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UFC 219: Cyborg fight highlights a mildly interesting card

Cris Cyborg vs. Holly Holm highlights UFC 219. MMAfighting.com

UFC 219 isn’t the best card the UFC has put on this year. In fact, on paper, it is probably nearer the bottom of the pay-per view power rankings. It does, however, have a few intriguing storylines that for me are enough to fork over my $60. 

The headliner features the most dominant women’s fighter of all time, Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos (18-1), taking on Holly Holm (11-3), who knows a thing or two about overcoming the most unlikely of odds. Cyborg has not lost since May of 2005, and has rarely even been challenged in her bouts. Since getting to the UFC, she has had three fights, and won by TKO all 3 times. Holm is best known for head kicking Ronda Rousey’s career into a downward spiral, but even she has not faced a force like Cyborg. Holm’s technical boxing is tough to match for any woman, but Cyborg has the brute strength and closing pressure that has proven to be too much for any of her peers to handle. If the fight goest to the ground, it is difficult to see Holm surviving long, but as long as they are on their feet Holm has a chance to land a fight-ending kick. A win for Cyborg here would solidify her as the most dominant female fighter in history, while a surprise win by Holm would give her a legacy as a true giant-killer. 

The co-main event marks the return of Khabib Nurmagomedov (24-0), who is one of the most dominant fighters in the world, when he can make it into the cage. Khabib was supposed to fight Tony Ferguson for the interim title at UFC 209, but was hospitalized with complications during his weight cut. He hasn’t fought since, and has developed a reputation as injury prone that is serious enough that it could cost him a title shot. He gets Edson Barboza (19-4) here, who has won three straight since being submitted by Ferguson. Nurmagomedov will bring immediate and constant pressure, looking to use the same takedown recipe that Ferguson used to beat Barboza. Barboza will clearly want to stay on his feet, but as Michael Johnson and Abel Trujillo found, it is much easier said than done. 24 fighters have tried to land the kill shot on Khabib before being taken down and pummeled, and all 24 have failed. Barboza will look to be the first, but has a serious uphill climb. The winner of this fight is hoping to get a shot against Ferguson, and both fighters feel like they have something to prove, both against each other and against “El Cucuy”. 

The matchup between Cynthia Calvillo (6-0) and Carla Esparza (12-4) pits two grapplers against each other. Calvillo has worked her way into a high-level prospect, while Esparza has struggled in her UFC career after winning The Ultimate Fighter in season 20. This fight may be unspectacular, but the winner gets themselves into the conversation of strawweight contention. 

Carlos Condit (30-10) returns after a 16 month layoff that had people curious if he would ever fight again after he was pummeled soundly by Demian Maia. Neil Magny (19-6) is an intriguing opponent for his return, if for no other reason than it should make a stylistically interesting matchup. It is very difficult to know what we will get out of Condit here. He is only 33 years old, but has mostly been hidden away for the last year and a half, so it is hard to know where he is at physically and mentally. A win here instantly revives interest in him near the top of the welterweight division, while a loss may mark the last time we see Condit in the UFC cage. 

Mark Diakiese (12-1) had his shine knocked off by Drakkar Klose back in July. Diakiese was widely regarded as the top lightweight prospect in the world, but Klose, a fine prospect in his own right, was able to capitalize on his weakness and make it an ugly clinch fight. Daniel Hooker (14-7) doesn’t have a history of trying to make fights ugly. This is a good matchup for Diakiese to display his brilliant counter-striking and get his name back to the tip of people’s tongues. 

The undercard features Khalil Rountree, Myles Jury and Tim Elliott. 


PREDICTIONS
Cyborg by TKO

Nurmagomedov by TKO

Calvillo by decision

Condit by KO

Diakiese by decision

Rountree by KO

Jury by decision

Smolka by knockout 

Vettori by decision

Elliott by submission

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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