BY GREG BEACHAM
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Brian Ortega needed less than one round at UFC 222 to do something never done before.
After becoming the first person ever to knock out Frankie Edgar, there’s no telling what this surfing Californian could do next.
Ortega stopped the former UFC champion on a devastating uppercut with 16 seconds left in the first round, and Cris “Cyborg” Justino defended her featherweight title with a first-round stoppage of Yana Kunitskaya at UFC 222 on Saturday night.
Edgar (21-6-1) was stopped for the first time in his 13-year mixed martial arts career by Ortega (14-0), who likely earned a featherweight title shot against dominant champion Max Holloway with his latest spectacular finish at T-Mobile Arena. Although Ortega’s strength is jiu-jitsu, he showed off a striking ability that makes him one of the world’s best at 145 pounds.
“I’ve always said it, and maybe the way I fight doesn’t really show it, but pick your poison,” said Ortega, who claimed he gained 19 pounds between Friday’s weigh-in and the bout. “I feel like no matter what happens in the fight, I’ll be all right.”
Ortega started the knockout with a sneaky left elbow that wobbled Edgar late in the round, and he landed several more punches before retreating and launching a perfect right uppercut in a partial clinch.
Edgar’s knees buckled as he rose off the canvas and fell flat on his back. Just like that, Ortega — who used MMA to escape a troubled upbringing in the Los Angeles suburbs — likely earned a title shot.
“I have worked really hard to get here and it’s even more surreal than I could have imagined,” Ortega said. “I have too much respect for his wrestling, so I knew that I could stand and bang with him. … I just beat one of the best to ever do it. One of the real legends of this game is Frankie Edgar.”
Edgar was supposed to get a title shot at UFC 222 until Holloway dropped out with an injury less than four weeks ago. Instead, Edgar asked to stay on the card with a replacement opponent — and Ortega pounced.
After his third win in eight months, Ortega’s immediate plans include surfing off the Los Angeles coast and work with his new charity. He also hopes to begin preparations soon to fight Holloway, who has won 12 straight bouts since losing to Conor McGregor in 2013.
“I always try not to look too far ahead,” Ortega said. “I just look far enough to know where I’m going next. But I’ve dreamed about fighting Max. We are both young guys out here changing the game. I’m excited and I’m coming for the belt.”
Dana White is also a believer in Ortega, and the UFC president is eager to make the fight with Holloway. Shortly after Ortega’s win, Holloway tweeted “Ufc 226” — otherwise known as the promotion’s big summer show in Vegas on July 7.
“The guy is so incredible and well-rounded,” White said of Ortega. “You think when he goes in and fights Frankie Edgar, you’d bet anything he’s going to (submit) him if he’s going to win, and he goes in and knocks him out in the first round.”
Cyborg (20-1, 1 no-contest) finished the show with her 10th consecutive victory against Kunitskaya (10-4), a Russian veteran making her UFC debut on short notice. The dominant UFC champion had little trouble with the huge underdog, hurting Kunitskaya repeatedly with strikes before finishing her off with ground-and-pound.
“I train all the time, so I took this fight on short notice, but I felt very prepared,” Justino said.
Justino agreed to headline the card less than four weeks ago after Holloway was forced out of his main-event title defense against Edgar by injury. Kunitskaya was a game opponent, but she still hasn’t reached the level necessary to contend with Cyborg, who hasn’t lost since her MMA debut in 2005.
Justino and White hope the champion’s next bout will be against UFC 135-pound champ Amanda Nunes.
“I am waiting for Amanda now,” Cyborg said of her fellow Brazilian. “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.”
Before Ortega stopped Edgar, entertaining bantamweight “Sugar” Sean O’Malley earned a decision victory over Andre Soukhamthath despite seriously injuring his right leg during the third round, forcing him to survive three minutes without being able to stand.
O’Malley (10-0), who joined the UFC last year, left the arena floor on a stretcher with his lower leg in a makeshift cast, but only after giving a charming post-fight interview while flat on the canvas in palpable pain.
“I don’t know what happened,” O’Malley said from his back. “My foot went numb and I can’t feel it. Just happy to fight through it and get the win. Welcome to the Sugar Show!”
Andrei Arlovski, the 39-year-old Belarussian heavyweight, earned his second straight win after a five-fight skid with a unanimous decision over the Netherlands’ Stefan Struve.
Unbeaten Brazilian bantamweight Ketlen Vieira opened the pay-per-view show with a split-decision victory over veteran Cat Zingano, who took her third straight loss in her return from an 18-month cage absence.
Earlier, touted strawweight prospect Mackenzie Dern won her UFC debut by split decision over Ashley Yoder, who capably survived several chokes from the jiu-jitsu prodigy in the final two minutes.
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