LAS VEGAS — Brian Ortega knocked out former UFC champion Frankie Edgar 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.
Ortega started the knockout with a sneaky left elbow that wobbled Edgar late in the first 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 fell flat on his back, ending the fight in spectacular fashion. Ortega, who used MMA to escape a troubled upbringing in the Los Angeles suburbs, has risen to the top of his division in remarkably swift fashion.
"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."
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.
Justino agreed to headline the card less than four weeks ago after Holloway was forced out of his main-event title defence 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.
Ortega also got his fight on short notice due to Holloway’s injury. Instead of waiting for Holloway to return, Edgar asked for a replacement opponent — and the UFC gave the chance to Ortega, who had earned his fifth consecutive victory in December.
Ortega’s nickname is "T-City" in a tribute to his prowess with jiu-jitsu triangle chokes, and he has ended all six of his UFC fights by stoppage — including his debut, which was later changed to a no-contest after he failed a drug test.
Ortega’s victory over Edgar was his third in eight months, and his next fight almost certainly will be against 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."
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.