UFC 222 Early Preview: What Are the Biggest and Best Fights Set for Las Vegas?

Steven Rondina@srondinaFeatured ColumnistFebruary 12, 2018

Cris Cyborg returns to the cage in the new UFC 222 main event.
Cris Cyborg returns to the cage in the new UFC 222 main event.Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

UFC 222 looked really, really bad for a little while. The event was set to be a one-fight card, offering little intrigue past the headlining bout between Max Holloway and Frankie Edgar. When that one fight fell through, it seemed like the event would be scrapped entirely.

In a strange turn of events, however, the injury to Holloway alongside a few unfortunate turns for recent fight-night events have transformed UFC 222 into the best event of 2018 thus far. The full card stands as follows:

Main Card (Pay-Per-View)

  • Cris Cyborg vs. Yana Kunitskaya
  • Frankie Edgar vs. Brian Ortega
  • Sean O’Malley vs. Andre Soukhamthath
  • Stefan Struve vs. Andrei Arlovski
  • Cat Zingano vs. Ketlen Vieira

Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 1)

  • Ashley Yoder vs. Mackenzie Dern
  • Beneil Dariush vs. Bobby Green
  • John Dodson vs. Pedro Munhoz
  • CB Dollaway vs. Hector Lombard

Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass)

  • Mike Pyle vs. Zak Ottow
  • Bryan Caraway vs. Cody Stamann
  • Jordan Johnson vs. Adam Milstead

From the quick, card-saving turnaround from women's featherweight champion Cris Cyborg, to the mouth-watering co-main event matchup to the numerous top-10 names on the preliminary card, UFC 222 has a lot to offer to fans.

But what are the biggest fights on the card? And what are the best? Read on and find out!

The Main Event: Cris Cyborg vs. Yana Kunitskaya

Filling in for the injured men's featherweight champion is the women's featherweight champion, Cris "Cyborg" Justino. 

Any longtime MMA fan is more than familiar with what Cyborg offers at this point: pure violence. True, the Brazilian is much more than a simple brawler—as she proved when she outpointed former UFC champion Holly Holm in December—but when fans turn on the TV to see her fight, they're not looking for a contest, they're looking to see her maul some poor woman.

The "poor woman" at UFC 222 is Yana Kunitskaya.

Kunitskaya is far from the worst fighter that Cyborg has ever faced. The Russian striker has been in the MMA game since 2009 and built up an 8-1 record on the European circuit before taking a hiatus in 2012. She returned to the cage in 2016 and made the jump stateside not long after, making a big splash and ultimately capturing gold in her brief career with Invicta FC.

But while Kunitskaya has proved herself to be a generally solid fighter, she doesn't necessarily have anything new to offer Cyborg, who is unquestionably and indisputably the single best female fighter on the planet. The question isn't if Cyborg will win, it's about whether she will bust Kunitskaya up en route to a decision or run her over before things get that far.

Frankie Edgar lost his shot at the title, but stuck around for an incredibly tough fight.
Frankie Edgar lost his shot at the title, but stuck around for an incredibly tough fight.Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

The Co-Main Event: Frankie Edgar vs. Brian Ortega

Fans planning to attend UFC 222 owe Frankie Edgar a big thank-you. The former lightweight champion was supposed to receive a crack at Holloway in the main event of this card, but when Holloway withdrew due to a leg injury, Edgar stuck around instead of continuing his chase for the elusive featherweight title. 

Was that a wise move, though? Well, probably not. Now in the co-main event of UFC 222, Edgar is poised to face Brian Ortega.

Since debuting in the UFC in 2014, Ortega has been on many "hot prospects" lists and, to this point, has lived up to any and all hype pinned on him. His UFC record stands at 5-0 (1) (with that 1 being a no-contest stemming from a failed drug test) with each win coming inside the distance. While there was a brief time where it was justified to wonder if those talents would translate to the division's elite, he passed a big test in December when he submitted top-10 staple Cub Swanson in just two rounds.

At this point, it's easy to wonder if anyone is capable of stopping Ortega, but facing those sorts of indomitable monsters is an all-too-familiar position for Edgar. The Answer has been doubted in many of his recent fights but, far more often than not, manages to come out on top.

Ortega may be the man to finally knock Edgar down his long-held seat as the world's No. 2 featherweight. Then again, he may just end up being the latest up-and-comer to get put in his place.

Fight to Keep an Eye On: Ashley Yoder vs. Mackenzie Dern

Mackenzie Dern is one of the hottest prospects in MMA today. And how could she not be?

Dern entered the MMA world in 2016 to much fanfare, carrying a slew of medals and awards from her years in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Those grappling skills served her well as she transitioned from the mats to the cage, too, and saw her encounter little resistance as she built up her highlight reel on the regional scene.

From there, she jumped over to Invicta FC and had little trouble finishing former title contender Kaline Medeiros.

Despite being green, the UFC decided to bring her up to the main roster. She debuts at UFC 222 against Ashley Yoder.

Yoder, quite frankly, is supposed to be a showcase opponent for Dern. 0-2 in the Octagon and without any particularly noteworthy in-cage skills, Yoder has few tools to impede Dern's offense and even fewer tools to threaten her.

This is a fight tailor-made for Dern to win. While she can't be viewed as a slam dunk to win because her actual in-cage experience is so limited, there is little reason to doubt her here.

Cat Zingano hasn't fought much in recent years, but remains an interesting commodity in the women's bantamweight division.
Cat Zingano hasn't fought much in recent years, but remains an interesting commodity in the women's bantamweight division.Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

The Best of the Rest

Cat Zingano vs. Ketlen Vieira: Cat Zingano is back! The longtime bantamweight contender has fought just three times since her dramatic comeback win over Miesha Tate in 2013, but she remains one of the division's most interesting talents based on her solid wrestling and knockout power. She has the chance to reestablish herself as a title contender at the expense of a surging Ketlen Vieira, who jumped into the top-five by beating Sara McMann.

Stefan Struve vs. Andre Arlovski: These two heavyweight veterans have fallen on hard times of late and it's easy to wonder if the loser of this fight might get booted. The good thing is that this is an unpredictable matchup and should be exciting.

John Dodson vs. Pedro Munhoz: UFC Belem's loss was UFC 222's gain as the Fight Night co-main event was moved here. In theory, Dodson is the favorite as he is better established against higher-end competition. But make no mistake, Munhoz is legit and has everything he needs to pick up a win here.

Bryan Caraway vs. Cody Stamann: After an extended layoff, Bryan Caraway is back in the cage. The veteran hasn't been seen since posting an at-the-time upset victory over Aljamain Sterling and has a lot of work to do in terms of reasserting himself as an elite bantamweight. He has a good opportunity to do so as he faces an untested, unseasoned Cody Stamann. 

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