Two utterly dominant performances by two of MMA’s most dominant forces, Cris Cyborg and Khabib Nurmagomedov produced torturous victories at UFC 219 to add credence to their claims as the best in their respective divisions.
In Cyborg’s case, that assersition stretches beyond her featherweight realm because the Brazilian is the GOAT of women’s MMA.
Holly Holm dragged the Brazilian through five hellacious rounds to force her first decision in nine years.
That in itself merits applause, and such is the superiority of Cyborg, going the distance is viewed as a moral victory, even if it’s one which left Holm disfigured.
Indeed, the former Invicta and Strikeforce title holder has evolved from brutal berserker to a technical titan with her victory in the main event slot of UFC 219 one of cold composure.
You could say it was machine-like.
In a fight which displayed the very best skill women’s MMA has to offer, the defending champion landed a ferocious 118 of 223 of her significant strikers compared to Holm’s 44 of 227, according to FightMetric.
And Cyborg had more rounds in her such was the depth of her gas tank.
Her lowest output was in the first frame when she landed 16 strikes but in the fifth the 32-year-old landed 39 strikes, a nod to her tremendous cardio.
Holm was game, but she was never really in the bout, the former bantamweight champ displaying great heart to withstand Cyborg for five rounds.
Ultimately, she was too predictable and Cyborg’s combination of power, accuracy, variety and crucially timing was simply too much.
Some corners will argue size was the difference but in the clinch Holm imposed her will with the height and reach virtually identical.
True, Cyborg is thicker but she also possesses a broader MMA brain and after being taken to a decision for the first time since 2008, questions now turn to who can beat her. The list is cut shorter with every victory.
“Thank you for Holly Holm,” Cyborg said after her 19th career win. “She is an amazing fighter she had a very good fight.”
In her post-fight press conference, she added: “I’m saying (I want Megan Anderson), because she’s 145lbs. I would like my division to grow. If we’re growing fast, you need to put more girls at 145. And I think she’s in the line to fight for the belt.”
Anderson, the Invicta featherweight champ, was booked to fight Cyborg for the vacant 145lbs belt at UFC 214 in July but withdrew from the contest due to undisclosed personal issues.
However, that bout is clearly still on her radar as the Australian tweeted: “Great fight ladies! Congrats Cris on retaining your belt! @ufc I think there’s only 1 fight to make now against a legit featherweight. #UFC219”
Anderson represents a greater physical challenge but at this point Cyborg is virtually peerless.
In that sense, Nurmagomedov is in the same category.
Indeed, ‘The Eagle’ is the ultimate apex predator and his physical manipulation of Edson Barboza was straight torture.
The Brazilian was effectively run over by a car repeatedly for three rounds as Nurmagomedov marched forward barely giving his fellow top contender at 155lbs any inch of space.
And that was on the feet, on the ground, the Dagestian is legitimately frightening. What he can do to the most elite lightweights in the world is akin to a bull riding a cowboy.
Nurmagomedov simply mauled Barboza and having come into the bout in his best shape yet, hope grows 2018 will hold two-three fights having fought just three times since April 2014.
“When I’m injured, they talk too much,” Nurmagomedov said. “But when I’m healthy, I don’t see these guys.
“Tony (Ferguson) or Conor (McGregor), don’t matter,” he said of his next fight. “Maybe if the UFC approves, I can fight with these guys in the same night. I swear, no joke.
“Maybe I have to stay humble, but tonight, I have to smash these guys and get these guys back, because these guys talk too much when I’m injured.”
The only talk now is of who is out there capable of beating two of MMA’s best in Cyborg and Nurmagomedov.
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