When Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino took out future movie star Gina Carano to win the inaugural Strikeforce Women’s Featherweight Championship on August 15, 2009, Ronda Rousey hadn’t even made the transition into MMA. It took just under the full five minutes of the first round for Cyborg to take out the popular Carano, and she did so with the same violent strikes that have made her a hot commodity ever since.
But even with an impressive 17-1 record (her lone loss coming via kneebar submission in her very first fight back in 2005), one thing has always eluded the145-pound fighter: a UFC championship. Some of that is due to her own faults — a 2011 failed drug test took her out of competition for 18 months, just when the Rousey era was bringing women’s MMA into the mainstream — but a lot of it was due to the UFC’s unwillingness to add a women’s featherweight class and Cyborg’s inability to drop the 10 pounds to bantamweight in order to line up a superfight with Rousey.
After finally joining the UFC last year and picking up two wins by knockout in 140-pound catchweight fights, Cyborg finally gets her shot at UFC gold this Saturday at UFC 214 in Anaheim.
“I want to show all of my fans why I’m 12 years undefeated,” Cyborg said at the UFC 214 press conference on Wednesday. “Saturday is going to be an amazing show. It’ll be violent. It’ll be Cyborg.”
Although Cyborg is popular enough to headline fight cards on her own, her bout with veteran fighter (and UFC rookie) Tonya Evinger is one of two title bouts in supporting roles for the long-awaited Light Heavyweight Championship rematch between Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier (a matchup as close to Ali-Frazier II as MMA has ever been). As a woman who’s no stranger to spotlights and championship fights, UFC 214 will provide the most massive platform on which Cyborg has ever competed — and arguably the biggest mixed martial arts event in the sport’s young history.
The native Brazilian has been the primary focus for most of the nights when she’s stepped into a cage, and she’s not exactly flying under the radar by being the co-main event for one of the most prominent MMA cards ever. As proven by the hundreds of screaming fans at the UFC Gym in La Mirada for Thursday’s open workouts, much of “Cyborg Nation” lives in her relatively new homeland of Southern California.
After all, as good as life in Brazil is for Cyborg, it’s a lot easier to train with the best of the best while living in the thick of things. Where else could she work her wrestling with Huntington Beach’s Tito Ortiz, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu with the legendary Cobrinha, and then still get all of her striking and MMA needs at the immaculate RVCA gym in Costa Mesa? Although this summer was far from her first training camp in the area, it might be the smoothest one to date — particularly since she doesn’t have to cut down from her preferred weight class anymore.
“I feel happy,” Cyborg says. “My team is happy. My family is happy. I had a really good camp.”
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Whether at 145 pounds or any other weight, Cyborg has often run into the same issue time after time over the last handful of years: No one wants to fight her. After watching the violent destruction of 16 of her 17 most recent opponents, it’s hard for the 32-year-old to find anyone willing to step into a cage with her. Before the fearless Evinger volunteered, Cyborg lost an opponent when Megan Anderson dropped out just a few weeks ago — and that was after the first UFC Women’s Featherweight Champion Germaine de Randamie refused to fight her despite just winning the belt earlier this year.
While willing to overlook the trash talk and potential fight-dodging from Rousey and other competitors concerned with ending up on a bloody highlight reel, getting ducked by the woman who won a title many believe should’ve been Cyborg’s in the first place still stings a little extra.
“I have nothing against her, I just don’t think she’s a champ,” Cyborg says about de Randamie. “I think she shouldn’t have fought at 145 [pounds]. I don’t think she deserved to fight for the belt. I think she knew if she fights for the belt, she fights me, so she said ‘No, my hand’ or ‘my family.’ I don’t know.”
UFC 214 takes place at the Honda Center in Anaheim on July 29, 2017. Fights begin at 3:15 p.m., and the Pay-Per-View card begins at 7 p.m.