The question heading into her title defense against Holly Holm: Could Cris Cyborg handle the big moment and earn the biggest victory of her career?
She did that and then some, battering Holm to win by unanimous decision (49-46, 48-47, 48-47) to retain the UFC women's featherweight championship. Sporting News scored the fight 49-46 for Cyborg.
"Thank you, Holly Holm," Cyborg told Joe Rogan in her post-fight interview. "She’s an amazing fighter."
The magnitude of the moment didn't faze Cyborg. Except for a period in the second round — which one judge scored for Holm — Cyborg didn't get frustrated. She immediately composed herself when the third round began, pushed the pace, moved forward with constant pressure and throwing heavy shots when it was appropriate.
Holm, who moved up from 135 pounds to take the fight had her moments. The second round was her best of the fight and perhaps of anyone who had faced Cyborg when she was able to connect with powerful left hands and worked the clinch to get Cyborg against the cage to attempt to wear her down.
There will be no bigger fight for Cyborg than UFC 219. Ronda Rousey is unlikely to ever return. If she does, it is highly unlikely it will be against Cyborg — especially after what happened to Holm, whose entire face was bruised when the fight had ended.
The only viable options seem to be either former Invicta featherweight champion Megan Anderson or current UFC women's bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes. Cyborg stated to Rogan she was interested in fighting Anderson even if it meant having to go her home country of Australia.
Holm has now lost three of her last four fights, all by decision and two of those were title fights.
Here was Sporting News' live coverage of UFC 219 (All times are Eastern).
UFC 219 Cyborg vs. Holm results
1:05: Round 5 to Cyborg (10-9, 49-46 Cyborg). Holm threw everything she had left in her gas tank, but anytime she threw her hardest shots, Cyborg laughed and threw back harder. Have to give Holm credit for staying in there and eating all of those shots but Cyborg's fighting IQ and superior boxing proved to be too much.
Cyborg answered a lot of questions about whether she could handle the big moment and if her cardio would be good enough. Hard to see where two judges could give Holm two rounds as she was given the opening two rounds. Think about that: if Holm could have somehow won the fifth round, she would have been the new champion.
12:58: Round 4 to Cyborg (10-9, 39-37 Cyborg). Much of the same of what we saw in third round. Have to question why Holm wasn't more aggressive in the round. To Cyborg's credit, she's kept her composure, patience and not overexerting herself. Holm needs to let it all hangout and throw everything she's ever had into these final five minutes of the fight.
12:52: Round 3 to Cyborg (10-9, 29-28 Cyborg). The eye of Holm is swollen shut and Cyborg took advantage. Cyborg made the adjustments from the second round and started throwing more right hands and knees to the body. Her accuracy is uncanny and using Holm's face as target practice. Holm needs to start getting more aggressive or this fight is going to be out of reach.
12:46: Round 2 to Holm (10-9, 19-19). When was the last time Cyborg lost a round? Holm started connecting on the left hand and throwing leg kicks. Going into the clinch, throwing a knee here and there started to frustrate the champion. How does Cyborg adjust and can Holm counter that attack? Watch Holm's left eye as the fight continues as it is starting close. Could play a huge role as the fight goes on.
12:39: Round 1 to Cyborg (10-9). Shouldn't be surprised the fight is making it to Round 2. Cyborg won the round by landing the harder and cleaner shots. You can see the gameplan Holm is trying to implement: she presses Cyborg against the cage and works from the clinch. Holm has bruising on the bridge of her nose and Cyborg has a bloody nose.
12:24: Cris Cyborg defends the women's featherweight championship against former women's bantamweight champ Holly Holm. Cyborg won title when she defeated Tonya Evinger at UFC 214 in July. Holm fought for the inaugural 145-pound title, losing a controversial decision to Germaine de Randamie at UFC 208 in February. But, Holm bounced back in June when she knocked out Bethe Corriea. It's the toughest fight of Cyborg's career. Holm has been in big fights before.
Khabib Nurmagomedov defeats Edson Barboza via unanimous decision
12:15 a.m.: Nurmagomedov def. Barboza by unanimous decision (30-24, 30-25, 30-25). Nurmagomedov didn't miss a beat in the first round. Barboza started the fight by connecting on a couple huge body kicks. Somehow, Nurmagoemdov walked right now through them like he knew they were coming. After connecting on three hard right hands, Nurmagomedov put Barboza on his back. Continuous punches to every part of the body left bruises all over Barboza's face and body. As dominant a round as one can get. Give Barboza credit for surviving.
The second round played out just like the first did. Barboza had a moment two minutes into the round, connecting on two hard body shots. But Nurmagomedov acted like they were no big deal and dumped Barboza back on his back and did exactly what he did in the first round. Have to give Barboza credit for not getting demoralized and not quitting as most guys would by this point in the fight.
In the third round, to the shock of many with the fight well in hand, Nurmagomedov kept the fight on the feet and was willing to exchange with Barboza. It almost cost him as Barboza somehow threw a spinning back kick which connected flush to Nurmagomedov's head. Barboza went to try it again, Nurmagomedov ducked. Nurmagoemdov decided he had enough and dumped Barboza on his back. Barboza showed how much heart he has and somehow got back to his feet to throw a flush knee but proved to be too little too late.
Nurmagomedov is a machine. He is the best 155-pound fighter in the world and it isn't close. He doesn't lose a minute of any round. A big fight is coming for Nurmagomedov. The only mistake he made was not calling out McGregor. That is the fight to make at lightweight. Hopefully that is what happens next.
11:50: Up next at UFC 219, in the co-main event, in lightweight action, No. 2 ranked Khabib Nurmagomedov takes on No. 4 ranked Edson Barboza. Nurmogomedov is undefeated in 24 fights with eight of those in the UFC. One would think he would be in either a title fight or the champion. But, a litany of injuries has plagued "The Eagle" his third fight in 20 months and first in 13 months. Barboza's won three consecutive fights including his most recent contest, a second-round KO over Beneil Dariush in March. Will Barboza's leg kicks be too much for Nurmagomedov to overcome or does Nurmagomedov's superior grappling be too much to overcome?
Dan Hooker defeats Marc Diakiese via submission
11:44: Hooker def. Diakiese by submission (guilliotine choke) at 0:42 of the third round. Not the most entertaining first round. Neither Hooker or Diakiese did too much. Hooker was content on popping the jab and keeping Diakiese at bay. Diakiese seemed to be overwhelmed by the bright lights of fighting on a big pay-per-view.
Hooker started to open up a bit in the second round, connecting with a couple right hands which helped setup a takedown. Once the fight got to the mat, Hooker didn't too much with the positioning he had gained. Diakiese to his credit reversed into top position as the round came to a close.
Hooker had the fight in had going into the third round decided to take charge instead of being content. After Diakiese attempted to goad Hooker into a wild exchange. With Hooker in the ground, Diakiese came in and Hooker locked in the choke. Diakiese had no choice but to tap out. Great win by Hooker on the big stage. He's now won three of his last four fights. Give him credit as he told Dana White in his post-fight interview that he wants to fight six weeks from today at UFC 221 in Perth, Australia which is near his hometown of Auckland, New Zealand. Give the man what he wants.
11:25: Now at UFC 219, in lightweight action, Dan Hooker fights Marc Diakiese. Hooker comes into the fight, winning two of his last three fights. The flashy Diakiese suffered the first loss of his 13-fight career to Drakkar Klose at The Ultimate Fighter Finale in July. A fight that has the chance to steal the show.
Carla Esparza defeats Cynthia Calvillo via unanimous decision
11:15: Esparza def. Calvillo by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28). Very entertaining first round. Calvilllo and Esparza started it by standing in the middle of the Octagon and trading shots. Calvillo decided she had enough and took Esparza down to the ground. Calvillo maintained good ground position, throw short elbows and punches. Esparza landed solid elbows and punches off of her back and at one point even locked in a triangle armbar. Near the end of the round, Calvillio tried for a rear-naked choke but Esparza reversed, gained top position and connected on some hard ground and pound punches as the horn sounded.
Esparza came back with a strong second round. Esparza used her improved striking by mixing up her punches and kicks which helped setup two takedowns. Whoever won the third round would win the fight.
An exciting third round. They stood in the pocket and traded strikes throughout the round. Neither really had an advantage and had their moments throughout the round and the fight could have gone either way. Can't complain about the decision at all as either fighter could have won. Esparza has now won three of her last fights and keeps her hopes alive of gaining another shot at the title. Will be interesting to see how Calvillo handles the loss which is the first of her career. She wasn't thrilled about the decision and didn't congratulate Esparza for the win in what was poor sportsmanship.
10:45: Up next at UFC 219, in women's strawweight action, No. 6 ranked Cynthia Calvillo faces former women's strawweight champion and No. 9 ranked Carla Esparza. Calvillo is undefeated in six fights has taken the UFC by storm winning her first three UFC bouts, two by submission. Esparza, who has a won over current champion Rose Namajunas has won two of her last three fights. This is the biggest test of Calivillo's career in facing a veteran of the sport and a former UFC champion. We will see how good she is. Baffled on how Calvillo is ranked higher than Esparza considering the latter is the former titleholder.
Neil Magny defeats Carlos Condit via unanimous decision
10:42: Magny def. Condit by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-2, 29-28). What happened in the first round is exactly what you would expect from someone whose been for awhile as Condit looked tentative and let Magny control the pace. He took Condit down to the mat and would grind him against the cage and make Condit work extra harder.
Saw much of the same in the second round until the final 90 seconds when Condit started to get Magny against the cage and let his shots flow. But what has been Condit's problem in the past haunted him again with 30 seconds left, Magny took him down again.
Before the third round began, Condit's coaches Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn told their pupil to start unleashing the fury, throw combinations at will or he will lose the fight. Condit just couldn't get going as Magny controlled the distance and did what he wanted whenever he wanted. It seemed like Condit would make the improbable comeback as he finally started throwing caution to the wind with about 2:15 left and fired off a six-punch combination. To his credit, Magny neutralized Condit and put him right back to the mat.
A tremendous performance by Magny. He executed the perfect gameplan. Condit's weakness is his ground game and Magny beat him to the clinch and took him down to the mat. The biggest win of Magny's career. Have to wonder what Condit does next. Just lacked fire and didn't look like he really wanted to be in there. And the judge who gave Condit a round needs to get their eyes re-examined. There's no way Condit won a minute of the fight, yet alone a round.
10:02: Kicking off the main card of UFC 219, in welterweight action, No. 8 ranked and former interim welterweight champion Carlos Condit faces No. 12 ranked Neil Magny. Condit returns after a 16-month layoff, in where he lost his last fight to Demian Maia by first-round submission. Magny's lost two of his last three fights and is need of a win. A hard fight for Condit after the layoff. Will be interesting to see where his mindset is at and cardio is. When a fighter takes an extended break, how you pace yourself is the toughest thing about returning to competition.
9:59: Oleksiejczuk def. Rountree by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27). Solid debut for the 22-year-old from Poland. Oleksiejczuk was like the Energizer bunny. He just kept coming with non-stop combinations with Rountree having no answers. If Rountree didn't have so much muscle mass and use all of his energy in the first 90 seconds of each round, he would be one of the top fighters in the division. Oleksiejczuk has some ways to go but he's on the right track in a division where a couple more wins will put him in the thick of things at 205 pounds.
9:40: In the headlining preliminary bout at UFC 219, in light heavyweight action, Khalil Rountree goes up against Michał Oleksiejczuk. Rountree is on a little bit of a run winning back-to-back fights by first-round knockout. Oleksiejczuk is making his UFC debut. He enters the leading MMA organization on a nine-fight winning streak. The division is in need of contenders so either guy has a chance to make a statement in a high profile position.
9:35: Jury def. Glenn by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27). Strong performance for Jury, whose now won back-to-back fights. Great striking especially with his left hand and scored two takedowns. But the final takedown was a baffling decision. Why go for a takedown when you are up two rounds and have the third round in the bag? No one will remember a good showing over a good fighter in Glenn. That isn't going to get Jury the fights he's looking for. He's a great fighter but his lack of wanting to go for the finish will not get him to where he wants to get too which is featherweight champion Max Holloway.
9:05: Coming up at UFC 219, in featherweight action, No. 15 ranked Myles Jury takes on Rick Glenn. Jury returned after a 18 month layoff to stop Mike de la Torre in the first round. Glenn, the former World Series of Fighting featherweight champion heads into the fight having won back-to-back fights. Shocked this wasn't the fight headlining the prelims as it is the best fight among the five scheduled contests.
8:58: Vettori and Akhmedov go to a majority draw ( 29-28 Vettori, 28-28, 28-28). Not the most technical fight but very entertaining as Vettori and Akhmedov spent the majority of the fight. Don't know how two judges had it scored a draw. Pretty clear Akhmedov won the first round and Vettori won the last two rounds. And look at the end of the fight when Bruce Buffer announced the scores. Akhmedov looked like he was in a war and out on his feet. Something to think about when it comes to the last two fights on the card if they go the distance.
8:35: Up next at UFC 219, in middleweight action, Marvin Vettori faces Omari Akhmedov. Heading into the contest, Vettori has won two of his last three fights including his most recent fight over Vitor Miranda in June at UFC Fight Night. Akhmedov comes in winning both of UFC bouts. Akhmedov has great wrestling while Vettori is stronger on the feet. A classic grappler vs. wrestler. It could go any way or maybe we see the unexpected.
8:27: Nicolau def. Smolka by unanimous decision (30-25, 30-26, 30-26). Dominant performance by Nicolau who followed our key to him winning, his striking. He dropped Smolka three times in the first round but to the Hawaiian's credit, he hung in there until the very end. Nicolau even showed his grappling skills, taking Smolka down two times in the third round with the fight well in end. A credible win over a ranked opponent was the type of win Nicolau needed on his resume. He's now won six consecutive fights. No doubt he will be ranked when the new rankings come out and will be put against someone in the top 10 in his next bout. The loss extends Smolka's losing streak to four. Rarely does the UFC keep fighters on that type of losing streak.
8:05: Kicking off the UFC 219 prelims on Fox Sports 1, in flyweight action, No. 13 ranked Louis Smolka fights Matheus Nicolau. Smolka is need of win, losing three consecutive fights. Nicolau has won five in a row including his two UFC fights, most recently defeating former flyweight title challenger John Moraga by split decision at The Ultimate Fighter 23 Finale back in July. Smolka has an exciting in your style while Nicolau has great striking. Should be entertaining fight.
7:54: A feature on Fight Pass is being done on Nurmagomedov. Leading into the package, Jon Anik called him a legend. How can one be a legend when he rarely fights due to injuries?
7:52: Elliot def. De La Rosa by submission (anaconda choke) at 1:41 of the second round. The entire contest belonged to Elliot from start-to-finish. He took De La Rosa down early on and tried for a variety of submissions throughout the first round. To begin the second round, Elliot immediately took De La Rosa, looking for the choke. A few moments later, Elliot scrambled to De La Rosa's back, locked in the anaconda choke for the submission win. A very good win for Elliot considering the circumstances leading to UFC 219 and unexpected death of his coach Robert Follis, two weeks ago. Now, will Elliot stay at 135 pounds or head back down to 125?
7:40: Always love the late arriving Las Vegas crowd as you could hear a pin drop inside the arena.
7:30: Kicking off UFC 219, on UFC Fight Pass, in bantamweight action, Tim Elliot goes up against Mark De La Rosa. Elliot, a former flyweight title challenger had been scheduled to face Pietro Menga two weeks ago at UFC on Fox. The day before the show, the UFC pulled Menga when it he wasn't going to make weight. Elliot was offered the fight at a catchweight of 131 pounds but refused. He was paid his show money but wanted a fight quickly. The UFC obliged and pitted him against De La Rosa, who will be making his UFC debut. De La Rosa earned his ticket into the UFC, going undefeated in nine fights. Out of those nine victories, six of those have come by stoppage. A great way to start UFC 219.
4:10: We are inching closer to the beginning of UFC 219. Can feel the excitement in the air.
— UFC (@ufc) December 30, 2017
11:15: Hello, fight fans, I'm Steven Muehlhausen of Sporting News. In a few hours, UFC 219 will commence from the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas featuring a world championship main eventm as Cris Cyborg defends her women's featherweight title against former women's bantamweight champion Holly Holm. The co-main event is a battle of top lightweight contenders as No. 2 ranked Khabib Nurmagomedov fights No. 4 ranked Edson Barboza.
UFC 219 fight card
Cris Cyborg vs. Holly Holm for Cyborg's UFC Women's Featherweight Title
Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Edson Barboza; Lightweight
Dan Hooker vs. Marc Diakiese; Lightweight
Cynthia Calvillo vs. Carla Esparza; Women's Strawweight
Carlos Condit vs. Neil Magny; Welterweight
Khalil Rountree vs. Michał Oleksiejczuk; Light Heavyweight
Myles Jury vs. Rick Glenn; Featherweight
Marvin Vettori vs. Omari Akhmedov; Middleweight
Louis Smolka vs. Matheus Nicolau; Flyweight
Tim Elliott vs. Mark De La Rosa; Bantamweight
UFC 219 preview
After a long, winding road to finally get into the UFC, Cyborg (18-1, 1NC) accomplished a lifelong goal at UFC 214 when she defeated Tonya Evinger by third-round TKO to capture the first ever UFC women's featherweight championship.
Questions arose on who Cyborg would face next. The 145-pound women's division is thin and fighters from the 135-pound weight class were moving up to face the best female competitor in the world. Add in the situation of Cyborg's contract was about to run out at the end of October.
In October, rumors started to surface of a showdown between Cyborg and Holm for this show. The fight appeared to be off as last month, talks broke down between Holm's camp and the UFC. Cyborg's contract had lapsed, but negotiations were still ongoing with the MMA leader.
At the end of the last month, seemingly out of nowhere, the fight was officially announced to headline the year-end show in conjunction with Cyborg agreeing to a new contract with the UFC.
This will be the second time Holm (11-3) has moved up to featherweight. She fought in the inaugural title fight against Germaine de Randamie and lost by a controversial decision back at UFC 208. Holm got back on the winning track, moving back down to bantamweight and knocked out Bethe Correia in July.
MMA pundits expect the fight to go only one way, ending by knockout. Cyborg and Holm are the two best strikers in Women's MMA. Out of Cyborg's 18 career wins, 16 of them have come by knockout while eight of Holm's 11 career wins have come by KO.
The fight should be explosive. Can Holm survive the heavy shots from Cyborg and shock the MMA world once again or does Cyborg roll on and continue her reign of terror?
UFC 219 latest news
— Who wins the key fights at UFC 219? We give you our predictions.
— Cyborg and Holm aren't just competing for the women's featherweight title at UFC 219. They are battling for something bigger than that.
— Don't know too much about UFC 219? We give you a breakdown of the card.
Steven Muehlhausen is an MMA and boxing writer and contributor for Sporting News. You can listen to his podcast, "The Fight Junkies" here. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and can find him on Twitter @SMuehlhausenMMA.