UFC 222 Results: The Real Winners and Losers
It would be the biggest upset in the history of UFC title fights.
Cristiane "Cyborg" Justino is not just the women's featherweight champion, she's the best fighter in the history of women's MMA and one of the sport's top competitors in any gender or weight class. She hasn't lost since her first pro fight and that was 2005.
Her dominance has continued unabated in the two years and four fights since she entered the UFC. The problem is, there aren't a ton of suitable challengers at 145 pounds. And among that small pool, the able doesn't always overlap with the willing.
As such, we get matchups like the one Saturday, in which the champ stepped in with a virtual unknown in Yana Kunitskaya. The Russian is not entirely unaccomplished, but this was her UFC debut—in a title fight—and she was a +1050 underdog, according to OddsShark.
So did it happen? Or did the Cyborg train rumble on?
That was just the main event in what ended up being a wild 12-fight event in Las Vegas. Plenty of stars rose and fell, including a number of the sport's new names.
As always, the final stat lines don't reveal all. These are the real winners and losers from UFC 222.
Winner: Cris Cyborg
OK, the upset didn't happen. But that didn't mean it wasn't another riveting performance from one of the very best fighters, if not the best, on this planet.
Kunitskaya was game, though. After she took an early punch, she got an ankle pick for the takedown and seemed to hold her own with Cyborg in the grappling phase, even getting her back for a quick moment.
But Cyborg soon regained control and swarmed the Russian with punches. Cyborg picks her spots, but this was old-school aggression. At some point, Kunitskaya, as nearly all of Cyborg's opponents do, panicked and folded. The end came 3:25 into the first round.
Afterward, Cyborg turned up the heat on a matchup she had previously met with only lukewarm interest—a superfight with women's bantamweight champion and fellow Brazilian Amanda Nunes. It's a fight Nunes has repeatedly requested.
"Amanda Nunes, she called me out," Cyborg told broadcaster Joe Rogan in the cage after the fight. "Brazil against Brazil, it's sad. ...But when you call out Cyborg, you have to handle it."
Well, that's frightening. It's also an absolute can't-miss fight. Give me the date so I can clear my schedule.
Winner: Brian Ortega
Coming into UFC 222, Frankie Edgar had never been stopped in his 28-fight career.
Brian Ortega changed that with a first-round knockout win.
It started as a classic Edgar first round, with him sticking and moving and using his quickness to stay clear of the far larger fighter's power. Ortega, mainly known for his jiu-jitsu prowess, showed his striking skills when he tied up Edgar and landed an elbow.
Edgar was visibly rocked. Ortega was a quiet storm, remaining calm but pounding his opponent with well-placed uppercuts. The final uppercut lifted Edgar off his feet.
You have to feel for Edgar, who was originally set to face Max Holloway here for the featherweight title before the champ fell injured. Now, he's back to the drawing board after the first knockout of his storied career.
As for Ortega, well, he's a star in the making. The 27-year-old is handsome, humble, thoughtful and really good at fighting. He hasn't lost in 15 bouts. In eight UFC contests, he has never gone the distance, winning three by knockout and four by submission (he would have a fifth submission if a positive drug test hadn't changed it to a no-contest).
"I fear myself getting knocked out, but that fear makes me deadly in here," Ortega told Rogan in the cage after the fight. "I’m making history."
A title fight with Holloway now seems inevitable. And Ortega was just one of several younger stars who made good on the evening—a much-needed infusion of new UFC blood. For more on that, read on.
Winner: Sean O'Malley
If you thought the hype, the 'fro, the swagger, the Snoop Dogg stuff and all the rest of it were a little over the top, I've got bad news for you.
"Sugar" Sean O'Malley is here, and he isn't going anywhere.
Unfortunately, a late leg injury left O'Malley in visible and audible agony. But thanks to a lapse in fight IQ from opponent Andre Soukhamthath, he was able to gut out a decision win.
After making his initial splash on Dana White's Tuesday Night Contender Series show, the 23-year-old from Montana defeated Terrion Ware to earn this chance.
O'Malley is rail thin but don't let that fool you. He has whips for limbs, and he attacked Soukhamthath from all angles and stances, and with creative combinations. This time, unlike previous outings, his aggression was more controlled, with feints and good old-fashioned patience taking their place alongside his offense.
Toward the end of the fight, O'Malley landed a kick that appeared to badly injure his foot. He hopped back toward the fence on one leg.
Inexplicably, though, Soukhamthath went for the takedown. He held O'Malley against the fence for the duration of the bout, essentially insisting on a fruitless ground exchange that let his injured opponent off the hook.
As ring announcer Bruce Buffer read the decision, O'Malley lay on the canvas. Just to make things as weird as possible, Rogan then knelt down to interview the clearly distressed victor, who was sprawled out on his back with doctors and officials all around him.
"I can't feel it, it went numb," O'Malley said between gasps. "I feel nothing. Nothing I can't fix with a little medicine at my after party."
It was a strange ending, but O'Malley is now 10-0 as a pro and firmly established in the bantamweight division. There is more to come from Sugar Sean, even if he didn't make it to that after party.
Loser (Almost): Mackenzie Dern
It wasn't pretty, it was in doubt for long stretches, but superhyped Mackenzie Dern won her UFC debut. Crisis averted.
The opponent was Ashley Yoder, who was 5-3 as a pro coming in. Per OddsShark, Dern was a -430 favorite, making her the second-biggest favorite on the card behind Cyborg.
Much of the fight unfolded on the feet, where neither woman did much to distinguish herself. Dern, a world champion Brazilian jiu-jitsu player, preferred to bull forward with her head down, throwing wild hooks that did not connect.
Obviously, the ground is where Dern wants the action to unfold. The problem was, she couldn't get it there. Yoder was able to defend trips and drags from the clinch, and Dern was unable to pull off a takedown shot in open space.
So we were left with the wild striking. The underdog had her moments, knocking Dern to the mat at one point. In the final two minutes, Dern finally forced an unbalanced Yoder down and controlled things from there. She couldn't pull of the rear-naked choke she wanted, but it sealed up the win nonetheless.
She took a split decision but only because notorious judge Adalaide Byrd somehow scored it 29-28 for Yoder.
No harm, no foul (this time) as Dern took home the win. She still needs seasoning in the non-BJJ martial arts, but there's time, and there are plenty of options in the strawweight division.
Maryna Moroz or Polyana Viana Mota both make sense as a tough but winnable test for Dern's next engagement.
Winner: Alexander Hernandez
Alexander Hernandez had never fought in the UFC before. On just one week's notice, he filled in for the injured Bobby Green against respected veteran Beneil Dariush.
As one might expect, the 25-year-old lightweight was a big underdog. To his credit, though, he came in with a lot of confidence, claiming he would "shock everybody" on Saturday.
That's not unusual talk—unless someone goes out and backs it up. Hernandez did, knocking out Dariush in a mere 42 seconds to plant his flag on the UFC landscape.
Hernandez started his UFC debut with a dubious action, faking the traditional glove touch and instead hitting Dariush with a front kick. It's pretty poor sportsmanship, but it set the tone for the aggression that followed.
Dariush never seemed to get a foothold, and soon enough Hernandez landed an overhand left that put his opponent down and out.
"You didn't know me then," Hernandez said in the cage after the fight. "But I promise you know me know."
Loser: Hector Lombard
Plenty of MMA fighters are fond of, shall we say, creative interpretions of the rules.
That fondness may be a function of the average referee's, shall we say, even-tempered attitude toward said interpretations.
There's an old phrase—"if you ain't cheatin', you ain't tryin'"—that frequently applies in the fight game.
It definitely applied to Hector Lombard Saturday night. The problem is, he tried a little too hard.
After a competitive first round that probably swung toward C.B. Dollaway, Lombard hit his opponent with a jab and a big left hook after the horn. The second one was the most blatant and most damaging, as it landed Dollaway on his backside and eventually on a stretcher.
After Dollaway couldn't continue, referee Mark Smith disqualified Lombard, handing the win to Dollaway. (Here's a link to the video if you want to see for yourself.)
In all seriousness, there's no telling whether Lombard deliberately attempted to break the rules. For the record, the rules do state the referee, not the horn, is what officially breaks the action at the end of the round, and in this case Smith's positioning was a bit ambiguous.
Still, Lombard—who doesn't have a choirboy's reputation or track record—was clearly late on the second blow if not the first.
My inner feeling tells me Team Lombard will vehemently protest the result (spoiler: according to Ariel Helwani of MMA Fighting, he will), but the video doesn't lie. This creative interpretation colored too far outside the lines.
Winner: Mike Pyle
This one's in the eye of the beholder.
At age 42 and with a record of 27-13-1, Mike Pyle had had a long fight career. Some might say too long. He dropped five of his last seven contests coming into Saturday's matchup with Zak Ottow. Four of those five losses came by knockout.
Before the bout, Pyle announced he would retire afterward, win or lose.
Then Ottow knocked him out in two minutes and 34 seconds, leaving Pyle emotional after the defeat.
"I f--king loved it," Pyle told Rogan in the cage after the fight. "I loved every bit of it."
Three straight knockout defeats is not a storybook ending. Did the Las Vegas native hang on too long? If so, he wouldn't be the first.
On the plus side, Pyle has had a rock-solid career in the UFC. He never truly contended for a UFC title but held gold in the WEC and defeated notables such as Jon Fitch, Ricardo Almeida and Rick Story along the way.
At the end of the day, it's his call to make, regardless of what fans did or didn't find entertaining or palatable. And it's natural to want to offer respect to a veteran who gave so much of himself to the sport.
So we'll give him a W here. It's not the one he wanted, but here's offering nonetheless.
UFC 222 Full Card Results
Cris Cyborg def. Yana Kunitskaya by TKO, 3:25, Rd. 1
Brian Ortega def. Frankie Edgar by KO, 4:44, Rd. 1
Sean O'Malley def. Andre Soukhamthath by unanimous decision (29-27, 29-27, 29-28)
Andrei Arlovski def. Stefan Struve by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
Ketlen Vieira def. Cat Zingano by split decision (29-29, 28-29, 29-28)
Mackenzie Dern def. Ashley Yoder by split decision (28-29, 29-28, 29-28)
Alexander Hernandez def. Beneil Dariush by KO, 0:42, Rd. 1
John Dodson def. Pedro Munhoz by split decision (28-29, 30-27, 29-28)
CB Dollaway def. Hector Lombard by DQ (illegal strikes after the horn)
Zak Ottow def. Mike Pyle by TKO, 2:34, Rd. 1
Cody Stamann def. Bryan Caraway by split decision (28-29, 29-28, 29-28)
Jordan Johnson def. Adam Milstead by split decision (29-28, 27-30, 29-28)