The action hit the Octagon for the final time in 2017 on Saturday night in Las Vegas as 10 pairs of fighters hit the cage at UFC 219.
Headlined by a featherweight title fight between Cris Cyborg and Holly Holm and boasting a bunch of quality matchups up and down the card, the final event of the year produced a solid end to a strong December and 12 tremendous months inside the UFC cage.
Here’s a look at the key takeaways from the final UFC event of 2017.
Cris Cyborg really is unstoppable
Cris Cyborg retained her women’s featherweight title on Saturday night, getting the better of former bantamweight queen Holly Holm over the course of 25 minutes to collect her eighth straight victory and push her unbeaten streak to 20 consecutive contests.
This was easily the toughest fight of the Brazilian’s career — a hard-fought battle that saw her take more damage and be forced into the fourth round for the first time since her second meeting with Marloes Coenen 4 1/2 years ago. Despite a valiant effort from Holm, Cyborg was undeterred, taking everything her challenger had to offer and responding in kind from bell to bell.
— UFC (@ufc) December 31, 2017
Make no mistake about it: Holm would have slept a number of foes with some of the shots she connect with against Cyborg; she was cutting angles, countering well and doing all the things that helped her to beat Ronda Rousey.
Cyborg is just a different type of fighter and she certainly has the most apropos nickname in all of mixed martial arts. She is a fighting machine and thus far, no one has been able to stop her.
Time to make the first female superfight in the UFC
There have only been a handful of “Champion vs. Champion” clashes in the UFC and none have taken place on the women’s side. That should change in 2018.
Cyborg needs another formidable challenger and bantamweight champ Amanda Nunes has said she was interested. With “The Lioness” lacking an obvious challenger to her throne at the moment as well, the timing is right to pit the two Brazilian titleholders against one another in the first real superfight in the women’s division in UFC history.
Holm had some success on Saturday night, connecting enough to bloody Cyborg’s nose and make her take the odd retreating step, something she has done very few times during her decade of dominance. Unfortunately, she didn’t quite have the jam to just stop the champion in her tracks or seriously alter the dynamics of the fight and Cyborg was able to get back to pressing forward and piling on the offense.
That’s the X-factor that Nunes would bring to the table in a hypothetical pairing with her fellow Brazilian. She began her career competing in the 145-pound ranks, has the frame to fight there again and the power to potentially make things interesting against the aggressive, unstoppable Cyborg.
Both need dance partners and the UFC needs some massive fights to help secure a new television deal in 2018.
Cyborg vs. Nunes needs to happen.
Khabib Nurmagomedov is a monster
Khabib Nurmagomedov is the definition of relentless. He’s also the best lightweight on the planet. The first of those statements is widely accepted and while the second is still up for debate, I’m not sure how many people would like to argue otherwise besides Tony Ferguson, Conor McGregor and their respective camps.
Edson Barboza is an outstanding fighter and was doing a great job early, blasting home hard leg kicks from the outside. Nurmagomdeov just kept coming, eating kick after kick until he was able to get inside and put the Brazilian on the canvas, where he unleashed hell. While Barboza survived to the third round, the unbeaten Dagestani standout was never in danger, taking the best Barboza had to offer like it was nothing before going right back to wearing him out on the ground.
— UFC (@ufc) December 31, 2017
This was a straight up mugging that reiterated why Nurmagomedov’s injury history and issues with the scale have been so frustrating, because when he’s healthy, he’s been unstoppable. He is a punishing pressure fighter that has made elite opponents look like novices and should fight for the title in the first half of 2018.
And I’m pretty sure he’s going to win that fight too. I don’t say this often, but I’m not sure anyone in the division has the recipe for beating this guy; he’s that damn good.
The changing of the guard continues
Carlos Condit is one of the greatest welterweights of all-time; a former WEC champion, a former UFC interim champion and he probably should have won the undisputed title when he kicked off 2016 with an instant classic against Robbie Lawler. He has 30 career wins and fought everyone who was anyone in the 170-pound weight class over the last 15 years.
Saturday night, he lost his third straight, returning from a 16-month hiatus to land on the wrong side of the scores against Neil Magny in the UFC 219 main card opener. Two years ago, that would have been unheard of, but 2017 has been a year of change in numerous divisions, with welterweight leading the way.
Magny stuck to the game plan, working from the clinch and piling up the takedowns, keeping Condit off balance from the jump. “The Natural Born Killer” didn’t have any of the killer instinct and ferocity we’re used to seeing from him and Magny took full advantage.
At some point, perennial contenders start to fade and new names take their place. It has happened a lot this year and is something to continue to watch as we move into 2018.
New names to watch
While the top of the card was dominated by established fighters and entrenched contenders, the lower portion of the lineup featured a collection of lesser known talents delivering impressive performances that should set them up for bigger and better in the year ahead.
Brazilian flyweight Matheus Nicolau returned from an 18-month hiatus to roll through durable Hawaiian Louis Smolka and push his record to 3-0 in the UFC. Just 24-years-old and already boasting a victory over former title challenger John Moraga, Nicolau is a Top 10 talent and could emerge as a title challenger by this time next year.
While not quite as polished or accomplished as Nicolau, Marvin Vettori is another 24-year-old with obvious upside. Even though “The Italian Dream” came away with a draw on Saturday evening, the Kings MMA product dominated the second half of his bout with Omari Akhmedov and showed the kind of continued improvements that make him a dark horse in the division heading into 2018.
Myles Jury isn’t a new name — he made his UFC debut in 2012 — but he’s back after a two-year layoff and has won two straight after out-working Rick Glenn. Once a highly touted prospect, Jury is now someone who could make noise in the 145-pound ranks going forward.
Lastly, newcomer Michal Oleksiejczuk strolled into the cage and collected a quality victory in his debut, weathering an early storm to wear down and out-work Khalil Rountree Jr. in the final preliminary card fight of the night. Light heavyweight is always in need of fresh names and young prospects and the 22-year-old Polish fighter ticks both boxes and bares watching from here on out.