Matches to Make After UFC 219

By Brian Knapp Dec 30, 2017

Holly Holm wandered onto the tracks when the train ... well, you know the rest.

“The Preacher’s Daughter” was unsuccessful in her bid to dethrone undisputed Ultimate Fighting Championship women’s featherweight titleholder Cris Cyborg, as she lost a unanimous decision to the Brazilian juggernaut in the UFC 219 main event on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Scores were 49-46, 48-47 and 48-47 for Justino, though most observers felt the judges went easy on the affable Holm.

Justino outlanded the Albuquerque, New Mexico, native by substantial FightMetric margins across the five-round affair: 118-44 in significant strikes and 131-48 in total strikes. Worse for Holm, the champion’s punches, knees and kicks had considerably more heat on them and took a far heavier toll. By the time their 25 minutes were up, the challenger was barely recognizable, the left side of her face battered by a series of clubbing “Cyborg” right hands. To Holm’s credit, she managed to stay alert and never stopped probing for avenues to what was always an unlikely victory. The two women threw an almost identical rate; Justino attempted 237 strikes to her challenger’s 232.

In the aftermath of UFC 219 “Cyborg vs. Holm,” here are five matches that ought to be made:

Cris Cyborg vs. Amanda Nunes: Justino has recorded nine consecutive wins and would be in possession of a 20-fight winning streak were it not for the failed drug test that resulted in a no-contest with Hiroko Yamanaka six years ago. Nevertheless, “Cyborg” remains arguably the most dominant fighter in the sport, male or female, and the UFC finds itself in an undeniable quandary in relation to how it books her. Much has been made about Megan Anderson crossing over from Invicta Fighting Championships to face “Cyborg,” but the Australian prospect is only 10 fights into her professional career and could use further seasoning before tackling such a monumental challenge. Nunes has not fought since she successfully defended her bantamweight championship in a split decision over Valentina Shevchenko at UFC 215 on Sept. 9 and appears to have no challengers in waiting at 135 pounds. If not now, when?

Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson: The MMA world has begun to broach the idea that it may have seen the last of lightweight champion Conor McGregor, as his historic encounter with Floyd Mayweather Jr. fattened his bank account and undoubtedly sapped some of his desire to return to the cage anytime soon. Ferguson, who captured interim gold at 115 pounds with his triangle choke submission on Kevin Lee in October, has no such trouble finding motivation and has unfinished business with Nurmagomedov. They have been scheduled to meet on three previous occasions but have not yet locked horns inside the Octagon. Nurmagomedov improved to an almost unimaginable 25-0 by thrashing onetime Ring of Combat champion Edson Barboza for three rounds and picking up a unanimous decision in the UFC 219 co-headliner.

Carla Esparza vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz: It appears as though Esparza’s demise was greatly exaggerated. The onetime UFC and Invicta champion slowed the rise of undefeated Team Alpha Male prospect Cynthia Calvillo, as she walked away from their three-round battle with a hard-earned but well-deserved unanimous decision. Esparza, 30, has posted back-to-back wins since her contentious split decision loss to Randa Markos at UFC Fight Night 105 on Feb. 19, and her status as a former titleholder affords her more equity than most in the women’s strawweight division. Kowalkiewicz last competed at UFC Fight Night 118 in October, when she snapped a two-fight losing streak with a unanimous decision over promotional newcomer Jodie Esquibel.

Neil Magny vs. Kamaru Usman-Emil Weber Meek winner: Always a forgotten man at 170 pounds, Magny improved to 13-4 under the UFC flag with a unanimous decision over former World Extreme Cagefighting champion Carlos Condit. The Elevation Fight Team export short-circuited Condit with pressure and takedowns -- he executed six of them -- in a 15-minute showdown that was far more uneventful than many expected. In the last four years, Magny has lost only to Demian Maia, Lorenz Larkin and Rafael dos Anjos. Usman and Meek will tangle at UFC Fight Night 124 on Jan. 14 in St. Louis.

Matheus Nicolau Pereira vs. Dustin Ortiz-Alexandre Pantoja winner: Out of sight and out of mind for more than a year due to a United States Anti-Doping Agency suspension, Pereira made a rousing return to the contender-starved UFC flyweight division and took a three-round unanimous verdict from Louis Smolka on the undercard. The 24-year-old Brazilian floored Smolka three times in the first round before settling for the decision. On a six-fight winning streak and with victories over Smolka and John Moraga already in his rearview mirror, Pereira becomes an immediate person of interest at 125 pounds. Ortiz and Pantoja are scheduled to face one another at UFC 220 on Jan. 20.

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