Former Invicta FC bantamweight champion Yana Kunitskaya will attempt the nearly impossible later tonight (Sat., Mar. 3, 2018) at UFC 222 live on pay-per-view (PPV) from inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, when she tries to end UFC women’s featherweight champion Cris Cyborg’s 13-year unbeaten streak.
Kunitskaya, who hasn’t competed at 145 pounds in well over five years, is the next contender in a long line of bantamweights who have moved up in weight against Cyborg. To this point, all of Kunitskaya’s predecessors have fallen considerably short, which makes her pursuit of Cyborg’s featherweight title tonight at UFC 222 even more daunting.
Needless to say, “Foxy” must be on top of her game and better than she’s ever been to defeat a menacing knockout sensation like Cyborg. In order to determine the best course of action for both featherweights this evening in Vegas we take a closer look at their individual keys to victory.
1. Pace and pursuit...
As long as Cyborg is able to maintain her gas tank there’s nobody at 135 or 145 pounds that she can’t beat her. She’s simply too powerful, too technical, and too seasoned to give into another fighter’s gameplan.
That said, this is the fight business and Cyborg still needs to maintain caution. Because no matter how much leverage and experience she possesses on paper over a newly-minted challenger like Kunitskaya, Cyborg isn’t perfect. Although she’s been able to walk through every strike ever thrown at her, the UFC queen has been tagged on a few occasions.
In order to avoid an unprecedented upset, Cyborg must intelligently control her output, pursuit offensively when the opportunity presents itself, and understand that a finish may not come until the championship rounds.
2. Mix it up...
Even though Cyborg only needs her striking to defeat “Foxy” tonight at UFC 222, she doesn’t necessarily want to rely solely on a one-dimensional gameplan. The more she settles into one discipline the better the chances are of Kunitskaya becoming more comfortable and capable of closing the gap in the skill department.
Instead, Cyborg should look to show fight fans a little more this time around. Her hands are obviously dangerous, but maybe the 32-year-old Brazilian should flash some glimpses of her ground game, or even implement some more kicks into her combinations.
If Cyborg can keep things unpredictable then her chances of defeating Kunitskaya in devastating fashion grow even larger.
1. Maintain ferocity...
Few fighters are able to go the distance with Cyborg inside of the cage. Former UFC bantamweight champion Holly Holm lasted all five rounds against the Brazilian at UFC 219, but that was a special case. Before “Preacher’s Daughter,” Cyborg hadn’t seen a fourth round since 2013 and hadn’t gone the distance in a fight since 2008.
That level of domination is directly contributed to Cyborg’s ability to pour on heavy offense early and hurt her opponents badly, but it’s also an indication that these girls competing against Cyborg really don’t have much left in the tank in the later frames.
That’s why Kunitskaya must maintain her effectiveness for as long as humanly possible. If that means keeping her foot off the gas for the first five minutes and only defend then so be it. The 28-year-old Russian needs to be able to do damage against Cyborg in Rounds 3-5 if she has any chance of winning this fight.
2. Stay off her back...
As good as Cyborg is on her feet, she’s pretty dangerous on the ground, too. Not only can the UFC featherweight champion gain top position and melt an opponent with her ground-and-pound, but she’s capable of sinking in a submission if she really wanted to. It has never happened before, but her jiu-jitsu brown belt suggests she’s game to grapple.
Considering Cyborg possesses such a strong top game and furious offensive output, fighting off her back is the last position Kunitskaya wants to find herself in tonight at UFC 222. Cyborg is bigger, more powerful, relentless when she smells blood, and really hard to push off. Two of Kunitskaya’s three career losses have also come by way of submission, so she doesn’t necessarily have the best track record on the mat.
As scary as it may sound, Kunitskaya’s best chance to upset Cyborg is on the feet.
Prediction: Cyborg via third-round TKO
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.