Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) women’s Featherweight champion Cris Cyborg will look to go undefeated (2-0) against Invicta champs this Saturday when she takes on Russian standout Yana Kunitskaya in the main attraction of UFC 222, live from Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena.
Earlier in the evening, Frankie Edgar throws down with Brian Ortega in a top-notch featherweight clash, Sean O’Malley trades hands with Andre Soukhamthath at bantamweight, and Andrei Arlovski throws down with Stefan Struve in a potentially disastrous heavyweight battle.
FOX Sports 1, as usual, will host four UFC 222 “Prelims” undercard bouts before the main attractions begin (check out the Fight Pass portion here). So, let’s have a look:
115 lbs.: Ashley Yoder vs. Mackenzie Dern
Ashley Yoder (5-3) went 1-1 on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 23, but earned a call to enter the Octagon after a submission win in Invicta. She has yet to taste UFC victory, though, losing decisions to Justine Kish and Angela Hill.
“The Spider Monkey” owns four professional wins by armbar, three in the first round and two in a combined 1:17.
A multiple-time world champion in both gi- and no-gi Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Mackenzie Dern (5-0) made the transition to mixed martial arts (MMA) in 2016 under the Legacy banner, eventually moving to Invicta for her last two fights. Though perhaps better known for her issues making weight, she’s nonetheless picked up three submissions in her five victories, including an Imanari choke of current UFC competitor Montana De La Rosa.
She will give up four inches of height to the 5’7” Yoder.
I am genuinely more interested in the fight between Dern and the scale than between Dern and Yoder. Yoder is almost exclusively a grappler and is going up against a woman who’s beaten Gabi Garcia, won ADCC, and earned more world-level medals than Yoder has MMA fights. The question is whether Dern can keep her weight in check and get the finish.
Barring a complete meltdown the likes of which would have Sara McMann wincing, Dern should utterly dominate this fight, wrapping up a submission if and when she wants it.
Prediction: Dern via first-round submission
155 lbs.: Beneil Dariush vs. Alexander Hernandez
A knockout loss to Ramsey Nijem in his second UFC fight didn’t stop Beneil Dariush (14-3-1) from winning seven of his next eight bouts, including consecutive victories over prospects James Vick and Radhid Magomedov. “Benny” enters the cage winless in his last two, however, having suffered a shocking knockout loss to Edson Barboza and settled for a draw with Evan Dunham after gassing out late.
Six of his nine stoppage victories have come by submission.
San Antonio’s Alexander Hernandez (8-1) has not tasted defeat since a split decision in his third professional fight. His current streak includes three consecutive finishes, including one in RFA and another in LFA.
He steps in for the injured Bobby Green on a week’s notice.
I cannot for the life of me find full footage of any recent Hernandez fights, not even on the seedier websites that give my adblock a hernia. All I’ve really got are short highlights from his last two fights, which show a quick, athletic, well-rounded fighter who’s comfortable from either stance and can finish fights on the feet and the mat.
They do not, however, show anything that could really trouble Dariush, especially not on short notice. Dariush’s ground game is top-tier for the division, he has underrated power in his kicks and punches, and his gas tank is generally solid when he doesn’t punch himself out like against Dunham. He holds his own in all areas of the game, ultimately wearing down Hernandez with low kicks en route to a late finish.
Prediction: Dariush via third-round submission
135 lbs.: John Dodson vs. Pedro Munhoz
This was supposed to happen on the main card of UFC Fight Night 125 before Pedro Munhoz (15-2) missed weight. Luckily, I was on main card duty that week, so I can copy-paste my pick with zero ethical conflicts.
I can’t look at John Dodson (19-9) and not see lost potential, even with his clear love for and dedication to the sport. His game has just never evolved from hurling left hands in new and exciting ways. He utterly lacks any kind of offense from his lead hand and his output fluctuates strangely, leading to unnecessarily close and dull fights.
See: Wineland, Eddie.
Luckily, though, I don’t see him challenging for the title with the Big Three (Dominick Cruz, T.J. Dillashaw and Cody Garbrandt) and Marlon Moraes in the way, he’s still well-equipped to beat the majority of the division, including “The Young Punisher.”
Munhoz has an absolute bear trap of a guillotine and is tougher than a $2 steak in hockey pads, but his wrestling has not developed as it should, forcing him to use pressure striking to provoke opponents into ill-advised takedown attempts. While he has enough power and aggression to make this work more often than not, he can look worryingly mortal when the choke isn’t there.
Unless he can become the first person to dent Dodson’s chin, it won’t be there. Take Munhoz’s ground game out of the equation and you have a solid-but-not-spectacular bruiser, the sort who Dodson loves leading on merry, painful chases around the Octagon. Dodson’s freakish athleticism, speed and reflexes keep him on his feet as he potshots the advancing Munhoz for three full rounds.
Prediction: Dodson via unanimous decision
185 lbs.: C.B. Dollaway vs. Hector Lombard
From the end of 2014 through the first half of 2017, the MMA career of C.B. Dollaway (34-8-1) seemed like one disaster after another, as he went winless (0-3) with two knockout losses and suffered serious injury from an elevator mishap before UFC 203. He managed to return to action last July, picking up a decision over fellow veteran Ed Herman.
He will have five inches of height and reach on Hector Lombard (16-8).
It feels like eons ago that Lombard was on a 25-fight unbeaten run and considered a genuine contender for the best Middleweight on the planet. He enters the cage this Saturday on a four-fight losing streak that includes stoppage losses to Neil Magny, Dan Henderson and Anthony Smith.
He owns 19 finishes via (technical) knockout and another seven by submission.
This is not an easy decision to make. Dollaway’s overeager striking offense looks like the perfect way to get demolished by a Lombard counter, but Lombard is on one hell of a crappy run. 185-pound division has thoroughly passed both men by — each is more likely to get sent to Queer Street a couple more times than to re-enter title contention.
Dollaway will be making that trip first. Lombard may have lost those fights, but he still hurt Magny and Henderson badly. The reach difference won’t mean much when it’s Dollaway looking to slug inside; therefore, expect Lombard to crunch him in the first few exchanges.
Prediction: Lombard via first-round knockout
I’ll say one thing for certain: UFC 222 is going to be something unique ... for better or worse. See you Saturday, 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.