A breakdown of the fights on the main card of Saturday’s UFC 219 card at T-Mobile Arena, with picks from the Review-Journal’s Adam Hill and Heidi Fang:
Cris “Cyborg” Justino (18-1, 1 No Contest) vs. Holly Holm (11-3)
Class: For Justino’s women’s featherweight title
Line: Justino -360
Storyline: Since losing her professional debut by submission in 2005, Justino has been a dominant force in the cage. She has reeled off 18 straight wins, with 16 coming by knockout. Justino has been an absolute juggernaut. There is little doubt, however, that Holm provides the most interesting challenge during that stretch. Not only is Holm is a former world champion boxer who is capable of standing with Justino, but she is a counter-puncher by nature. She is by far at her best when her opponent moves forward. Justino won’t take a step back. Holm has also proven capable of performing in the big spotlight as an underdog when she ended Ronda Rousey’s unbeaten run with a spectacular headkick knockout. Still, Justino’s power is unrivaled and it remains to be seen how it may affect Holm if anything lands flush. The wild card in the mix is Justino’s immense advantage on the mat, something she hasn’t had to implement in some time because of all of her success in the standup.
Hill’s Pick: Holm by decision
Fang’s Pick: Justino by fifth-round knockout
Khabib Nurmagomedov (24-0) vs. Edson Barboza (19-4)
Line: Nurmagomedov -280
Storyline: Nurmagomedov has been on a dominant run through the lightweight division. While four of his eight UFC fights have lasted to the final bell, Nurmagomedov’s aggression and relentless pressure in closing space and grinding his opponents into the mat is suffocating. He will face a difficult test here against another of the top contenders in the division. Barboza is one of the most feared strikers at 155 pounds, particularly with his kicks. If Nurmagomedov has shown any vulnerability, it’s that he has been hit a bit in his last few fights. Nobody has been able to do much damage, but Barboza is on a different level. The only thing that has really slowed Nurmagomedov down has been injuries and some brutal weight cuts. He had to pull out of an interim title fight in March when he was hospitalized hours before weigh-ins. His team insists changes to this camp have rectified those issues and he will enter the cage as healthy as he has been for a fight in years. That’s a scary thought.
Hill’s Pick: Nurmagomedov by second-round submission
Fang’s Pick: Nurmagomedov by decision
Cynthia Calvillo (6-0) vs. Carla Esparza (13-4)
Class: Women’s strawweight
Line: Calvillo -250
Storyline: Calvillo’s 2017 has been a whirlwind. She started the year on a Legacy Fighting Alliance card in Dallas and signed with the UFC for a quick turnaround in March. Through a variety of circumstances, that bout was moved to the main card of a pay-per-view event. A great performance got her booked on another pay-per-view a month later. Calvillo picked up her fourth win of the year and third in the UFC in July and now finds herself as a legitimate contender. The bout against Esparza, a former champion, is a big test to see whether she’s truly ready to stay among the elite in the division. Calvillo can do a bit of everything and has some experience as an amateur fighter to mitigate her lack of professional bouts. Esparza is a strong wrestler who will likely look to grind Calvillo out and test her endurance. Asked about that strategy, Calvillo simply cackled in amusement.
Hill’s Pick: Calvillo by decision
Fang’s Pick: Calvillo by second-round knockout
Carlos Condit (30-10) vs. Neil Magny (19-7)
Line: Condit -165
Storyline: Condit is one of the most accomplished welterweight fighters in mixed martial arts history. The former World Extreme Cagefighting champion also held the UFC interim title, though he came up short in two shots at the undisputed crown. He was content in all he had achieved when he announced his retirement after a loss to Demian Maia in August 2016. After more than a year away from the sport, Condit got the itch again as he spent time in the gym with some of his old teammates in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Surprisingly, he is still just 33 years old, though his body may feel older after all the battles he has been through. Both fighters are tall for the division and are accustomed to having decided length and reach advantages at welterweight, which will be mostly nullified. Both are also high-volume strikers so there should be plenty of action. Magny does still enjoy a 4-inch edge in reach and he uses his jab very well so he should be able to control distance. Condit and his coaches will surely note Magny’s susceptibility to leg kicks and look to exploit that. Magny’s biggest edge may be in the clinch, though Condit isn’t weak in that department. It’s a pretty even fight, making the underdog fairly appealing at the betting window.
Hill’s Pick: Magny by decision
Fang’s Pick: Condit by decision
Dan Hooker (15-7) vs. Marc Diakiese (12-1)
Line: Diakiese -185
Storyline: This fight got a big boost up to the main card when no replacement opponent was found for Jimmie Rivera after John Lineker had to pull out of the fight last week. It’s a big spot for Diakiese, a high-level prospect who is coming off the first loss of his career. He is an explosive striker with a ton of finishing power that has proven adept at using his strength to bully opponents in the clinch and drive them to the mat. Hooker also has power, though his comes more through an impressive ability to string together solid combinations. Diakiese’s ability to deal with his first setback could be a big factor in the outcome. If it serves as motivation instead of sapping his confidence, Hooker does leave enough openings that he should be able to land a big shot at some point.
Hill’s Pick: Diakiese by second-round knockout
Fang’s Pick: Diakiese by third-round knockout