UFC 219

Cyborg x Holm

Picks, Parlay, and Predictions

Queen of Las Vegas

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PICKS

Holm x Cyborg
Barboza x Khabib
Calvillo x Esparza
Condit x Magny
Diakiese x Hooker
Rountree x Michal
Jury x Glenn
Smolka x Nicolau
Akhmedov x Vettori
Elliot x De La Rosa

Parlay

“Whammy!” EDITION
Holm (+270)
Barboza (+230)
Smolka (+230)
$2.19 to win $86.05

PREDICTIONS

Ending the year with a Bleh-ng

Cris Cyborg x Holly Holm for the Women’s Featherweight Championship

Let’s be honest, this isn’t the best fight card to end a stellar year in MMA. Maybe I’ve been spoiled but several drop outs and reschedulings have created more of a wasteland than the weekend’s “must-see” event. At least we’ll finally get to see how Cyborg performs in a fair fight.

Cristine Justino Venâncio, more affectionately known “Cyborg”, is the most dangerous female fighter on the planet and has been for the last 10 years. Without question. There was a lot of talk about her and Rousey being neck and neck but, in hindsight, I think we all know how that fight would have ended. Instead, we’ve been watching Cyborg slaughter soccer moms and blown-up bantamweights for the majority of her career. Is that her fault? Absolutely not, but the combination of a questionable physique and barbaric performances have encouraged most competitors to continue the cut down to 135 pounds. Enter Holly Holm.

We’ve watched dear, sweet Holly Holm hit both high highs and low lows in the UFC. As much should be expected from the world’s most decorated female combat-sports athlete. Holly is the first person in history to have won world titles in both boxing and MMA, breaking through to the mainstream with the vicious head-kick knockout of the aforementioned Ronda Rousey in 2015. She lost her UFC title only four months later and continued on a three-fight losing streak, finally tasting victory again in June of this year. During that three fight skid, we saw Holm get out-grappled, out-pointed, and straight-up cheated. It was rough to watch, but it’s good to see her bounce back to her feet and test herself again at featherweight.

When Cyborg fought Tonya Evinger in June, it was for the vacant women’s featherweight title. The same inaugural featherweight title that Holm fought Germaine de Randamie for in February. De Randamine hoodwinked Holly out a victory with a variety of bullshit and then refused to fight Cyborg, opting instead to run away in obscurity and leave the newly-founded women’s 145 pound division flapping in the wind. Let us never speak of her again. A undeniable lack of competition is what made creating this division seem like an odd decision for the promotion in the first place. Most fans view it as a way for the UFC to contractually capture Cyborg while feeding her a steady diet of no-name competitors. Lucky for them, Holly will be first to step up to the plate.

Against Valentina Shevchenko, we saw Holly Holm lose at her own game. Holly has fantastic footwork, as to be expected, and fights cautiously, focusing on her jab and push kicks to keep distance and score points. Valentina was able to use the same gameplan and steal almost every round. This is important because I feel like Holly undervalues her own strength. From where I’m sitting, it looks like she hits harder than she thinks. The majority of her wins come via knockout, but, watching her fight, Holm is more than content to go the distance if the opportunity for a finish doesn’t present itself. This may not be the fight to chase a knockout, but if Cyborg shows any sights of cracking, The Preacher’s Daughter needs to strike like lightning.

In her last fight, we saw a calm, cool, and collected Cyborg beat the absolute hell out of Tonya Evinger across three rounds. It wasn’t the brand of brutality we’ve come to expect from the champ, but the end result was the same – her opponent succumbed in a bloodied heap. This is where Saturday’s fight gets interesting. Cyborg is known for being ultra-aggressive, throwing wide hooks, and applying non-stop forward pressure. That vintage version of Cyborg, I feel, would lose to Holly Holm every time. Easily. After spending the majority of her career in a boxing ring, there’s no way Holly would wilt and get backed up into the cage. However, this new, efficient Cyborg has me worried. That’s a Cyborg that can go five rounds.

I brought those two matches up specifically because we’re learned to expect one thing from each of these fighters, but both of them need to do the opposite to get a victory. Cyborg needs to stay on this sharpened, technical path and Holly needs to be more aggressive. Since Holm will have the speed advantage, she’ll need to work her boxing to get in and out of the champ’s way. Again, I’m not saying she needs to chase a knockout, but she needs to make sure she’s scoring enough to keep Cyborg hesitant and be able to turn it up in the later rounds. Cyborg’s muscular physique won’t make a 25 minute fight easy, even if she’s fighting cautiously.  If frustrated, I can see Cyborg flashing back to her old self which would allow Holly to play matador. That doesn’t mean it won’t be incredibly dangerous. Any one shot from Cyborg could end the night and Holly needs to avoid being smothered by staying mobile.

Holm isn’t afraid of taking her time, which will absolutely be an advantage on Saturday. Her camp is fantastic at targeting weaknesses, whereas Cyborg is going to go in there and try to take her head off – even if she doesn’t try to blow it out in under a minute. A steady destruction of the champ is what, I think, is in order. Time will tell. Even though Cyborg is the rightful favorite, Holly Holm has all the tools she needs to dismantle the champion, it’s just a matter of her using the right ones at the right time. I’m taking the long shot. Holm by decision.

Khabib Nurmagomedov x Edson Barboza for PPV validity

If you thought picking Holm was a long shot, wait until I try to sell you on Edson Barboza beating one of the most intimidating lightweights in the world. That would certainly make things interesting. This fight really sells the PPV for me as they are the only other two top-five fighters walking to the octagon on Saturday night. If we’re lucky, we get to see Khabib fight once a year. Between Ramadan, freak injuries, and horrible weight cuts, he is about as unreliable as it gets. He’ll be taking on Barboza, who has given us some of the most jaw-dropping finishes we’ve ever seen in the sport. Buckle in, kids. I think we may have a real humdinger on our hands.

Forget about going to the movies. If you lock Batman in a steel cage against either of these two, he gets beat up beyond recognition. Literally, he could be killed. The only thing that would still be dark about Batman after the fight would be the oozing black circles around his eyes. Khabib would lift him up and drop him on his neck and Barboza would kick his knees apart. It wouldn’t even be close. I just want to make it abundantly clear how dangerous both of these guys are. To borrow another D.C. superhero reference, each of these fighters possess the other’s kryptonite.

Khabib Nurmagomedov’s freakish determination and iron-clad grappling that could only be forged in the fires of Russia. He is the fighting pride of Dagestan and a multiple world champion in combat Sambo, able to twist his opponents into lumpy pretzels without conscience. Every fight he’s in is greuling and bloody and I’d never want any part of it. Khabib is undefeated across 24 fights, including his eight UFC appearances, and most of his fights go the same way. His opponents train to stop his takedowns, sometimes for years, and they’re still unable to stop his takedowns. Once he has you down, he punches you in the face as you try to squirm for position. Almost floating over you, he maintains pressure and keeps hammering you on the nose. If you try to stand up, he brings you back down. If you give up your neck or your arm, he tries to rip it off of your body. Sound fun? Sometimes he’ll even whisper cryptic messages about destiny in broken english into your ear. Not a normal person.

With the exact opposite set of skills, we have the lean-and-mean Edson Barboza. Entering the UFC about two years before Khabib, Edson has racked up a respectable 13 and 4 record inside the organization. That’s on top of an impressive Muay Thai career that ended with a 25 and 3 record. Clearly, Barboza is no stranger to fighting and can even be considered one of the best strikers in MMA. His wheel kick victory over Terry Etim was the first of its kind and can be seen ad nauseam in almost every generic UFC promo. While his boxing is certainly sharp, it’s his kicks that make audiences, and opponents, go cross-eyed. Without getting overly technical, let’s just say he has leg kick TKOs, body kick TKOs, and, obviously, head kick KOs, attached to his name. You don’t want his shins touching any part of your body, but good luck stopping him. As you might have guessed, grappling isn’t necessarily his strong suit but Barboza has never looked completely helpless on his back.

Even though Khabib is undefeated, we have seen some minor gaps in his striking. Against Michael Johnson, the Russian caught a few clean shots to the face but maintained his composure and fired back. Unless he’s out cold, he will always have a chance to clinch and wrestle. Wrestling defense is negligible when it comes to Nurmagomedov. He’s going to take you down and being a better wrestler will simply differentiate between how hard you hit the mat. What’s going to make this even more difficult for Edson is he’s going to be constantly throwing out his legs. Any kick can be caught, which gives Khabib an easy route to destabilize the Brazilian. Conversely, we’ve seen Barboza use his wily striking to create fantastic traps for his opponents to fall into. Beneil Dariush, a decorated grappler, was tricked into shooting for a takedown against Edson only to be met with a flying knee to the chin. I would expect him to try something similar to thwart Khabib’s bulletproof grappling.

If this sport has taught me anything, it’s that nobody is untouchable. Khabib presents more than a handful of issues, especially against an avid striker, but Edson has absolutely nothing to fear as long as both of his feet are under him. Nurmagomedov’s inactivity and lack of notable wins still make me feel like he hasn’t been truly tested. I don’t know if this is the best test for him, but it will serve as a perfect jump off point for 2018. Unless McGregor decides to come out of retirement, Khabib will be fighting for a title with a win and, hopefully, Justin Gaethje with a loss. Barboza will probably fight Alvarez with a win and Poirier with a loss. Both would be fantastic for the fans – there’s a reason that lightweight is easily the most exciting division right now. Officially, I’m picking Edson by TKO because of his mobility and ability to end the night in a flash. Khabib, technically, will have more ways to win but I’m hesitant to hop aboard the hype train. Both guys are incredibly durable and we should be in for a great stylistic matchup.