When featherweight champion Max Holloway suffered an injury a few weeks ago, UFC 222 was left without a main event and the options to replace it were limited.
A lot of ideas were tossed around including a rematch for the bantamweight title between T.J. Dillashaw and Cody Garbrandt and there was even the possibility that the show could be cancelled.
Finally, at the eleventh hour, UFC women’s featherweight champion Cris Cyborg opted to accept a last-minute fight against former Invicta FC competitor Yana Kunitskaya to headline the card taking place this weekend from Las Vegas.
How Cris Cyborg vs. Yana Kunitskaya Came to Headline UFC 222
Considering that Cyborg just fought for five hard rounds at UFC 219 this past December and was targeting a super fight showdown against UFC women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes later this year, no one would have blamed her for turning them down.
Instead, Cyborg was more than happy to accept as she explained her reasons for putting the featherweight belt on the line with only a few weeks to prepare.
“Hunter Campbell of the UFC contacted my Manager George Prajin and said that the UFC needed a new main event for UFC 222 because of the Max Holloway injury. I train year round and was already in preparation for an expected fight against Amanda Nunes, so when the opportunity came we felt it was one we could accept and show the UFC that we are willing to help the company when needed,” Cyborg explained when speaking to MMAWeekly.
“I am always in the gym and was already preparing for an expected fight against Amanda Nunes. I had to cancel a few public appearances that I had scheduled in Europe in order to get back to the states, but other than that my cardio and weight are good and I will be prepared for March 3.”
What About Cris Cyborg’s Contentious Relationship with Dana White?
It’s no secret that Cyborg had sparred with UFC president Dana White in the past both publicly and privately, but after signing her new four-fight deal at the close of 2017, she was hopeful that all the past ill will could be put behind them.
Helping to save the day for a show that may have otherwise been cancelled is just another way Cyborg is rebuilding the bridge that once seemed burned to ashes when it came to her relationship with the UFC.
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“There are not a lot of fighters who are willing to put their championship belt on the line with three weeks notice,” Cyborg said. “I am hoping that my actions will show the UFC that I am willing to do what is good for the company and that because of this we will see me get a little bit more of the marketing and exposure I have been campaigning for.”
How Does Yana Kunitskaya Stack Up to Cris Cyborg?
As far as the match-up goes, it could be argued that Cyborg saw easy prey for her second straight title defense when Kunitskaya was offered as an opponent.
This is the former Invicta FC fighter’s UFC debut and she’s going up against arguably the greatest women’s mixed martial artist of all time, but Cyborg promises that she’s not looking at this fight as just another bump in the road.
Cyborg is giving Kunitskaya the same kind of respect she gives for every fight and that’s why she’s been such a dominant force for more than a decade straight.
“Yana will be a tough challenge for me. A lot of people don’t know who she is and that is because there have been no featherweight fights in the UFC besides championship bouts,” Cyborg explained. “Yana was 8-1 at featherweight before winning the Invicta FC belt at Bantamweight. I think she will make for an exciting fight and am glad she accepted the bout.
“Yana will be training with Holly Holm and the Jackson’s Gym. She is a very skilled opponent with a lot of fight experience. I will take her seriously and respect her skills the entire time we are inside the Octagon.”