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UFC 222 card: Cris Cyborg vs Yana Kunitskaya full fight preview

MMA: UFC 219-Cyborg vs Holm Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Featherweight strikers Cris Cyborg and Yana Kunitskaya will clash TONIGHT (March 3, 2018) at UFC 222 inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Cyborg is the most dominant woman in MMA. Her status as the most dominant fighter overall is hurt by her quality of competition, which took a step in the right direction when she faced off with Holly Holm a couple months back. Sadly, we’re going backwards here, as another Invicta FC Bantamweight champion has earned the right to be sacrificed to the Brazilian.

To Kunitskaya’s credit, she’s not a bad fighter. A rangy kickboxer with decent knockout power and tricky submission game, she’s far from the worst fighter that Cyborg has faced over the years. The odds are insanely against her, but perhaps “Foxy” can prove all expectations wrong.

Let’s take a look at the keys to victory for each woman.

Cris Cyborg

Record: 19-1 (1)

Key Wins: Holly Holm (UFC 219), Marloes Coenen (Invicta FC 6, Strikeforce: Miami), Gina Carano (Strikeforce: Carano vs Cyborg), Tonya Evinger (UFC 214), Leslie Smith (UFC 198)

Key Losses: None

Keys to Victory: Cyborg is one of the few women truly big enough for her division and a power athlete to boot. Worse still, Cyborg is well-trained on the feet and capable from all ranges, and she’s rather decorated in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as well.

Cyborg is on a different level than Kunitskaya, to the point where writing out a detailed game plan feels insulting to my readers. Cyborg is far more powerful, throws tighter combinations, kicks harder, and holds an advantage in any type of grappling exchange.

If there’s one area that Kunitskaya can compete with Cyborg in — IF — then it’s the kicking range. Cyborg would be wise to pressure her opponent to eliminate the slight chance that “Foxy” really does hold an advantage there, but otherwise, Cyborg can choose whether to destroy her foe from the pocket, inside the clinch, or in top position on the mat.

Yana Kunitskaya

Record: 10-3 (1)

Key Wins: Raquel Pa’aluhi (Invicta FC 25), Cindy Dandois (M-1 Challenge 22)

Key Losses: Tonya Evinger (Invicta FC 20)

Keys to Victory: Kunitskaya is Tae Kwon Doe who might be a Russian champion in Muay Thai and Tae Kwon Doe — if Wikipedia’s uncited accomplishment’s section is to be believed. At any rate, she’s quality kicker with a nice jab in the cage, and Kunitskaya gave Evinger plenty of trouble on the mat with her submission skills.

Most long shot upsets happen via finish. The favorite and more skilled fighter on paper is caught unsuspecting by a powerful punch or tricky set up on the mat, and suddenly nothing else about their game matters. Kunitskaya has to pursue such a finish, because she cannot hope to win large portions of the bout with Cyborg.

Frankly, knocking out Cyborg doesn’t seem likely. The Brazilian took hard shots from Holm, a more decorated striker than Kunitskaya, without flinching. Kunitskaya might be best advised to throw a ton of kicks with the hope of landing one flush or ending up on her back, where she’s still at a disadvantage but could potentially lock up a quick armbar.

Bottom Line: The UFC is continuing to build Cyborg without building the 145 lbs. division.

This is another one-off contender for Cyborg, and the Invicta FC Bantamweight belt is looking like an invitation to get mauled by Cyborg. Assuming Cyborg does what we all expect, it’s another title defense that builds her name but does little to help her reputation for picking on smaller fighters.

Amanda Nunes is still the only fighter who seems to have a real shot at Cyborg, but even Megan Anderson would be a better option.

For Kunitskaya, the Cyborg bout is most likely a paycheck-by-pain that will result in her earning a spot in the UFC’s Bantamweight division, where she should find some success. If she does pull off the upset, it’s very probably the biggest in UFC history, an unbelievably improbable moment that would actually make the price tag of this pay-per-view worth it.

At UFC 222, Cris Cyborg will look to defend her title opposite Yana Kunitskaya. Will she leave the cage with the belt?

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