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UFC 222 predictions: ‘Cyborg vs Kunitskaya’ Fight Pass ‘Prelims’ undercard preview

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is bringing a bevy of “Prelims” fights to both UFC Fight Pass and FOX Sports 1 this weekend (Sat., March 3, 2018) when UFC 222: “Cyborg vs. Kunitskaya” storms T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. MMAmania.com’s Patrick Stumberg kicks off the UFC 222 “Prelims” party with the first installment of a two-part undercard preview series below.

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Austin Sanchez vs Sanchez Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Megan Anderson who?

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) women’s Featherweight champion Cris “Cyborg” returns to action this Saturday (March 3, 2018) in her second title defense, welcoming Invicta Bantamweight champ Yana Kunitskaya to the Octagon in the pay-per-view (PPV) main event of UFC 222, which takes place inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The card was supposed to feature a second title bout, but Featherweight kingpin Max Holloway’s injury has resulted in a final No. 1 contender eliminator match between Frankie Edgar and late replacement Brian Ortega. There’s also a Bantamweight clash between the heavy-handed Sean O’Malley and Andre Soukhamthath, plus a Heavyweight ... something ... between Andrei Arlovski and Stefan Struve.

UFC 222’s seven “Prelims” undercard bouts are split 4:3, starting with Fight Pass and ending on FOX Sports 1. Let’s first dig into the online offerings:

170 lbs.: Mike Pyle vs. Zak Ottow

Once within spitting distance of title contention thanks to a 7-1 run that featured an upset of then-unbeaten John Hathaway, Mike Pyle (27-13-1) is just 1-4 in his last five fights dating back to 2014. A bonus-winning knockout of Sean Spencer gave way to brutal losses to Alberto Mina and Alex Garcia, both of whom knocked the 42-year-old completely unconscious.

“Quicksand” has gone to the judges just six times in 41 fights.

Zak Ottow (15-5) — who opened his UFC career with an upset of Josh Burkman — has alternated wins and losses in the Octagon, going to three consecutive split decisions. There was no controversy around his latest loss, however, suffering a technical knockout loss to power-puncher Li Jingliang in Shanghai.

“The Barbarian” has tapped nine opponents with chokes.

The Pyle formula used to be fairly simple: He starts slow, gets dropped partway through the first round, then gets up and destroys his man in the clinch. The problem is that he’s now having trouble with the whole “gets up” part. He’s still lethal at close range and devastating on the mat, but that’s not exactly useful when he’s unconscious on the ground.

Luckily for him, Ottow isn’t much of a hitter and can be fairly inactive on the feet, giving “Quicksand” time to get the gears turning and put the hurt on him. While I’m in favor of Pyle retiring before he suffers his fifth knockout loss since May 2013, Ottow is the kind of opponent he can have a vintage performance against. Pyle survives an early knockdown to put away Ottow with a knee.

Prediction: Pyle via second-round technical knockout

135 lbs.: Bryan Caraway vs. Cody Stamann

Despite an ignominious knockout loss to Diego Brandao on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 14, Bryan Caraway (21-7) emerged as a contender with wins in six of his first eight UFC appearances. Since losing a decision to Raphael Assuncao, he has run circles around Eddie Wineland and survived an early back take to win a split decision over the heavily-favored Aljamain Sterling.

This will be his first fight in nearly two years because of multiple injuries.

Seven consecutive victories brought Coday Stamann (16-1) to UFC, where he took an entertaining decision over striking specialist Terrion Ware in his debut. He impressed enough in victory to earn a crack at top prospect Tom Duquesnoy, whom he upset via decision at UFC 216.

He will give up two inches of height and four inches of reach to “Kid Lightning.”

Caraway’s actually a moderate underdog at the time of this writing, which honestly surprises me. Even with the layoff, the style match up looks to be in his favor — he can keep up with Stamann in the grappling, is a better finisher on the mat, and showed some very nice range striking against Wineland, which should work wonders here considering the length advantage. I’ll admit that I’ve underestimated Stamann in the past, but I really do think this goes Caraway’s Cara-way.

Caraway’s history of maintaining an impressive pace suggests he should be in shape enough to go hard even if he’s been out of action. I say he wrangles Stamann to the mat in the first few rounds, ultimately finishing with his favorite rear-naked choke.

Prediction: Caraway via second-round submission

205 lbs.: Jordan Johnson vs. Adam Milstead

“Big Swingin’” Jordan Johnson (8-0) had to go to the scorecards for the first time to do it, but defeated Lemarcus Tucker for the RFA title in his final pre-UFC victory. A mauling of Luis Henrique announced his arrival to the Octagon, after which he out-dueled Marcel Fortuna in July.

He stands one inch shorter than Adam Milstead (8-1), but will have three inches of reach on him.

After a loss in his professional debut, “The Prototype” rattled off eight finishes in his next eight fights, including a beating of Chris De La Rocha in first UFC appearance. His next fight saw him on the wrong end of a mauling from Curtis Blaydes, and the subsequent declaration of a “No Contest” following Blaydes testing positive for marijuana wasn’t enough to make up for the knee injury Milstead suffered.

This will be his Light Heavyweight debut.

Milstead is loads of fun to watch, aggressive as hell and packing some real power. He just hasn’t quite reached the point where he can maximize his athleticism, and unfortunately, Johnson’s a bit of a beast himself. That’s not even mentioning Johnson’s extensive wrestling background — undersized or no, Milstead’s manhandling from Blaydes does not instill a lot of confidence in his ability to keep it on the feet.

Milstead’s coming off a one-sided beating and a nasty injury, going up against a confident, undefeated fighter with the style to give him fits. Johnson mauls him with ground-and-pound for all three rounds, though the finish is there if he wants it.

Prediction: Johnson via unanimous decision

Four more UFC 222 “Prelims” bouts to preview and predict tomorrow, including the Octagon debut of one of the best female grapplers on the planet. See you tomorrow, Maniacs!

Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 222 fight card, starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.