The UFC returns to pay-per-view this weekend with a card that has been cobbled together over the past three weeks, following the news of a Max Holloway injury. The featherweight champion was set to face Frankie Edgar in defense of his title, however his withdrawal caused a major reshuffling of the event.
Now a different featherweight title will be on the line in the main event of UFC 222, as Cris Cyborg will defend the women’s 145lb belt against Yana Kunitskaya – who is best known for being the second-best bantamweight in Invicta, prior to Tonya Evinger heading to the UFC in the same sacrificial lamb role Kunitskaya is now.
With his shot at the featherweight belt down the drain, Frankie Edgar was moved to the co-main event, and young, undefeated star Brian Ortega was tapped as a late replacement. While the situation is certainly unfortunate for Edgar, a win will almost assuredly grant him another date with Holloway. The bigger losers in this whole situation are likely the fans. Rather than getting a potential 25 minutes of Edgar/Holloway, there will be somewhere in the vicinity of five minutes of Cyborg/Opponent, while Edgar and Ortega (two fighters certainly worthy of five rounds) will be limited to 15 minutes.
Perhaps the one bright spot to the Holloway withdrawal is that UFC brass realized the card was left weak up top, and made some strides to provide depth. The initially planned co-main even of Andrei Arlovski and Stefan Struve is now the fourth bout on the card, as the organization continues its push of Sean O’Malley. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the betting odds from top to bottom of the redesigned UFC 222 and see what’s out there.
Cris Cyborg (-∞) vs. Yana Kunitskaya (+∞): Kunitskaya had a four-year layoff from MMA between 2012 and 2016. Since then, she’s gone 2-2 (with one no contest) at bantamweight. Somehow that series of results caused her to make someone angry enough to book her against Cyborg. Hey, at least when Evinger took her beating she got $100,000 for it. Maybe Kunitskaya will get something similar. Let’s just hope for her sake that whoever is reffing on Saturday night stops the fight quick enough that most of that money doesn’t go to medical bills.
Frankie Edgar vs. Brian Ortega: What a fight. As uncompetitive as the main event is, I expect this one to be just as good. Since moving down to featherweight, Edgar has probably shown the best wrestling-based top game of anyone in MMA not named Khabib. Here he’ll be going against the man who has arguably the most dangerous guard in MMA right now. I really hope Edgar decides to wrestle, as that battle would be a treat. However, I think it’s more likely that Edgar uses his speed and more refined striking to keep the pressure of Ortega at bay for the majority of 15 minutes. Unlike other opponents of Ortega’s, Edgar isn’t going to get desperate, nor will he tire, and that’s why I think he scores the decision victory where so many others have failed to survive Ortega’s third round brilliance. At anywhere from -160 to -190 however, I’m not sure how compelled I am to play Edgar, since this is actually a worse price than when he faced Yair Rodriguez, which is absurd to me. The decision prop at Several Bookmakers is down to -120 though, which is much more intriguing. I think I’ll wait to see if more Ortega money comes in though.
Andre Soukhamthath vs. Sean O’Malley: I don’t think this is nearly the step up in competition for O’Malley that the line indicates. Let’s not forget that Soukhamthath is just 1-2 in the UFC, with losses to Alejandro Perez and Albert Morales (hardly the cream of the division), and a recent win over the increasingly flaky Luke Sanders. Now, O’Malley opening at -260 was a bit ridiculous, but the line has flipped and then some. He’s currently available at +110, which I think is worth a play. Both guys have sorely lacking defense, but solid chins. I just think that O’Malley’s cardio will hold up a bit better in a high-paced fight, as Soukhamthath has struggled in third rounds in both of his losses thus far.
Stefan Struve vs. Andrei Arlovski: Another line that has seen a lot of movement is the heavyweight bout between Struve and Arlovski. The Dutchman opened a -380 favorite over the former champion, who opened at +290. Those dog odds on Arlovski were gobbled up by bettors, and the line now sits at anywhere from -160 to -220 in favor of Struve. If this stays standing, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Arlovski put on another performance like he did against Junior Albini. However, Struve in top position against Arlovski would not be a pretty sight, as the former champ has struggled to get back to his feet when taken down in recent bouts. I’m picking Struve here, but he’s never been – and never will be – a fighter I’ll feel comfortable trusting my money with.
Ketlen Vieira vs. Cat Zingano: From a technical perspective Vieira has never impressed me, but she’s shown some consistent improvement. Physically though, she’s capable of hanging with any female bantamweight. Zingano used to be somewhat similar (although her grappling was often looked upon more favorably than its effectiveness warranted), and her physicality allowed her to outlast opponents and pick up late wins (third round victories over Amanda Nunes and Miesha Tate). That physicality seems to be gone as she has aged and become less and less active, and that gives Vieira a big edge as this fight gets into deeper waters. Several Bookmakers still has Vieira at -120, while she has ballooned up near 2-to-1 everywhere else. If you have access to that line, take it.
Mackenzie Dern vs. Ashley Yoder: Dern Is the next female fighter the UFC hopes will evolve into a superstar, but there’s a lot of work to do before that happens. Obviously the BJJ is there, but her wrestling needs a lot of work, as virtually any quality opponent will be able to stop her takedowns based on what I’ve seen. Once stranded on the feet, her striking simply isn’t there. Luckily for her, the UFC has booked her debut wisely. Yoder is an inferior grappler to Dern, and also has virtually non-existent striker. I think Dern wins the scrambles, controls position, and wins this fight comfortably, but I think it will take all 15 minutes. Dern by Decision at +310 is very intriguing to me, and much more appealing than the slightly safer option of Not Dern Inside the Distance at +130.
Beneil Dariush vs. Alexander Hernandez: I’ve seen Hernandez on a pair of regional cards, and he looked good compared to fighters of that level. However, to make your UFC debut on short notice against a top 15 lightweight, looking good on the regional scene simply doesn’t cut it. Dariush will never be an elite fighter because he’s simply not athletic enough, but his technical skills will be more than enough to score a victory here, either by decision, or perhaps a sub if he chooses to pursue the ground game.
John Dodson vs. Pedro Munhoz: I had written about this fight previously, and my conclusion is that it was a terrible matchup for Munhoz. Unless he can summon the same pressure Lineker did against Dodson (and I don’t believe he has the tools to do so effectively), he’s going to be eating punches due to Dodson’s speed. That leaves his ace-in-the-hole, his guillotine, as his method for victory. While it is one of the supreme submissions in the sport right now, Dodson is nearly impossible to control in grappling exchanges, and has yet to be submitted in his career. There’s a first time for everything, of course, but I just can’t picture it being in this situation. Dodson in the -160’s seems worthy of a play.
Hector Lombard vs. CB Dollaway: Even with Lombard being shot, the attributes he does possess make this a very dangerous fight for Dollaway early on. Lombard is still tough to take down when he’s got the stamina to put towards to defending takedowns, his power is still there, and Dollaway has always been defensively shaky. After those first few minutes, Dollaway should take over based on simply having something left in the tank. It’s just too risky for me to play anything here, since Dollaway has dropped from +145 to +105 in the past week.
Zak Ottow vs. Mike Pyle: Everyone seems to be counting Pyle out here, and I get it, I do. He’s old, and his chin isn’t great. But Ottow at more than -300? That’s crazy. This is the same guy who went to split decisions with Kiichi Kunimoto, Sergio Moraes, and the corpse of Josh Burkman (the latter two in what were primarily striking battles). Pyle is a better striker than any of those men, even at his advanced age, and has always been tricky on the mat. The retirement fight can always be a tricky one, as some fighters come out like Chris Lytle, while others look like Cyrille Diabate. However, given this matchup and the level of competition each man has been used to in the past, I have no issues taking a shot on Pyle to go out with a win.
Cody Stamann vs. Bryan Caraway: If Caraway wasn’t coming off such a long layoff, this would almost be an automatic bet. He has faced nothing but top 15 competition over the past five years, having success more often than not. While Stamann was impressive in victory against Tom Duquesnoy, this is still the most difficult test of his career. His takedowns and boxing have both looked sharp because he’s been able to use one to set up the other, but against Caraway, he’ll probably want to avoid grappling and strictly box, which creates an interesting dynamic for him. I still give Stamann the slight edge because Caraway’s striking – while underrated – can be overcome by the type of speed and technique Stamann brings, and I’d be surprised if Caraway can consistently get this to the mat. However there’s too much experience on the other side to play the -140 to -160 out there on Stamann.
Jordan Johnson vs. Adam Milstead: When Johnson was in excess of -300, I thought Milstead was worth a bet here, and it seems many others agreed. Johnson is down in the -240 to -250 range now, and that makes this a pass. Milstead at light heavyweight is a bit of a wildcard. He’s a good athlete, has decent boxing, and he shouldn’t be overpowered like he was at heavyweight. Coupled with Johnson’s somewhat lacklustre performances thus far, there could be some upset potential here. Still, the most likely scenario is that Johnson is able to get takedowns each round and control position, a task which should get easier as the bout goes.