UFC 219: Cyborg vs. Holm Preview

A preview of Saturday’s UFC 219 card in Las Vegas.

Updated: Dec. 28, 2017 • 3:29 PM ET

Holly Holm is looking to regain UFC gold after losing her belt to Miesha Tate last year.

The UFC will end 2017 with a bang on Dec. 30 in Las Vegas.


Cris Cyborg Justino is already considered by many to be the greatest women’s MMA fighter of all time, and she has certainly been the most feared women’s fighter over the last several years, which includes during Ronda Rousey’s UFC reign when she revolutionized women’s MMA.


Rousey and Cyborg was a dream matchup that UFC and MMA fans alike clamored for, but Holly Holm ended those fantasies with one ferocious kick to Rousey’s head and neck at UFC 193 in 2015. Holm will now step into Saturday’s fight against Cyborg as perhaps the most capable fighter to end her stampede through the UFC women’s featherweight division. The two will fight for the women’s featherweight title.


Cyborg is 18-1 overall and 3-0 in the UFC. She claimed the women’s featherweight title at UFC 214 in July with a third-round knockout of Tonya Evinger, but the UFC has struggled to fill the 145-pound women’s division with worthy contenders to produce top-selling matchups. Cyborg was originally scheduled to fight Megan Anderson, a fighter who many believed could challenge the champ, at UFC 214. However, Anderson withdrew from the card late for personal reasons, and she hasn’t fought since.


Winning UFC gold has already cemented Cyborg’s legacy. Realistically, she really has nothing left to prove, but defeating the fighter that ended the Rousey craze would certainly be another shining mark on her resume. However, Holm represents the most diverse striker Cyborg has faced to this point in her career.


Holm is still remembered by most casual fight fans as the woman who defeated Rousey. While Holm’s win over Rousey was one of the most one-sided upsets in UFC history, she has had an up-and-down UFC run where she’s 4-3. Yet, Holm is still the No. 2 ranked bantamweight in the world.


After winning the women’s bantamweight title from Rousey, Holm defended the belt at UFC 196, but lost by submission to Miesha Tate in the fifth round. She followed the loss to Tate with a unanimous decision loss to Valentina Shevchenko and a controversial unanimous decision loss in the inaugural featherweight title fight to Germaine de Randamie in February at UFC 208.


Not wanting to defend against Cyborg, who the UFC immediately granted a title shot, De Randamie quickly vacated the belt. In the meantime, Holm rebounded with a Performance of the Night knockout of Bethe Correia in June.


After her victory over Correia, the matchup with Cyborg just seemed like the right move for Holm and the UFC. A victory over Cyborg would cement Holm’s place in the record books, as she would have defeated arguably the two greatest fighters in women’s MMA history.


Cyborg is expected to engage in a striking contest with Holm, but don’t be surprised if Cyborg mixes things up, as she has the clear advantage on the ground — a place Holm hasn’t looked comfortable.


When there’s so much on the line, it’s difficult to put the fans’ best interest first and engage in an all-out striking war. Both fighters will approach the fight tactfully, and the fight will certainly be interesting if it goes past the third round.






Co-main event


UFC 219’s co-main event will feature a lightweight fight between No. 2 ranked Khabib Nurmagomedov and No. 4 Edson Barboza. The fight will have title implications as the world waits to see who interim champion Tony Ferguson and champion Conor McGregor fight next. One would have to imagine that the winner of this fight would land a shot at one of the two champions, with a shot at Ferguson being the more likely matchup.


Nurmagomedov is undefeated (24-0) and has been considered by many to be the top contender in the lightweight division. However, the Russian has only fought twice since 2014. He was scheduled to fight Ferguson on three different occasions and pulled out of two of those fights, while a potential fight between the two has been one of the most anticipated matchups in the UFC.


Nurmagomedov’s biggest battle has been making the 155-pound weight limit. His last fight with Ferguson was cancelled after he fell ill due to weight cutting complications, ultimately resulting in his hospitalization. Nurmagomedov discussed making weight with ESPN earlier this month.


"This fight is very important because people are talking about how I cannot make weight," Nurmagomedov said. "The last time, this was my fault. That's why people are waiting — to see if I can make weight and stay busy.


"Now, my weight is good. Three weeks out, I will lose three or four pounds. Two weeks, another four pounds. The last week, I'm going to cut, like, 13 pounds. I have never been this light. The last week will be 13 to 15 pounds."


Nurmagomedov has vehemently campaigned for a fight with McGregor, but he’ll have no easy task in Barboza. Barboza is one of the most diverse and creative strikers in the UFC, so overlooking him would be a giant mistake. On his resume, Nurmagomedov has key wins over Michael Johnson and Rafael Dos Anjos.


Considering he has fought in the UFC since 2010, it’s hard to believe Barboza is only 31 years old. He’s riding a three-fight winning streak after defeating Beneil Dariush in spectacular fashion with a flying knee knockout in March. Barboza, who has a long highlight reel of knockouts in the UFC, will bring many different lead strikes and counterstrikes unlike anything Nurmagomedov has seen. If Barboza gets in a rhythm on his feet, Nurmagomedov may consider taking the fight to the ground.


The one thing Barboza lacks is a signature win over a top 3 contender, which is what a victory over Nurmagomedov would represent. A victory and a rematch with Tony Ferguson for the interim title is likely in Barboza’s future, should he claim victory on Dec. 30. Barboza lost to Ferguson by submission in 2015, but has key victories over former champion Anthony Pettis and Gilbert Melendez.






Also on the main card:


Women’s strawweight fight - No. 6 Cynthia Calvillo vs. No. 9 Carla Esparza


Cynthia Calvillo is 3-0 in the UFC, having most recently defeated Joanne Calderwood by unanimous decision in July. Carla Esparza was the first UFC women’s strawweight champion, having defeated current champion Rose Namajunas by submission in the inaugural women’s strawweight title fight in 2014. Overall, Esparza is 3-2 in the UFC.




Welterweight fight - No. 8 Carlos Condit vs. No. 12 Neil Magny


Carlos Condit is a former interim welterweight champion and will return to the Octagon on Saturday after a 16-month layoff. In his last fight, Demian Maia easily defeated Condit by first-round submission, his second consecutive loss after losing to Robbie Lawler for the title in January 2016. Magny has been one of the UFC’s most active fighters over the past couple of years, but he lost to Rafael Dos Anjos by first-round submission at UFC 215 in September. Magny can rebound in a big way this weekend, as Condit would represent his biggest victory to date. 




Lightweight fight - Dan Hooker vs. Marc Diakiese (Moved up to the main card because the bout between John Lineker and Jimmie Rivera is cancelled)


A bantamweight fight between No. 4 ranked Jimmie Rivera and former champion and No. 2 ranked Dominick Cruz was originally scheduled as part of the main UFC 219 card. Cruz withdrew from the fight due to injury in early November, and No. 6 ranked John Lineker took his place. However, Lineker has also pulled out, as he underwent surgery on Wednesday to help repair an infected wisdom tooth, leaving Rivera without an opponent, again. Rivera likely won’t be penalized for his misfortunes and could be rewarded with a top matchup with either No. 1 ranked Cody Garbrandt or champion TJ Dillashaw. Rivera is 21-1 overall and is 5-0 in the UFC.






FS1 Prelims


Light heavyweight - Khalil Rountree Jr. vs. Michal Oleksiejczuk


Featherweight fight - No. 15 Myles Jury vs. Rick Glenn


Middleweight fight - Marvin Vettori vs. Omari Akhmedov


Flyweight fight - No. 13 Louis Smolka vs. Matheus Nicolau





UFC Fight Pass Early Prelims


Bantamweight fight - No. 11 Tim Elliott vs. Mark De La Rosa