LAS VEGAS -- The ever-growing quality of women's mixed martial arts fighting was celebrated Saturday when Cris "Cyborg" Justino defeated Holly Holm by unanimous decision to retain her UFC women's featherweight belt.
Justino (19-1) endured her first five-round fight against former bantam-weight champion Holm in the main event of UFC 219 at T-Mobile Arena. The judges scored the bout 48-47, 48-47, 49-46 as Justino remained unbeaten since 2005.
Justino withstood much to become champion, and Saturday she conquered an extended test against the best punches of former a boxing champion, and kicks from the woman who used them to dethrone Ronda Rousey two years ago.
While Holm (11-4) displayed impressive cardio ability, employing an effective fight plan early to land kicks and well-placed punches, Justino countered with her usual fierceness.
The champion was punched in the nose early in the first round and Holm tested her like no one before in cruising through the second round, burning seconds by pushing Justino's back to the cage.
But Justino began to find increased openings in the third, and she won the final three rounds on all three scorecards, jumping into a hard power punch to Holm's face to close the third.
Holm's face was noticeably swelling near her left eye in the fourth from the punishment that Justino inflicted, including a kick to the head. Another power punch by Justino was the most impressive of the fourth round, backing up Holm late.
To win the final round, Justino hit Holm with a combination of three power punches in the final minute. Justino's eight-fight knockout streak ends, but her reign as champ continues.
"Thank you to Holly Holm. She is an amazing fighter and I had a great time fighting her tonight," the Costa Mesa, Calif.-trained Justino said in the Octagon, calling for a fight against Invicta featherweight champ Megan Anderson in Australia.
In the co-main event, Russian lightweight Khabib Nurmagomedov (25-0) mostly mauled fourth-rated Edson Barboza, winning a unanimous decision by lopsided scores of 30-25 twice and 30-24 to move toward a showdown against either interim champion Tony Ferguson in the spring or full champion Conor McGregor later in 2018.
Nurmagomedov stood in the early portions of each round and performed well against the power striking and improvisational kicks from Brazil's Barboza (19-5), who was so badly beaten up on the canvas, he needed help to reach his stool after the first round.
"He's one of the best strikers in the UFC. I fought him for 15 minutes," Nurmagomedov said.
It's Nurmagomedov's world-class wrestling that makes him so menacing, however, and he flexed that skill by remaining atop Barboza for the final three minutes of the first round, landing hard punches and elbows to the head and body.
The pattern repeated in the next two rounds, a merciless attack that makes him such a fearsome presence in the talented division.
In an especially celebratory mood following the birth of his son hours earlier, Nurmagomedov told the crowd, "I can fight with anybody -- Conor or Tony."
After missing his shot at Ferguson in March because he fell ill trying to make weight, Nurmagomedov said, "I don't think about these (two) guys. I only think about me.
"I don't worry about Conor. He only thinks about money right now. After he spends his money, he will come back."
Earlier, former strawweight champion Carla Esparza of Redondo Beach edged Cynthia Calvillo by three scores of 29-28 to move closer toward a rematch with champion Rose Namajunas.
The No. 9-rated Esparza (14-4) nearly applied a deciding arm bar on the previously unbeaten, sixth-ranked Calvillo (6-1) in the first round. After Calvillo answered with flush punches in the second, Esparza fought the third with more urgency and landed hurtful punches in a flurry to close the bout.
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