.
So was Yana Kunitskaya – Cyborg’s victim – one of the biggest losers on the night? Or was she really a loser? We’re about to go over that… right now!
Cyborg Justino: Cyborg hasn’t had a bad evening since her Strikeforce days. Even then, fight night wasn’t a bad night as her win wasn’t overturned until after the results of her drug test returned. The point I’m getting at is Justino is still one of the most dominating figures in the sport almost a decade after emerging as a prominent figure, if not the most dominating. Kunitskaya got an early takedown… and then did nothing else. Sounds like a typical Cyborg performance. The smart money remains on Cyborg to remain a dominant figure for a long time yet.
Brian Ortega: The biggest winner on the card, Ortega wasn’t even supposed to be fighting here a month ago. Now, he’s displaced perennial contender Frankie Edgar as the top challenger for Max Holloway’s belt. To say he displaced Edgar isn’t fair to how good Ortega looked as he finished the former lightweight champion with a series of strikes towards the end of the first round, capped by an uppercut that sent Edgar’s head somewhere in the nosebleeds. Many were excited about Ortega’s future when he first entered the UFC, but I don’t think anyone foresaw this. Though I really wanted to see Holloway-Edgar, I’m even more excited to see Holloway-Ortega now.
Sean O’Malley: Up until O’Malley’s contest with Andre Soukhamthath, UFC 222 was feeling like a complete dud. While it was too late for O’Malley to salvage the entire card, he certainly put on the most entertaining contest of the evening. He came thisclose to finishing Soukhamthath at the end of the first round. Perhaps that doesn’t sound like much of a feat to some as Soukhamthath’s 1-3 record in the UFC doesn’t do much to impress. But Soukhamthath had never been finished. In fact, he still hasn’t been finished. That O’Malley finished the contest despite an injured leg made the victory even more impressive. The kid lived up to the hype… for this fight.
Ketlen Vieira: It’s one thing to beat Cat Zingano. It’s another thing to beat her at her own game. Vieira secured a number of takedowns and held her own in the clinch with the former title challenger. What really put her over was the top control and early counters, potentially booking a title shot against the winner of Amanda Nunes and Raquel Pennington. I remember picking against Vieira when she made her UFC debut against Kelly Faszholz. Kind of funny to look at where they are now….
Mackenzie Dern: Dern barely made the winner’s column. That’s largely because Dern barely won the fight. The BJJ phenom showed she’s still extremely raw on the feet – offensively and defensively – but was still able to pull out the win. That’s a pretty good sign of her natural abilities. The UFC will want to wait to give her a step up in competition. It’s too early to say whether she can be the next Ronda Rousey as the UFC would like her to be, but she hasn’t given enough indication for the comparisons to stop yet either.
Alexander Hernandez: I can’t think of a more explosive debut. Sure, Ryan Jimmo flattened Anthony Perosh in eight seconds at UFC 149… but that was Anthony Perosh. Hernandez steamrolled over Beneil Daruish… a VERY dangerous fighter. In fact, the win was impressive enough, everyone seems to have forgotten Hernandez faked a fist bump to open the fight. Normally that will get you crucified by MMA fans, but Hernandez didn’t give them a chance to talk about that as the fight was over less than a minute later. The kid appears to have a bright future.
Cody Stamann: Huge win for the unheralded prospect. Few knew who he was when he debuted this past summer and now he owns a victory over a top ten vet. There were holes in his performance that can be pointed out and I have no issue if you scored the fight in favor of Bryan Caraway, but Stamann deserves credit for not just his performance here, but his rapid ascension up the ranks.
The Future: Almost all of the fights in which there was a discernable age difference saw the youngster emerge victorious, the lone exception being the heavyweight contest between Stefan Struve and Andrei Arlovski. Given the lack of star power on the UFC roster, this is a promising development, even if the effects won’t be fully felt for a while still.
Frankie Edgar: Edgar looked like he was going to be a major challenge for Max Holloway’s title given Edgar’s wrestling ability. Fans wanted to see the contest bad enough that it was scheduled twice, only for injuries to prevent it from ever happening. Edgar probably could have sat out the card and wait for Holloway to get healthy. Instead, Edgar decided to pick up a paycheck and fight on the card. Now, Edgar can no longer claim he’s never been finished… and is unlikely to ever get another shot at a championship belt. This contest doesn’t do any damage to Edgar’s legacy, but it does signal the end of an era. Kind of bittersweet, but that’s how the fight game goes.
Andre Soukhamthath: I really didn’t want to put Soukhamthath here as he fought back from a hell of a deficit to nearly pull off the upset. Then he foolishly went for a takedown when O’Malley could barely stand which was the best thing Soukhamthath could do… for O’Malley. I won’t deny Soukhamthath didn’t show a lot of heart and toughness, but he also showed some serious shortcomings in his mental capacity for the fight game.
Stefan Struve: Outside of a few hard punches and low kicks, Struve didn’t do much over the course of 15 minutes. Even worse, he couldn’t stay vertical enough to take advantage of his reach. Perhaps that wouldn’t be such a big deal if he was facing a takedown artist such as Curtis Blaydes. But this was Andrei Arlovski. Struve allowed Arlovski to nail more takedowns in this fight than he had in his entire UFC career up to this contest. Ouch.
Beneil Dariush: Does anyone realize it has been since November of 2016 that Dariush has won a fight? Dariush now gets starched by a debutant on short notice. That’s a horrible look. I’d make an argument nobody had a worse night than the Iranian transplant. What is sad is this KO was DEVASTATING and it probably isn’t the worst one of his career. Remember the knee he ate from Edson Barboza? It’s plausible Dariush’s chin has been blasted off him now.
Hector Lombard: You have the reputation as one of the biggest dicks in the sport. You’d think the last thing you’d want to do is to land a series of late strikes after the bell. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Hector Lombard. Lombard may not have been the one leaving the cage in a stretcher, but it was his fifth straight loss, further cementing his status as the biggest free agent bust in UFC history.
Mike Pyle: Far from the biggest loser of the night, Pyle’s career didn’t end on a happy note. Many would say losing to Zak Ottow is sign enough you should retire or not be fighting in the UFC. Getting KO’d by him indicates you should have retired a long time ago. Regardless of how he left the sport, Pyle was a badass in his prime and best of wishes to him in his future endeavors.
Bryan Caraway: I didn’t want to put Miesha Tate’s former beau here as he had a strong performance in his first appearance in 21 months. But he was also the much higher ranked opponent. He may not have been the betting favorite, but he probably would have been if he was the least bit likeable in the eyes of fans. Regardless of how he looked, he needed to walk out with a win if he didn’t want to end up in this column. He didn’t.
Yana Kunitskaya: Sure, Kunitskaya got the crap beat out of her. But she also got paid a lot more to have that happen than she would have otherwise thanks to being sacrificed at the alter of Cyborg. That Kunitskaya was able to get Cyborg to the ground and even get her back was actually more than what most expected. So putting a bit of a scare into a woman who hasn’t lost in almost 13 years while getting paid far more than she would have fighting anyone else doesn’t sound like a horrible evening. Maybe my perspective would be different had Cyborg caused permanent damage… but that didn’t happen.
Andrei Arlovski: Given Arlovski now has consecutive wins since snapping his five-fight losing streak, I couldn’t put him in the loser’s column. That takes some serious gumption to overcome a streak that long. But his performance against Stefan Struve wasn’t good. He’s just fortunate Struve couldn’t stop his trips, leading to an even worse performance than Arlovski. Perhaps I shouldn’t expect too much from the former champion given he’s now 39, but he still has a lot of the athleticism he possessed in his prime. Arlovski is hard to put a label on.
Cat Zingano: I don’t think you can ever truly put Zingano in any type of loser category. She’s been dealing with some more crap to make her return to the cage after 600-some odd days. She didn’t win, but she did fight tooth-and-nail up until the final bell. Zingano will always be a fan favorite because few have never-say-die attitude she possesses. Whether you like her or not, she’s an inspirational figure. Still… she was beat at her own game. As she ages, it appears the game has passed Zingano by.
John Dodson: I’m sorry… but you voluntarily didn’t use your right hand when it was perfectly healthy? What kind of crap is that? With some intelligent strategy, Dodson could have pulled out a comfortable win over Munhoz. Instead, a strong case could be made he deserved to lose to Munhoz. Things could have been worse had he lost as he now heads into free agency, but a more definitive performance would have picked him up a few more dollars to line up his pockets. Too late now.
Pedro Munhoz: Even if he wasn’t facing the best Dodson he could have been fighting, Munhoz acquitted himself well against the Jackson-Wink staple. He landed the bigger punches and got Dodson down late, not an easy thing to do. Unfortunately, the judges emphasized Dodson’s edge in volume. Regardless, Munhoz showed he’s a legit top ten bantamweight.
CB Dollaway: Is it no surprise the same guy who injured his back in a stuck elevator ended up winning a fight via DQ thanks to late strikes? This win may be the most CB Dollaway win EVER!!! Regardless, Dollaway got KO’d and ended up being a punchline… again. He’s probably happy getting a win, but he can’t feel happy with how he came out looking in the eyes of the public.
Zak Ottow: I know it’s really questionable to put him here. Hell, he won a fight via TKO, something many didn’t think he could do at the UFC level. But how in the hell did that earn him his BJJ black belt? Is his instructor Tank Abbott? The win was impressive, but the way he earned his black belt really opens him up to a lot of criticism that makes it hard for me to say he walked out a real winner.
Jordan Johnson: Johnson walked out with his hand raised, but nobody was impressed with Johnson’s performance. His post-fight interview was even worse as he admitted all he did was hold Milstead against the cage. There have been some who believe he’s a young 205er to keep an eye on. This contest did more to avert eyes than maintain them.
Adam Milstead: Milstead did lose to Johnson and it isn’t like he had a great performance. But no one can deny that he did more meaningful damage and he returned to the cage after having his knee shredded at the hands of Curtis Blaydes. In other words, there are enough positives to offset his loss.
Adelaide Byrd: I can’t rip on the notorious judge too much as she didn’t cost anyone a deserved victory as she is wont to do, but that doesn’t mean she did a credible job. Seriously, her 30-27 scorecard for Dodson was an absolute joke. Nonetheless, it appears we’re stuck with her as she is back to judging fights. Here’s hoping there is a degree of accountability implemented for judges soon.