LAS VEGAS – The first punch Cris “Cyborg” Justino threw was an indication of the kind of night it was going to be for Yana Kunitskaya.
A Cyborg right dumped Kunitskaya just seconds into the fight and set the tone for what was to come over the next three minutes of their fight for the women’s featherweight title in the main event of UFC 222 at T-Mobile Arena.
Kunitskaya, the former Invicta bantamweight champion who was making her UFC debut, got up from the knockdown and backed Cyborg against the cage, trying to pin her to limit her power. It was a good strategy, but it was obvious Kunitskaya would need more than that.
Once Cyborg got some distance between herself and Kunitskaya it was all over.
She caught Kunitskaya with a right hand that dropped her to the canvas, and Cyborg showed her finishing acumen. She quickly moved into top position and fired hard, but smart shots at Kunitskaya until referee Herb Dean pulled her off.
She is the easily most dominant fighter in the sport now, winning her 20th consecutive fight (with a no-contest in there) since opening her career with a submission defeat.
Every great champion needs a rival and Cyborg may have found hers one division below. She called out UFC bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes after the bout, setting up a superfight that could come in July and which would have the ability to propel her to superstar status.
The only reason she’s not there now is that it is obvious there is no one in her class, literally and figuratively. Nunes has been asking for the fight and is the one fighter with the punching power, physical strength and overall game to match up with Cyborg.
The question will be whether Nunes has a chin, because Cyborg has a tremendous fastball that is not only powerful, but deadly accurate. She places it well and has good timing, so she gets maximum impact.
Kunitskaya showed heart and tried to battle after being dumped, but she went down from every clean shot that Cyborg landed. That is not a knock on her but rather a testament to the dynamite in the Brazilian champion’s hands.
“All glory to God,” she said. “I train all the time so I took this fight on short notice but I felt very prepared. I am waiting for Amanda [Nunes] now. She called me out and I want to fight her. I just want to remind everyone that she called me out and, when you call out Cyborg, Cyborg will answer.”
That fight might finally be the one that earns her universal recognition. Yes, she’s physically bigger than her opponents, but she’s smart and skilled, as well.
It is going to take a dangerous, and iron-chinned, opponent to end this reign.