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UFC 222 predictions, preview, and analysis

Media Day: Press Conference with UFC Featherweight Champion Cris Cyborg Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is back on pay-per-view (PPV) this weekend, despite a close call a few weeks back, with Cris Cyborg defending her women’s featherweight title against Octagon newcomer Yana Kunitskaya in the five-round main event.

The former headliner, Frankie Edgar, drops down to the co-main event in hopes of turning away 145-pound up-and-comer Brian Ortega, who comes into the bout on short notice. Elsewhere on the card, former women’s bantamweight title contender Cat Zingao returns to action opposite Ketlen Vieira, while former heavyweight kingpin Andrei Arlovski throws hands against longtime veteran Stefan Struve.

Before we break down the five-fight main card, take a look at what’s happening on the UFC 222 “Prelims,” spread across FOX Sports 1 and UFC Fight Pass, by clicking here and here. For a closer look at all the odds and betting lines for this Saturday night’s (March 3, 2018) action inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, click here.

That’s enough of the potatoes, let’s get to the meat.

145 lbs.: UFC Women’s Featherweight Champion Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino (19-1, 1 NC) vs. Yana “Foxy” Kunitskaya (10-3, 1 NC)

Nostradumbass predicts: As we’ve learned from previous combat sports deities, nothing (and no one) lasts forever. Anderson Silva and Fedor Emelianenko are a couple of fighters who come to mind when discussing dominant champions who are long past their expiration dates.

When will Cristiane Justino join them?

The Brazilian has not lost a fight since her MMA debut back in 2005, and has since notched 16 wins by knockout. Whether or not she’s ever been truly tested is a moot point, as “Cyborg” can only fight the talent willing to throw down. Finding quality female fighters is difficult to begin with, simply because the sport has been slow to make women’s MMA an acceptable form of employment, and finding female fighters who compete at 145 pounds and want to throw down with Justino is damn-near impossible.

Case in point: Germaine de Randamie decided that giving up her championship title and abandoning the weight class was a better option than sticking around to fight Cyborg. Those who do, lose, and typically lose huge, though former bantamweight champion Holly Holm was able to make it a fight early and often.

Not that we expected anything less from a former world boxing champion.

In the early days, it seemed Justino was winning fights solely on her size, strength, and aggression. But as we learned against “The Preacher’s Daughter,” she is more than just her reputation and knows how to make adjustments during fights, vary her offense, and dig deep when needed.

And despite that muscular frame, five rounds does not appear to be an issue.

That leaves very little room for Yana Kunitskaya, at least in terms of making a case for the upset. Especially when you consider that “Foxy” has already lost three times in her professional career. While having an undefeated record is not a precursor for besting an opponent, it’s hard to look at those previous defeats and not think Justino could replicate the same result.

Much more violently.

The bout was taken on short notice for both fighters and I don’t know what Kunitskaya does between fights, but she certainly looks like she stays active, judging by her physique at the UFC 222 open workouts. What we’ve seen in Invicta shows promise. Her jab is potent and she’s got pop in her punches, particularly for a bantamweight.

And that’s just it.

Kunitskaya is a “good” bantamweight moving up to a heavier weight class to fight the most dominant female fighter of all time. There is nothing in her credentials to indicate she’s better -- or perhaps even competitive — in any area that Justino thrives in. And we’ve all seen Cyborg get punched square in the face and not even bat an eyelash.

If the best argument we can make is, “Well, it’s MMA and anything can happen,” then we have already resigned ourselves to the obvious. Expect Justino to walk forward, do whatever the hell she wants — wherever the hell she wants to do it — and give the fans the finish they’re expecting.

Final prediction: Justino def. Kunitskaya by technical knockout

145 lbs: Frankie “The Answer” Edgar (22-5-1) vs. Brian “T-City” Ortega (13-0, 1 NC)

Nostradumbass predicts: To date, Brian Ortega has lived up to his billing as the future of the featherweight division. In six fights under the UFC umbrella, “T-City” has finished all six opponents, though one victory was scrubbed from his record after a failed drug test.

Water under the bridge.

That makes him a dangerous fight for anyone in the division, including Frankie Edgar. But to quote a certain Irish blowhard, there’s levels to this game. “The Answer” already turned away one hotshot prospect in Yair Rodriguez and there’s little reason to think history won’t repeat itself.

Remember, Ortega is taking this fight on super short notice.

In addition, “T-City” has been knocking around the JV squad and I just can’t use the Cub Swanson win as some sort of proof that Ortega has arrived. Keep in mind Swanson has been submitted in six of his eight losses, it’s kind of his thing.

Edgar, meanwhile, has beaten every type of featherweight fighter outside of Jose Aldo. Charles Oliveira’s jiu-jitsu was a non-factor, Urijah Faber couldn't take him down, and Jeremy Stephens couldn't knock him out.

And let’s not forget about the strap he wore at 155 pounds.

Ortega can win this fight if Edgar haphazardly shoots and ends up in a guillotine, or gets a little too comfortable in guard and falls victim to the triangle choke. Those are rookie mistakes that a veteran like “The Answer” just doesn’t make, and on the feet, he’s too busy and too mobile to take any real damage.

School’s in session in “Sin City.”

Final prediction: Edgar def. Ortega by unanimous decision

135 lbs.: “Sugar” Sean O’Malley (9-0) vs. Andre “The Asian Sensation” Soukhamthath (12-5)

Nostradumbass predicts: Sean O’Malley is being groomed by the promotion to become the next big marketable fighter until he loses thing and rightly so. Aside from his undefeated record, “Sugar” is a flashy, high-output striker, as well as a prolific finisher, evidenced by his violent knockout over Alfred Khashakyan on Dana White’s “Contender Series.”

His first appearance under the UFC banner resulted in a unanimous decision win over the venerable Terrion Ware and I'm excited to see what O’Malley can produce now that Octagon jitters and all that other crap are behind him. Keep in mind, he’s still just 23 years old and barely scratched the surface in terms of reaching his potential.

That leaves room for Andre Soukhamthath to capitalize on his opponent’s inexperience. While I understand nicknames are not to be taken literally, I keep waiting for the “Sensation” to complement the “Asian” part of his descriptor. His finish over Luke Sanders last December was impressive, but his 1-2 record for UFC is not. How much we blame that on judging is in the eye of the beholder, but at 29, what you see is what you get.

Assuming O’Malley doesn’t get taken down or held against the cage, his two-inch height and reach advantage should be just enough to land at range and stay out of the red zone, as Soukhamthath is a potent counter puncher. The former will be bouncing around and picking his shots while the onus will be on the latter to shut him down and make it ugly.

Only one of those two scenarios sounds likely to me.

Final prediction: O’Malley def. Soukhamthath by unanimous decision

265 lbs.: Andrei “The Pitbull” Arlovski (26-15, 1 NC) vs. Stefan “Skyscraper” Struve (28-9)

Nostradumbass predicts: This is a fight that people will look back at in 20 years and say “should have never happened.” Not because it’s a bad match up, but rather because it’s proof that mixed martial arts (MMA) and the commissions that regulate it are not doing enough to protect the health and safety of its fighters.

Andrei Arlovski and Stefan Struve, combined, have 17 knockout losses.

Let that sink in for a moment before you start up with the “their life, their career” crap, or the JUST BLEED/BANG BRO retorts, because waiting to make changes after people are wearing adult diapers and eating Thanksgiving dinner through a straw is poor policy.

Okay, sorry, rant over.

Arlovski was finally able to snap a five-fight losing streak in which he was finished four times, but outboxing Junior Albini en route to a unanimous decision win doesn’t mean he’s “back” or ready to make a “run.”

Albini had just one fight in UFC before facing “The Pitbull.”

Struve, meanwhile, continues to do the most Struve thing possible and get knocked out after putting together some big wins. He’s one of the few fighters who can tower over Arlovski and his 84” reach gives him seven inches to work with on fight night.

Imagine if “Skyscraper” actually knew how to work the jab!

Both fighters are coming into this bout with unreliable chins, but it’s Arlovski’s responsibility to get inside and cut loose if he wants to be first to the punch. His biggest weakness is getting backed up, where the gaping hole in his striking defense — once mistaken for the hole in the ozone layer — rears its ugly head.

If “The Pitbull” can avoid getting tagged on the way in, I would expect him to effortlessly penetrate the equally-suspect defense of Struve, who failed to use his height and reach against much shorter opponents, like Mark Hunt and Roy Nelson, just to name a few.

A first-round finish would not surprise me.

Final prediction: Arlovski def. Struve by technical knockout

135 lbs.: Cat “Alpha” Zingano (9-2) vs. Ketlen “Fenomeno” Vieira (9-0)

Nostradumbass predicts: There are a couple of stats that trouble me as we head into this important bantamweight showdown. And it is important, as a win for “Alpha” gets her right back into title contention, whereas a loss will rocket Ketlen Vieira straight up the 135-pound leaderboard.

Zingano is ranked No. 6 against No. 5 for “Fenomeno,” which is Portuguese for “phenomenon.”

Getting back to those stats. Zingano did not compete at all in 2017. In addition, she’s only fought six times over the past eight years and never twice in the same calendar year. She turns 36 in July and I think we’ve seen the best “Alpha” we’re going to see.

Is it enough to topple Vieira?

I don't want to go nuts over the Brazilian’s submission victory over Sara McMann, who tapped in her last three losses and turns 38 in the fall. Prior to that, Vieira notched two decision wins, one of which was a split, and that’s all we have to go on, at least under the UFC banner.

Vieira fought six times on the international circuit and only one of those opponents had a winning record, which should give you an indication of what her stats consist of, pre-Octagon days.

I need to see more.

There are a lot of questions as to what Zingano has to offer her weight class at this point in her career and I think losing to Julianna Pena was a sign that the sport has moved on without her.

Even so, I have a very hard time picking against a fighter who scored brutal finishes over one current and one former champion (Amanda Nunes and Miesha Tate) and choked out the division’s next title contender in Raquel Pennington.

Don’t count “Alpha” out just yet.

Final prediction: Zingano def. Vieira by unanimous decision

There you have it. will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 222 fight card tomorrow night (click here), 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.

For much more on this weekend’s UFC 222 PPV event click here.

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