The UFC wrapped up the year with a main event featuring two of it’s most skilled women fighters for the second consecutive year. Rewind to this time last year. UFC 207 was billed as the return of the face of women’s MMA, Ronda Rousey. In a dominant performance by the current women’s bantamweight champion, Amanda Nunes, she left no doubt that Rousey’s reign in MMA has come to an end. A decisive battering resulting in a first-round TKO signified a passing of the proverbial torch.
Cris Cyborg lost her first professional MMA fight in 2005. She hasn’t lost since. 12 years later, and 20 fights into her MMA career she has destroyed every fighter to come in her path. Destroyed in a very literal sense of the word, as 16 of those victories are by knockout. Coincidentally enough, before Holly Holm took Rousey’s bantamweight title with the head kick heard around the world, the fight to make in woman’s MMA was Cyborg vs. Rousey.
Oh, how things change quickly in MMA. By the time Cyborg was able to sign with the UFC, Rousey was licking her wounds from her title loss to Holm. Nunes has since sealed the door shut on Rousey’s MMA career while Holly Holm looks to shock the MMA world one more time by taking on the Ivan Drago of the UFC’s featherweight division.
Holm was the only fight the UFC could sell as a challenge to Cyborg. The decorated boxing champion with 16 title defenses on her resume, who changed the course of the UFC’s bantamweight division with one of the biggest upsets in history. Can Holm’s technical toolbox and Jackson Wink’s elite preparation and game planning send shockwaves through the MMA community once again?
Cyborg’s power set the tone
Holm played the range game early, by both tying Cyborg up against the cage and then pushing her off to gain her desired distance. It was a sound strategy. Even when executed Cyborg made Holly feel her power in the pocket with several big exchanges early.
Holm used her kicks more in Round 2, but Cyborg started to walk through them as the fight went on. Even in the early rounds when Holm would look to slow the pace, the champion would always finish with a flurry to put a stamp on each round.
Round 3 was where I started to notice Holm would need a contingency plan. Cyborg was answering with big knees in the clinch working the body of the challenger hard. Holm was wearing down, getting reversed against the cage and eating shots in the pocket.
The Championship rounds
Cyborg opened up in Round 4 mixing up her arsenal by landing some kicks bracketed by lethal combinations. Holly remained game but Cyborg was in control at this point in the fight. The two fighters were exchanging hooks but Holm’s face was wearing all the damage. Cyborg connected with a few big lefts late in the round pushing Holm’s head back violently with each one. Despite Holm returning fire, Cyborg kept controlling the center of the octagon.
The fifth and final round brought a warranted sense of urgency from Holm. Holly came out very aggressive, realizing she was down on the scorecards. Her aggressiveness was paying off. She was catching pieces of her opponent, but Cyborg was scoring big by landing flush on the majority of her counters. The damage was mounting for Holm, and Cyborg was stalking like she smelled blood. Seizing her up for the big home run. More big right hands put the exclamation point on the fight before they embraced after a five-round war.
Cyborg’s power was just too much for Holm who ultimately wore down from taking too much damage. Once Holm lost the edge in endurance, it took her completely out of the game plan she exhibited in the early rounds. Her goal was to wear down the striker early, hoping to decrease the speed and power that Cyborg wields so violently. It just didn’t happen, and that is a credit to the champion, who showed she was built for the championship rounds.
The UFC ended this year just like last. An eye-opening performance by one of the world’s most dominant champions. A woman who left the MMA world wondering if there is any competition out there that can challenge her for her belt. There is no more Ronda Rousey mega-fights to make, there is no more threat of Holly Holm rewriting history. There may be nothing left to challenge Cris Cyborg. This could be the biggest challenge the UFC has faced in years. They have to find an answer. The fans deserve to see more of Cris Cyborg.
Nurmagomedov mauls Barboza
In the co-main event, Team Khabib was on full display in another dominant performance. Fourth-ranked lightweight Edison Barboza showed impressive defense but ultimately succumbed to the Russian’s resilient takedowns in each of the three rounds. Once Nurmagomedov got the fight to the ground, he was able to pound his way to victory. It will be interesting to see what’s next for the UFC’s most feared lightweight. The UFC seems tunneled in on a Ferguson McGregor unification bout for the lightweight championship, but it’s hard to deny Nurmagomedov a shot at the gold.