Post-Fight Thoughts: Cris Cyborg -vs- Yana Kunitskaya
As matchmakers scrambled for a short-notice replacement main event for UFC 222, there was a brief window of time where the cancellation of the whole event seemed possible. Luckily for the UFC, Cris Cyborg stepped up, and was paired with current Invicta FC bantamweight champion Yana Kunitskaya. Far from an ideal match-up, but it was a title fight and would at least promise fans the opportunity to see the most violent woman in MMA live up to her billing.
I understand that the UFC was in a tough spot, and had to come up with some sort of promotional angle, but I did find some of the hype to be a little ridiculous. Kunitskaya was painted as this up-and-comer who had been gunning for Cyborg for years, when that is hardly the case — she competes 10 pounds lighter, and has done so for the last 6 years. Unfortunately for Cris, there really is no women's bantamweight division to speak of, so she continues to fight natural 135-pounders.
Aside from a brief moment where she almost took Cyborg's back, Kunitskaya spent most of this exceedingly brief fight on the defensive. Cris Cyborg's stand-up was clearly superior, and the defending champion quickly lit her opponent up with punches, dropped her and swarmed for the TKO victory. It was a quick, one-sided, mauling; everything went exactly as planned. This was not a great fight, but it was a dominant performance from one of the few stars the UFC has at the moment.
Due to the complete lack of viable challengers for Cyborg, we will probably get a few more fights like this in the future. The current status of Megan Anderson remains unknown, but her name isn't in circulation at the moment, so I don't think we'll see her paired up with Cyborg any time soon. As for Kunitskaya, I would assume she returns to bantamweight and gets at least one more fight in the UFC. Cyborg was a massive step-up in competition, and this fight was hardly representative of her abilities. Kunitskaya has a lot of potential, but needs more time to grow as a fighter and develop her skills further.
For what it was, effectively a tune-up for a dominant champion, the fight delivered. It was short, violent and ended without a hint of controversy. There is no such thing as a risk-free fight — there is always a chance that one perfect punch or kick lands — but this was as close as it gets. Had Cyborg lost, it would have been easily the biggest upset in the history of the sport. Even the 'easy' fights carry immense pressure, and thus far Cris Cyborg has risen to the occasion every time she has been asked.
The only remaining big name for Cyborg is Amanda Nunes, if the UFC opts to go for yet another champ versus champ booking. While I feel the lustre has worn off the very concept of UFC title belts, this would be the perfect time to do it — neither women have any high-profile challengers waiting in the wings. I am unsure how likely that fight is to get made, but would love to see it happen. Cyborg is victim of her own dominance in a way; it's hard to appreciate how good Cris is when she makes all of her opponents look so bad. Nunes at least theoretically has the power and striking to make a fight of it, but I would still advantage Cyborg if they ever did fight.
Published: March 4th, 2018.