The Complete Guide to UFC 219: Cris Cyborg vs Holly Holm
There are a few different claimants to the throne of women's MMA GOAT. Amanda Nunes is right there. Ditto Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Ronda Rousey, if you must. But the front-runner now—and probably for a good long time before—is Cristiane "Cyborg" Justino.
In May 2016, following protracted acrimony with UFC brass and others like them, Cyborg finally tore open the Octagon door and laid waste to the only three ladies with the courage to face her. Cyborg stayed in character with a first-round TKO, a second-round TKO and a third-round TKO, the last of which rendered her the second-ever UFC women's featherweight champion.
The 32-year-old is now 18-1-1, her only defeat coming in her 2005 debut. Throughout her decade-plus career, though, she's had trouble finding willing opponents.
Outside the obvious ducking issue, one problem is her natural fighting weight, between 140-145 pounds, where there is an acute shortage of able bodies.
Saturday at UFC 219, Cyborg will face her ablest challenger in years, and certainly of her UFC era.
Holly Holm is a former UFC and boxing champ with a penchant for felling giants—everyone remembers her head kick on Rousey. Her 1-3 record since touched off an arguably undeserved Buster Douglas complex.
Does she find magic again, or does Cyborg take on more the shape of a GOAT?
Meanwhile, the co-main event sees lightweight sensation Khabib Nurmagomedov continue a halting ascent to title contention against one of the UFC's best strikers in Edson Barboza.
This is a good card, and it's just what fight fans need to shake off the holiday doldrums. Get up to speed with the complete guide to UFC 219.
Betting odds accurate as of Wednesday night and courtesy of OddsShark.
Fight Pass Prelims
Tim Elliott (14-8-1) vs. Mark De La Rosa (9-0)
This is the lone Fight Pass bout now that Omari Akhmedov and Marvin Vettori have moved up to cable. It may not win a lot of new subscribers, but it's well worth a watch.
Elliott is best known for his clunky striking and seat-of-the-pants grappling, which has translated to a successful and exciting, if inconsistent, career.
De La Rosa has skills and could capitalize on Elliott's abandon, particularly on the ground. That very thing happened to Elliott in his last fight against Ben Nguyen.
It won't happen this time. Elliott will win the scrambles and disappoint the debuting underdog.
Elliott, unanimous decision
Fox Sports 1 Prelims
Marvin Vettori (12-3) vs. Omari Akhmedov (17-4)
The one-shot knockout in Akhmedov's UFC debut set inaccurate expectations. Akhemdov is not only more of a grappler, his jaw seems kiln-forged—two of his three UFC losses came by knockout, and the other was catalyzed by a Gunnar Nelson left.
Vettori is a ground fighter all the way, though he has said he wants to test Akhmedov's chin, per MMA Weekly. The fight also takes place at middleweight, a level up from Akhmedov's usual zone. Will that help or hurt his suspect cardio?
This is a close fight, but question marks pile up for the Dagestani. Give me the younger, larger fighter.
Vettori, unanimous decision
Louis Smolka (11-4) vs. Matheus Nicolau (12-1-1)
It wasn't long ago Smolka was considered the fighter to watch at 125 pounds. Three straight defeats took the bloom off the rose. He's still only 26 years old, though, and still dangerous, with well-rounded skills and great length (5'9" height and a 69" reach) for the division.
Nicolau is trending up the other side of the mountain. The 24-year-old also has a complete game and a 2-0 UFC record to boot. The Jackson-Wink fighter and Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt is fun to watch on the mat, as evidenced by the Japanese necktie he pulled off in his UFC debut.
Smolka will have a major size advantage (Nicolau is 5'4") and is a cornered animal right now. People might have forgotten how good Smolka can be on the ground. Sound the upset alarms for the Hawaiian.
Smolka, unanimous decision
Rick Glenn (20-4-1) vs. Myles Jury (16-2)
This is a great matchup between two talented action fighters who have yet to get over the UFC hump.
It's Jury's third contest at featherweight, the division where Glenn won gold in World Series of Fighting. But Jury isn't Phillipe Nover, and whether it's Lance Palmer in WSOF or Evan Dunham in a UFC lightweight bout, Glenn has had difficulty with elite wrestlers and grapplers. It's the Achilles' heel of his career.
Jury isn't quite elite, but he's still a formidable grappler. If he can take Glenn down, this is his fight. If it stays on the feet, Jury can hold his own, but Glenn's sharp kickboxing swings the advantage his way. This fight is closer than odds suggest, but -300 favorite Jury has a paper edge.
Jury, unanimous decision
Khalil Rountree (6-2) vs. Michal Oleksiejczuk (12-2)
Rountree has so much hype behind him; maybe too much hype. But his exciting standup style continues to electrify fans and matchmakers alike.
A stiff and tantalizing test against kickboxing champ Gokhan Saki evaporated after Saki fell injured. A month before the event, Oleksiejczuk stepped into the breach. It's his UFC debut. (He was originally called up to face Ion Cutelaba on short notice at UFC 217, but that bout was subsequently scrapped altogether after Cutelaba ran afoul of USADA.)
Oleksiejczuk is a precise striker with a solid resume outside the UFC. He knows how to find a man's chin. The ground game, though, is where Rountree can be had. Until Oleksiejczuk proves himself at this level, consider him a showcase opponent for a striking dynamo in Rountree.
Rountree, TKO, Rd. 2
Marc Diakiese vs. Dan Hooker
Marc Diakiese (12-1) vs. Dan Hooker (14-7)
Welcome to the main card, Hooker and Diakiese. Good luck cracking the big case while pelting each other with one-liners that speak to your cultural differences.
After Jimmie Rivera and John Lineker fell off the pay-per-view (an achy Lineker tooth to blame), this bout got the call. That's probably thanks to Diakiese's flamboyant, kick-heavy style. The red-mohawked Congolese-Englishman earned half his pro wins by knockout.
New Zealander Dan "Hangman" Hooker is unimpressed, telling MMAJunkie that Diakiese is mainly "smoke and mirrors." But Hooker's no plodder. He can crack, too, even if his style has fewer moving parts than his opponent's.
Diakiese -185, Hooker +160
It's more than smoke and mirrors. Diakiese fell to Drakkar Klose in his last bout, but Hooker doesn't have Klose's power-wrestling game. This will be a standup fight, and that's the kind of contest Diakiese knows how to win.
Diakiese, unanimous decision
Carlos Condit vs Neil Magny
Carlos Condit (30-10) vs. Neil Magny (19-6)
How can you not love these fighters? If you don't, you're not watching.
Condit has spent much of his career on a pedestal—understandable, following the high-profile wars he's waged and frequently won. The vicious eight-point combinations of his famous, ferocious muay thai will roam the highlight reels forever. And never sleep on his jiu-jitsu.
Thing is, Condit is 33 years old now and fights about once a year on average. His last two outings were losses—one a close classic to Robbie Lawler and the other to jiu-jitsu legend Demian Maia, but still. It's hard to know what he has left, in his body or his mind. A lot about his MMA persona these days screams "I don't need this." That's accurate, but it's not the best way to win cage fights.
Magny isn't the celebrity Condit is, but he's piled up mountains of respect these past few years as something of an anti-Condit. This will be his 10th fight in three years. His record in the nine to date is 6-3. However, he's lost two of his last three, one to Lorenz Larkin and the other to the great Rafael dos Anjos.
Magny has great reach—80" to Condit's 76"—and always has letter-perfect game plans that he can execute in the crucible. Wrestling is his stock in trade, and opportunities will be there against Condit, who uses his aggressive submission game to deter takedowns and ground exchanges. His actual defensive wrestling is not great, as evidenced by his 39 percent takedown defense success rate, per FightMetric.
Condit -165, Magny +145
This will be an entertaining contest between two fighters who are not afraid to be entertaining. The X-factor is how much desire Condit has—or doesn't have—to compete in pro MMA. This has always been a hungry man's game. Condit is an exceptional fighter with exceptional talents. But if you're not all in, you can't win, no matter who you are. Three rounds spent underneath Neil Magny's elbows isn't going to muster his resolve, either, if it wasn't there coming in. We shall see.
Magny, unanimous decision
Cynthia Calvillo vs Carla Esparza
Cynthia Calvillo (6-0) vs. Carla Esparza (12-4)
Esparza will always be part of the UFC history books. She's the first-ever UFC strawweight champ. Unfortunately for her, Jedrzejczyk came along soon after.
As it stands, she's an up-and-down fighter with good wrestling and great nothing. Calvillo, meanwhile, is being groomed as the division's next big thing.
Calvillo is 30 but young in the game, with only three fights in her UFC career. She has impressed in those three, with wrestling as her linchpin. Her striking, however, is better than Esparza's, and she should have speed and power advantages on the feet.
Calvillo -255, Esparza +215
Unless Esparza can mash an opponent against the fence, hit takedowns and gain top control for ground-and-pound, she's not going to have a good night. Against Calvillo, she faces long odds of consistent success on all those fronts. Could Calvillo seize a piece of Esparza's championship aura? This is currently a wide-open title picture; just saying.
Calvillo, unanimous decision
Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Edson Barboza
Khabib Nurmagomedov (24-0) vs. Edson Barboza (19-4)
It feels odd to predict a Nurmagomedov fight. This has been noted one or 1,000 times before, but unless or until the Dagestani can stay healthy, stay on weight and get inside the dang cage, stuff besides actual fighting will continue to dominate his narrative.
If he does fight, the undefeated phenom will do so for the first time in more than a year and just the third time since 2014. People stick with him for his preternatural wrestling and strength, his deceptive hands and his pure will to pressure and dominate over the full course of a bout.
Barboza might be the best striker in all the UFC. It begins with kicks, which he fires like lightning, low and high, with almost no windup beforehand. Even more trouble for Nurmagomedov: Barboza's takedown defense is also some of the best the UFC has to offer.
Nurmagomedov -260, Barboza +180
Only injuries and tiramisu have seriously challenged Nurmagomedov to this point. Barboza could change that. Nurmagomedov seems likely to push forward and neutralize Barboza's kicks with the clinch. Barboza has a chance to catch and even finish Nurmagomedov but doesn't seem equipped to break out of of a protracted grind. If the fight is boring, Nurmagomedov wins. The fight will be boring.
Nurmagomedov, unanimous decision
Cris Cyborg vs Holly Holm
Cris Cyborg (18-1) vs. Holly Holm (11-3)
It's not just that Cyborg is powerful, with the way she pressures and breaks people, biding her time for just the right moment to bomb them back into the Stone Age.
Her accuracy is what really makes her lethal. She's not a wild striker, landing at a 51 percent clip, per FightMetric—that's 16 percent higher than Holm, the ex-boxer often touted for her spot-picking ability.
That said, Holm can work her game here, namely jabbing and feinting and circling. She has size and power of her own and probably won't be bullied like other Cyborg opponents, even if she lacks the kind of size or power to wade into a pocket with Cyborg. In fairness, no one out there has that kind of size or power (sorry, Gabi Garcia).
Holm will need to get on her bicycle and stay on it if she's going to tamp down the onslaught, all the while staying unpredictable lest the intelligent Cyborg—she is a Cyborg, after all—picks up on her patterns. Holm can punch, and we know she can kick. It's a tall order to stick and move for 25 minutes against Cyborg, but if anyone can do it, it's Holm.
Cyborg -345, Holm +315
As likable, talented and even maligned as Holm is, this is not the fight where she disproves the haters. Cyborg is the best there is and she'll show it again in her biggest UFC test to date. Holm, to her credit, might surpass Tonya Evinger as Cyborg's gamest competition, staying evasive and perhaps even scoring some points, which could constitute a moral victory. But a whole fight is too long of a high wire to walk, with too frightening of a monster shaking the posts below.
Cyborg, TKO, Rd. 3