Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Featherweight kickboxers Cris Cyborg and Holly Holm clashed last night (Dec. 30, 2017) at UFC 219 inside the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
There is no division emptier nor stranger than women’s Featherweight. Cyborg is pretty much the only 145-pound athlete who could not also make Bantamweight, but she’s also an incredible talent who went undefeated for a decade... against mostly Bantamweights. Holm, meanwhile, was a major step up in competition for the Brazilian despite still being a Bantamweight. The former 135 lbs. queen has been inconsistent lately, but few could truly doubt Holm after her unexpected masterclass that saw her dethrone Rousey.
Holm’s movement was on point early, and it allowed her to catch a kick and place Cyborg on her back briefly. When the fighters broke apart, Holm sprung into a left but was countered as well. Early on, Holm’s bursts saw her land and escape, but Cyborg began to find her range in the second half of the round. Surprisingly, Cyborg was the more active and effective kicker, whereas Holly sought out the clinch to slow Cyborg down a bit.
It was a tight round overall, but Cyborg’s right hand was the most effective weapon of the first five minutes.
Holm’s nose looked broken to start the second, and Cyborg’s nose was bleeding badly as well. The Brazilian got off to a strong start, landing combinations and right hands early in the round. Finally, Holm began to let her kicks going, landing with her left leg as a result. Additionally, Holm’s strategy of grabbing the clinch began to pay off, as it stymied Cyborg’s counters and even allowed Holm to land on the break on occasion. Cyborg looked a bit frustrated by the end of the round, but she also landed some hard kicks in the final 30 seconds of the second.
For the first time, Cyborg was in a real fight.
Holm’s face wore the damage of the previous ten minutes, and Cyborg added to it with more right hands. In addition, Cyborg found a home for a few hard knees to the body that discouraged Holm from clinching. Holm landed a few left hands, but otherwise she found little success. A right hand stunned Holm in the final seconds of the fight, leading to a big flurry from the Brazilian.
Cyborg brought the momentum firmly back into her corner heading into the championship rounds.
Holm opened the fourth with a crisp left cross counter, but Cyborg soon began to land once again. Despite all of Holm’s movement, Cyborg did a great job of choosing an appropriate weapon for the range, switching to kicks when the situation called for it. She also denied Holm the underhooks more often, preventing Holm from resting in a control position. Outside of the left hand, Holm had few effective weapons, leading to another strong round for the Brazilian.
With five minutes remaining, Holm likely needed a knockout.
After 20 minutes of me wishing Holm would throw a kick to the body, she opened the fifth with just that and landed well. Cyborg responded with some hard kicks, leading to a Superman elbow from Holm that actually landed! Though it resulted in more counters from her opponent, Holm really went after her opponent, firing constant left hands and left kicks.
On the other side of the equation, Cyborg began to target the body as well with her kicks to great effect. No matter what Holm threw at her, Cyborg just kept advancing, leading with kicks and countering when Holm charged. The Brazilian also returned the favor with a Superman punch of her own.
A big left hand from Holm smashed Cyborg’s nose in the final 30 seconds, but it was not the knockout punch Holm required.
Overall, this was really an interesting performance from Cyborg. Against the most legitimate opponent of her career, Cyborg both looked excellent and human. On one hand, Cyborg consistently landed the heavier shots throughout five rounds and never really faded. At the same time, Holm did land a fair amount of very clean blows and hold her own in the clinch, something no past opponent of Cyborg really managed.
Despite clearly winning the decision, it makes Cyborg appear a bit more vulnerable than previous. After watching this bout, I give someone like Germaine de Randamie or Amanda Nunes a better chance than I would have before this match.
Not saying I’d pick either over Cyborg, but it seems like Cyborg’s day of easily crushing opponents with little resistance may be over.
Holm showed a lot of heart in this contest, and she brought a smart game plan. Unfortunately, she’s still very easy to counter while bursting in with that left hand, something all of her recent opponents picked up on. Strategically, my only complaint was the lack of body kicks. Body kicks are far easier to land than high kicks, and they would have been a potentially effective way to slow Cyborg down a bit more. When Holm did throw body kicks in the fifth, they landed, but it was too late by that point.
Moving forward, Holm is likely headed back to 135 lbs. Her future may look a bit bleak considering recent losses, but she’s one of the few top Bantamweights yet to face Nunes, so Holm is not that far off from another title shot.
Last night, Cris Cyborg defended her title for the first time. Who will Cyborg face next?
For complete UFC 219 “Cyborg vs. Holm” results and play-by-play, click HERE!