When Max Holloway was forced out of his featherweight title headliner versus Frankie Edgar at UFC 222, the UFC were considering canceling the whole event. In comes Cris Cyborg to save the event on 3 weeks’ notice. She will defend her featherweight title versus former Invicta FC bantamweight champion Yana Kunitskaya in the main event this Saturday March 3rd live on PPV.
Edgar who will remain on the card, will take on Brian Ortega in the night’s co-main event. For Cyborg, this will be her second straight PPV headliner in the past 4 months. She out struck former UFC bantamweight champion Holly Holm on route to a unanimous decision back in UFC 219.
Kunitskaya was originally slated to take on Leah Letson on the same card before the opportunity of a lifetime came knocking. As expected, she stepped in right away to take on Cyborg. For those unfamiliar with Kunitskaya or who are downplaying her, Cyborg argues that she is a worthy opponent.
Yana has already competed at featherweight earlier in her career and Cyborg believes 145 pounds is a more natural fit for her.
“Yana was scheduled for a 135lbs fight but after reviewing the competition weight for her last fight in California, the state commission recommended she compete at 145lbs,” Cyborg explained. “She won the Invicta FC belt at 135lbs but had dehydrated her body more than 20 pounds weighing in at more than 155lbs the day of the fight.”
“At featherweight Yana is 8-1 as a professional fighter and was world ranked before dropping down to bantamweight to win a world title.”
And as for how the fight came about for Cyborg, she looked at it as an opportunity to be a company woman and do what very few champions are willing to do in such cases.
“The UFC needed help with a main event for UFC 222 after Max Holloway got injured and my manager George Prajin has a great relationship with the UFC’s Hunter Campbell which made this an easy opportunity to show WME that I’m willing to help the company when asked,” Cyborg said. “There are not many UFC champions willing to defend their belt on 3 weeks’ notice.”
Prior to this booking, there were rumours that Cyborg was going to partake in a super fight versus bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes in the summer. Despite going in a different direction, Cyborg merely sees this as a pit stop and believes that the fight is imminent.
“I had already told my manager I wanted to fight 3 times this year, and he was negotiating the Amanda Nunes fight when this opportunity presented itself,” Cyborg explained. “I was in great shape for Holly Holm and didn’t wait long before returning to the gym. Obviously, you want a full camp when accepting a fight but as world champion you always have to keep yourself ready to go. I live a clean lifestyle all year round.”
And she believes that should she and Nunes, who takes on Raquel Pennington at UFC 224, both win their next fight, a placement in the UFC 226: Miocic versus Cormier fight card would be perfect.
“I think my fans know I have been asking for a July 7th fight date during International Fight Week. Now that we are both scheduled to fight, we will have to see what happens first but if we both win that card still looks like the mega card of the summer which is perfect for such a super fight.”
But for now, her focus is on Jackson Wink’s Kunitskaya who holds 7 career wins by the way of knockout. In her last fight, she defeated Raquel Pa’aluhi to claim the vacant Invicta FC bantamweight title. While Cyborg knows people will always discredit her opponents’ resumes, she is not taking her lightly.
“A lot of fans only follow the UFC,” Cyborg said. “She has never had a fight in the UFC so I don’t expect most fans to realize that she is 8-1 when competing at 145lbs or heavier. This is a girl with real KO power who is training with the same team I just fought 8 weeks ago.”
“She has fought on major promotions like ACB and Invicta and in her last fight won a world championship by decision. I respect all of my opponents, Yana can strike and she can grapple she is a complete fighter. I think similar to when I fought Holly Holm we will have a chance at winning a performance bonus.”
Cyborg has run through pretty much everyone that has stood across her in the octagon which has caused many people to discredit her accolades and level of competition. There aren’t many natural female 145 pounders in the UFC but Cyborg believes with all the recent weight cut woes, we will see the division build up.
“The featherweight division is going to naturally fill up and become one of the deepest divisions in WMMA,” Cyborg said. “You have already seen fighters like Germaine De Randamie, Holly Holm, Cat Zingano, and Sarah Moras either move up or talk about it and you’ve seen other girls from bantamweight move down to 125lbs. Adding 145lbs prevents a lot of females from participating in extreme weight cutting.”
Always an active champion, Cyborg will look to entertain the masses with another spectacular performance. With 16 career wins by the way of knockout, she wants to show the fans that despite the card being pieced back up rather quickly, they will get their money’s worth.
“I will show my fans why my fights are always exciting and be going for the finish the entire time,” Cyborg said. “UFC 222 is for Cyborg nation and all those fans who already bought their flight, hotels, and used their yearly vacations to travel to Vegas for a UFC PPV. This fights for them and it will be a great card.”
“I took this fight for them, and as an opportunity to help the UFC with a main event at UFC 222 and those fans will appreciate my job when I am finished.”