Sunday, 31 December 2017

UFC 219 Report: Cyborg sees off Holm to defend UFC women's featherweight title

By Alistair Hendrie

Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino dodged a bullet on Saturday night at UFC 219, outpointing Holly Holm in the main event to hang on to her UFC women’s featherweight title. The Brazilian was expected to power through Holm with raiding combinations, but in her first defence of the belt, she was made to chase Holm around the cage and had to settle for one or two-punch salvos. In fact, Holm nullified the titlist early on and made it competitive through her work-rate and conditioning.

The challenger, a former boxing world champion and a one-time UFC 135lbs queen, landed leg kicks at will in the first round and scuttled low with her back to the cage. She scored with two and three punches at a time, but Cyborg connected with the more powerful counters. Indeed, the champion started to find inroads with body kicks and head kicks in the second, despite conceding underhooks against the fence.

By round three, Holm was still circling at pace and throwing out jabs and straight punches. However, the American insisted on wheeling towards Cyborg’s more dangerous right side, and after a while her attacks become predictable. Cyborg began to grow in to the fight. She read Holm’s head movement and snapped her head back with a jab, also bashing the body with step-in kicks.

Holm continued her fleet-footed tactics in the final two frames, befuddling the favourite and making a mockery of pre-fight predictions for a Cyborg blowout. She upped her output but Cyborg pulled ahead with her snapping jab and knees to the body on the break. Eventually, the Curitiba-born striker generated more openings for power kicks and violent combinations, and she was fair value for scores of 49-46 and 48-47 (twice) in her favour.

Cyborg never looked in danger despite eating plenty of kicks to the body and forearms. She displayed strong cardio and astute game-planning which showed coach Jason Parillo in an excellent light. But given her fearsome reputation – this was her ninth knockout on the bounce – and Holm’s lack of pedigree at 145lbs, shouldn’t she have prospered in more explosive fashion? Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn primed their charge well for this bout, but it was always going to be an uphill struggle. Cyborg needs a tougher test, and the Australian Invicta featherweight titlist Megan Anderson, who would be Cris’s most menacing opponent yet, should be waiting in the wings.

Khabib Nurmagomedov dominated the lightweight co-main event, exhibiting a tirade of ground-and-pound to shut out Edson Barboza by scores of 30-25 (twice) and 30-24. Those scores were perfectly accurate too. The Russian sambo specialist scored vice-like half guard and full mount positions throughout the fight and peppered his rival with hammer fists, elbows and forearms, inflicting a miserable beating on Mark Henry’s man.

Keep in mind Barboza is one of the most dangerous fighters at 155lbs, the only man to finish two UFC outings with leg kicks. Nurmagomedov nevertheless closed the distance, and even rubbished accusations that he’s a pure grappler by landing his own kicks to the head and offsetting the action with leg kicks. Khabib spent most of the decider posturing up, bloodying up Barboza with punches, completing one of the most vicious displays of ground-and-pound ever seen in the UFC. Bouts with world champion Conor McGregor or interim belt-holder Tony Ferguson await.

Also at lightweight, New Zealand’s Dan Hooker saw off Britain’s Marc Diakiese, telegraphing a takedown attempt to seal a guillotine choke in round three. Hooker, a bean-pole striker with a 75inch reach, engaged in a patient battle of kicks and scrambles before earning his seventh victory by tapout. His rival deviated from his corner instructions though, and shot for the takedown despite coach Conan Silveira telling him not to. Hooker can now attack the top 15 with his length and crafty jiu-jitsu, while Diakiese slips to 3-2 in the UFC.

Carla Esparza went some way to retrieving her old women’s strawweight title by taking a decision over Cynthia Calvillo, with three scores of 29-28 which were perhaps unfair to her opponent. One of the best prospects in the sport, Calvillo showed excellent timing and execution of the takedown in the first round before fending off an armbar in the second. Eventually Esparza’s boxing - which has improved leaps and bounds - and more active wrestling game perhaps saw her through.

Neil Magny put the welterweight division on notice with a cast-iron decision over Carlos Condit, the verdicts of 30-27 (twice) and 29-28 bringing him the biggest win of his career. The New Yorker stifled the better striker with beautiful takedowns against the fence, dominating with his superior wrist control, head positioning and shoulder strikes for good measure. Condit enjoyed more success with varied combinations in the closing moments, but Magny showed too many fakes and level-changes for “The Natural Born Killer” to turn it into a war.

On the UFC Fight Pass Prelims, Polish light-heavyweight Michal Oleksiejczuk debuted in the UFC with a hard-fought victory over Khalil Rountree Jr, all three judges seeing it 30-27. The newcomer, buoyed by three consecutive first round Kos/TKOs, fought fire with fire and earned the upper hand with front kicks and crafty hooks to the head and body. A powerful striker, Oleksiejczuk, 22, could be a contender if he develops more size and muscle at the weight.

At featherweight Miles Jury shut out Rick Glenn 30-27 on all cards, showing spiteful counters and an active clinch game to have it all his own way. Meanwhile, at middleweight, Omari Akhmedov and Marvin Vettori threw caution to the wind in a back-and-forth fist fight which culminated in a draw – two 28-28s and one 29-28 for Vettori.

Elsewhere on the Prelims, Brazilian flyweight Matheus Nicolau grabbed a decision over Louis Smolka, dropping his man three times for a 30-26 (twice) and 30-25 victory. Bantamweights Tim Elliot and Mark De La Rosa opened up the event, as Elliot earned a submission in round two with an anaconda choke.  

Read more reaction on Cyborg's standing in the sport and why she should tackle Megan Anderson next


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