If Frankie Edgar thought it was safer to try Brian Ortega on the feet, he was mistaken.
The unbeaten Ortega became the first man to finish “The Answer,” as he wiped out the notoriously durable Edgar with punches in the opening round of their UFC 222 co-main event on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. It came to a surprising and dramatic conclusion 3:25 into Round 1, leaving Ortega as the unquestioned No. 1 contender to the Ultimate Fighting Championship featherweight throne.
All appeared to be going according to plan for Edgar, who used crafty footwork and a decided speed advantage to unleash multi-punch volleys to the body and head. Ortega never took his eye off the target. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt cracked Edgar with an exquisite stepping elbow in close quarters, the impact scrambling the New Jersey native’s synapses while permanently altering the course of their confrontation. Ortega cut off escape routes and then lifted his counterpart off his feet with a devastating right uppercut. Edgar hit the deck in a semi-conscious state and could not withstand the follow-up hammerfists that necessitated the stoppage.
In the aftermath of UFC 222 “Cyborg vs. Kunitskaya,” here are five matches that ought to be made:
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Brian Ortega vs. Max Holloway: Ortega has been nothing short of a revelation since he joined the UFC roster in 2014, a suspension for PEDs notwithstanding. The 27-year-old Rener Gracie protégé finds himself on a run of six consecutive victories, all of them finishes, following his rousing technical knockout of Edgar in the co-headliner. Ortega’s latest win drives him further up the 145-pound rankings and puts him in position to challenge Holloway for the undisputed featherweight championship later this year. On a 12-fight tear, Holloway last competed at UFC 218 on Dec. 2, when he dismissed Jose Aldo with third-round punches.
Cristiane Justino vs. Amanda Nunes: Few legitimate challenges remain for Justino. The Brazilian juggernaut kept her stranglehold on the UFC women’s featherweight title in the main event, as she blasted through the willing but overmatched Yana Kunitskaya in a little more than three minutes. A straight right hand down the middle split Kunitskaya’s defenses and led to her unraveling. Referee Herb Dean swopped in to rescue her 3:25 into Round 1. A whopping 4,308 days have now passed since “Cyborg” suffered her one and only professional defeat, and she shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. If a much-talked-about superfight between Justino and Nunes is to come to fruition, the latter will first need to take care of business against Raquel Pennington at UFC 224 in May.
Andrei Arlovski vs. Derrick Lewis: Arlovski continues to defy perception, even at age 39 and with plenty of mileage on the odometer. Given up for dead following a five-fight losing streak between Jan. 2, 2016 and June 17, 2017, the Belarusian has again made himself relevant in the heavyweight division he once ruled. Leg kicks, thudding right hands and a career-high five takedowns spurred Arlovski to a unanimous decision over the 6-foot-11 Stefan Struve in their three-round showcase. It appears big fights are still in his future. Lewis last competed at UFC Fight Night 126 on Feb. 18, when he put away former M-1 Global champion Marcin Tybura with punches in the third round.
Ketlen Vieira vs. Holly Holm: Enjoying a meteoric rise in the women’s bantamweight division, Vieira improved to 4-0 in the UFC with a split decision over the returning Cat Zingano. According to preliminary FightMetric data, the judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt outstruck Zingano 96-77, completed each of her two takedown attempts and executed seven guard passes in the 15-minute affair. Vieira, 26, only figures to improve while working under the watchful eye of Andre Pederneiras at Nova Uniao. Holm has not fought since she moved up to 145 pounds and went five rounds in a losing effort against the aforementioned “Cyborg” at UFC 219 in December. Though she owns a 1-4 record across her past five outings, “The Preacher’s Daughter” remains one of the most recognizable names in the 135-pound weight class.
Sean O'Malley vs. Alejandro Perez-Matthew Lopez winner: O’Malley has done nothing but impress in his two appearances inside the Octagon. The undefeated MMA Lab prospect dominated Andre Soukhamthath for 10-plus minutes before suffering what appeared to be a significant leg injury in the third round and holding on for a unanimous decision. When O’Malley returns to the cage depends on the severity of his injury, but at 23 years of age, he has already established himself as one of the most promising young stars in the sport. Perez and Lopez will square off at UFC Fon Fox 29 in April.