Cristiane Justino made her second successful defense of the Ultimate Fighting Championship women’s featherweight title in the UFC 222 main event on Saturday in Las Vegas, where she took out Yana Kunitskaya with a signature barrage of brutal strikes in the first round. It was Justino’s 17th stoppage in her 20 professional victories.
The fight began with Justino immediately on the offensive. Directly out of the gate, “Cyborg” threw a right hand that stunned her opponent and had Kunitskaya looking to grapple. Kunitskaya successfully completed her first takedown of the fight, much to the surprise of an entire arena that erupted in a roar at the exchange. Before long, “Cyborg” managed to roll to her knees and work her way back to her feet but not before Kunitskaya found the opportunity to drape herself on the back of the reigning champion. Kunitskaya did well early, as she kept “Cyborg” against the fence and displayed her exceptional power in the grappling department.
However, Justino managed to gain separation and land well-timed knees to the body that began to take a toll on the challenger. As soon as “Cyborg” found space to remove herself from the cage, she was a fighter on a mission. She walked down Kunitskaya and with a flurry of punches sent her opponent crashing to the canvas; this time, the Russian could not find room to grapple. Justino rained punches until referee Herb Dean called a stop to the fight 3:25 into Round 1.
Following the win, “Cyborg” looked toward the future and a potential bout with UFC women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes. “When you call out ‘Cyborg,’” Justino said, “you have to deal with the consequences.”
Shock to the System
Brian Ortega and Frankie Edgar stepped into the Octagon under less-than-ideal circumstances. If not for an injury to featherweight champion Max Holloway, Edgar would have fought for the title in the main event. In Holloway’s stead, Ortega stepped up for what amounted to a title eliminator at 145 pounds. “T-City” delivered a shocking performance, finishing Edgar -- a feat no other fighter has achieved -- and stamping himself as the No. 1 contender to Holloway’s throne.
The sequence began with a perfectly timed standing elbow from Ortega as Edgar stepped in for a combination. The elbow landed flush on Edgar’s chin and had him visibly stunned. Ortega recognized he had his opponent in trouble and swarmed, refusing to let the New Jersey native off the hook. Remaining patient, “T-City” stalked his counterpart and unleashed stiff punches until he could land a final uppercut that sent Edgar to the floor. From there, it took a few hammerfists before referee Jason Herzog stepped in to stop the fight, setting up Ortega for the opportunity of a lifetime.
Afterward, Ortega remained humble and credited Edgar for his willingness to accept the fight when he had nothing to gain from it.
Rising Stars and the Old Guard
Sean O’Malley defeated Andre Soukhamthath via unanimous decision in a bantamweight feature that earned “Fight of the Night” honors. O’Malley saw success early and often with accurate and unorthodox striking combinations that had the former CES MMA champion on his back foot and unable to get solid reads throughout the opening frame. At the end of Round 1, the MMA Lab prospect landed a right hand to Soukhamthath’s temple that buckled his knees and had O’Malley swarming for the finish. After dominating the better part of two rounds, O’Malley was forced to dig deep in the third after an apparent lower leg injury left him hobbled and unable to stand for the final two minutes of the fight. After gutting out the remainder of the bout from his back, the undefeated O’Malley was carried out of the cage.
Meanwhile, Andrei Arlovski made good on his promises of a comeback tour, as he marked a tally in the win column with a unanimous decision over Stefan Struve in their heavyweight showcase. Arlovski was successful on multiple fronts, outhustling Struve in the standup exchanges and on the ground. He landed a takedown in all three rounds, as he controlled the pace and flow of the fight and never allowed Struve to get comfortable. Following his second consecutive win, Arlovski credited his move to American Top Team for allowing him to evolve late in his career.
Elsewhere, Ketlen Vieira kept her unbeaten record intact by taking home a unanimous decision over former women’s bantamweight title challenger Cat Zingano. Vieira was in charge for much of the match thanks to her grappling prowess, as she stuck Zingano to the mat repeatedly and avoided the Alliance MMA rep’s winging strikes whenever the action was on the feet. In the aftermath of her latest win, Vieira made it clear that she believes she is next in line for a title shot against the aforementioned Nunes.
Two-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion Mackenzie Dern made a successful UFC debut with a split decision over Ashley Yoder. Dern managed to grind out the win with a tireless grappling attack and did not relent. Late in Round 3, Dern moved to her opponent’s back and attempted a rear-naked choke, though her efforts did not bear fruit ... Alexander Hernandez sprang a career-altering upset, finishing the 12th-ranked Beneil Dariush 42 seconds into the opening round. An overhand left landed flush on the temple and did the fight-ending damage, rendering Dariush unconscious before he hit the mat. Hernandez took the bout on short notice after an injury forced Bobby Green to withdraw from the bout ... John Dodson defeated Pedro Munhoz by split decision in an evenly contested clash between top bantamweights. Dodson scored throughout with a quick, well-timed striking attack. He also made good use of an evident speed advantage, and Munhoz had trouble making adjustments ... C.B. Dolloway won via disqualification after Hector Lombard landed two blows after the horn to end the first round sounded. The shots left Dolloway incapacitated, the cageside doctor deeming him unable to continue. The encounter was cut short, leaving Lombard and his team furious at the decision.