Cris Cyborg is raring to commerce blows with former boxing world champ in her first Bellator title protection

Cris “Cyborg” Justino has for years expressed a burning need to enterprise past combined martial arts and take a look at herself in skilled boxing. However the truth that she can be going through a two-time boxing world champion on Thursday night time just isn’t what she’s most enthusiastic about for Bellator 249.

“No, it is a totally different state of affairs, as a result of we will be preventing MMA,” Cyborg informed ESPN this week, referring to her predominant occasion matchup with Arlene Blencowe, who as soon as reigned as each the World Boxing Federation feminine welterweight champ and Ladies’s Worldwide Boxing Affiliation tremendous light-weight titlist. “Within the cage, we are able to use all the pieces towards one another, not simply boxing.”

That stated, when the cage door closes at Mohegan Solar Area in Uncasville, Connecticut, for the primary protection of her Bellator ladies’s featherweight championship, it is no secret that Cyborg (22-2, 1 NC) will come out swinging. “All people is aware of I prefer to strike,” she stated. “The struggle goes to be very thrilling.”

What makes it particularly thrilling for Cyborg just isn’t that her opponent is a former boxing champ — she has already confronted a type of in 2017, when she took on multiple-time boxing titlist Holly Holm within the UFC. What’s most thrilling for her is that standing throughout the cage can be a pure featherweight. Cyborg spent a few years competing towards bulked-up bantamweights whereas on the identical time having to reply to critics who thought she ought to trim right down to 135 kilos quite than compete in a division with virtually no different elite ladies.

“I really feel very completely happy as a result of I fought for a very long time to make 145 an actual division, a strong division,” she stated. “I’ve at all times believed that our division could possibly be the perfect division in ladies’s MMA, as a result of there are quite a lot of ladies; they do not stroll round at 135, they do not stroll at 125 — they stroll round heavier than that. And it is crucial that you just struggle wholesome as an alternative of chopping quite a lot of weight.”

It was a type of 135-pounders, in fact, who in 2018 put a sudden halt to Cyborg’s decadelong run of supremacy. In a superfight between the UFC’s featherweight and bantamweight queens, Amanda Nunes added a second belt to her trophy case with a shocking 51-second knockout. It was Cyborg’s first defeat in 21 fights going all the way in which again to her skilled debut in 2005.

There could be no alternative for redemption within the UFC. Cyborg and promotion president Dana White had lengthy had a rocky relationship, stemming partly from White making an offensive remark that she “appeared like Wanderlei Silva in a costume and heels,” a reference to the timeworn male fighter. So though Cyborg texted White after her loss to Nunes asking for a rematch, and though she wore a T-shirt in a TV interview with “Cyborg vs Nunes Coming Jan 2020” emblazoned throughout the entrance, White insisted that Cyborg was making an attempt to dodge the struggle. The UFC boss caught to that story till her contract ran out, at which level White stated, “We’re out of the Cyborg enterprise.”

Enter Scott Coker, the Bellator president who had been within the Cyborg enterprise again when he was working the Strikeforce promotion. For Coker, signing Cyborg was a no brainer. “She was positively a needle-mover for us in Strikeforce,” he informed ESPN earlier this yr. “And I do know she was a needle-mover within the UFC, and she or he’ll be a needle-mover for us in Bellator.”

Coker instantly booked Cyborg towards Bellator’s longtime 145-pound champion, Julia Budd, and in January he had a brand new champ, after Cyborg dethroned Budd with a fourth-round TKO. That elevated the Brazilian legend to a standing she has termed “combined martial arts’ solely grand slam champion” — she has reigned in Strikeforce, Invicta FC, the UFC and now Bellator.

The brand new belt in a brand new office additionally has rejuvenated Cyborg. After hinting at retirement throughout her UFC tenure, she now says there isn’t a finish in sight for her profession. “It is a new time,” stated the 35-year-old, who lives and trains in Southern California. “I really feel very, very motivated right here in Bellator to proceed. Sooner or later the top will come, however I prefer to reside within the second.”

Thursday night time would be the largest profession second for Blencowe (13-7), who’s 37 and from Australia. She started competing in MMA in 2013, however throughout her first couple of years within the recreation, Blencowe cut up her time between MMA and boxing. Her outcomes confirmed — she misplaced 4 of her first six MMA fights. However Blencowe has been on a roll ever since, together with her solely losses coming towards champions. She competed for the Bellator belt as soon as earlier than, dropping a cut up determination to Budd in 2017. Since then, she has received three in a row.

As one may count on from an ex-boxer, Blencowe likes to throw fingers. Greater than half of her MMA wins have come by knockout. Her nickname is “Angerfist.”

Cyborg maintains her deal with this being not a boxing match however an MMA struggle. Nevertheless, she nonetheless does imagine the candy science is in her future. “I at all times need to discover new methods to check myself,” Cyborg stated.

Her MMA stardom apart, Cyborg has competed on the highest stage in grappling — in each 2011 and 2012, she received gold medals within the World Jiu-Jitsu Championship. She received gold in freestyle wrestling on the 2007 Brazil Cup. In 2014, with simply two professional kickboxing bouts below her belt, she challenged then-undefeated Lion Fights Muay Thai ladies’s world welterweight champion Jorina Baars.

For Cyborg, it’s all a part of the journey — and the educational. “While you separate expertise like this, and practice to compete in solely jiu-jitsu, solely wrestling, solely Muay Thai, you study extra,” she stated.

Boxing is subsequent. Effectively, not subsequent, however inevitably down the highway. Cyborg has skilled within the ring with Vergil Ortiz Sr., whose protege son, Vergil Ortiz Jr., was not too long ago known as “the future of boxing” by Golden Boy head Oscar De La Hoya. She has sparred with ladies’s pound-for-pound No. 1 Claressa Shields, the undisputed ladies’s middleweight champ, who afterward stated, “She has legit expertise.”

Cyborg relishes the reward, on the identical time taking care to retailer it away for her future.

“I am actually centered proper now on Arlene Blencowe,” she stated. “However boxing is a dream I’ve. Earlier than I retire — and I do not know when that can be — I want to go within the ring. It’ll be an enormous problem, however I am prepared. I am at all times prepared for a problem.”

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