UFC 240 Fighter Profile: Cris Justino – Cyborg

Sean M. Haffey
Cyborg meets a talented grappler this weekend at UFC 240.

Ahead of Saturday’s UFC 240 co-main event clash with promotional riser Felicia Spencer, former featherweight queen Cris Cyborg is at a crossroad in her storied mixed-martial-arts career. With just a single fight remaining on her current UFC deal, Cyborg was overlooked by organization matchmakers for a rematch with foe Amanda Nunes, and instead must get past the tricky grappler Spencer before any talk of a title tilt. A lot has been made of Cyborg’s relationship with the promotion and in particular, president Dana White, with the often controversial head honcho adding fuel to the fire in recent days, claiming that the 34-year-old Brazilian is too “scared” to rematch compatriot Nunes. As of yet, it is currently unknown if the decorated Cyborg will test free agency in the form of a shift to Asian promotion ONE Championship owned by Chatri Sityodtong and spearheaded by former UFC bantamweight best Miesha Tate, although a victory over Spencer will more than likely warrant a new contract for one the greatest female mixed-martial-artists of all time. Below, I delve deep into the storied career of Cris Cyborg.

North American Exploits:

After five contests in her native Curitiba, Cris Cyborg began her journey to the top of North American mixed-martial-arts in 2008. Signing with the now-defunct EliteXC then owned by Showtime Networks and ProElite, Cyborg made her promotional debut against now professional wrestler, Shayna Baszler. In a catchweight bout contested at 140 pounds, the much more aggressive Cyborg scored an already familiar knockout victory inside the opening eight minutes. Just three months later, at the promotions’ penultimate event, Cyborg again scored a dominant victory, this time going the distance with veteran Japanese kickboxer Yoko Takahashi. The collapse of EliteXC in turn, seen Cyborg move to Scott Coker’s Strikeforce, again a soon to become defunct promotion.

The First World Championship:

The sheer physical size of Cris Cyborg and a botched weight cut upon her arrival at Strikeforce forced a second catchweight bout in her career, this time at 150 pounds. Facing Hitomi Akano in somewhat of a title eliminator, Cyborg finished the Japan native early in the final round to set up an inaugural featherweight title meeting with then women’s mixed-martial-arts key figure, Gina Carano. Displaying her obvious striking advantage, Cris Cyborg landed heavy and often throughout the opening round forcing the finish with a single second remaining in the very first round.

Cyborg had not only claimed her premier world title but also became the most recognizable figure in female MMA in a single night. Two title defenses soon followed for the Brazilian, stopping both Marloes Coenen and Jan Finney in brutal fashion. Cyborg’s striking style was both brash and aggressive throughout each of these contests, leading to her status as the most feared finisher amongst her peers.

The Failed Drug Test:

Despite Cris Cyborg’s championship exploits in various promotions, one unwanted story that seems to follow her from promotion to promotion is her 2011 failed drug test. After stopping Hiroko Yamanaka after just sixteen seconds, Cyborg failed a post-drug test, with her test sample returning positive for the presence of the anabolic steroid stanozolol. Speaking about the possibility of signing Cyborg to the UFC, Dana White told how Cyborg looked like “Wanderlei Silva in heels” during an MMA awards ceremony, setting the foundations for their rocky relationship in years to come. During the influx of Strikeforce fighters moving to the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Cyborg elected to join all-female promotion Invicta FC. After serving a one-year suspension, Cyborg was scheduled to return to active competition against Ediane Gomes until an injury to the latter, forced an opponent change in the form of Fiona Muxlow. Despite the late notice replacement, it was more of the same for Cyborg as she scored an impressive first-round stoppage on her bow.

Three years since the first meeting, Cyborg met Marloes Coenen once more, this time for the inaugural Invicta FC featherweight crown. Similarly to the opening clash, Cyborg scored another late stoppage to claim her second professional title. A Muay Thai clash with Dutch star Jorina Baars in between her return to MMA proved unsuccessful for Cyborg, who lost a unanimous decision to the experienced striker, struggling with Jorina’s kicking ability throughout the five-round affair.

Two successful title defenses against Charmaine Tweet and Faith van Duin came in quick succession as rumblings began to surface of a potential move to the UFC for Cyborg.

The UFC Tenure:

In May 2016, after months of speculation, Cris Cyborg returned to Brazil along with the UFC for UFC 198, facing recent Bellator MMA signee, Leslie Smith. In a highly anticipated debut, Cyborg demonstrated her fierce striking prowess to claim an opening round stoppage, finishing Smith with ground and pound. The promotion, who was yet to introduce a featherweight division, allowed a catchweight contest of 140 pounds. In a quickfire similar stoppage of Sweden striker Lina Lansberg, Cyborg had immediately announced herself as a contender, with no set division.

Controversy once more fell on Cyborg’s shoulders at the tail end of 2016, after anti-doping agency USADA notified the UFC of a potential anti-doping violation from the Brazilian. It was revealed that an unauthorized substance had been taken by Cris in order to recover from the effects of weight cutting to a brutal 140 pounds. An official announcement from the promotion outlined how Cyborg had been issued a therapeutic use exemption. Cyborg would no longer face a potential suspension and was freely allowed to return to active competition.

Meanwhile, the UFC had finally established a women’s featherweight division, with kickboxing ace Germaine de Randamie facing former bantamweight gold holder Holly Holm for the inaugural title. Despite multiple occasions in which de Randamie landed strikes after the end of round buzzer, and points weren’t deducted by referee Todd Anderson, the ‘Iron Lady’ left Brooklyn with the title. Rumors suggested GDR would first defend against Cyborg, but in a shocking decision, The Netherlands native refused to fight a known “drug cheat”, and was subsequently stripped of her world championship.

Her Greatest Achievement:

Fellow former Invicta FC featherweight best Megan Anderson was widely believed to meet Cris Cyborg in a clash for the vacant world championship until VISA issues hampered the Australian native’s plans. The later signing of Invicta FC 135 pound best Tonya Evinger signaled an opportunity for an undisputed champion to finally be crowned. Facing the significant underdog Evinger at UFC 214, and despite some encouraging signs, Cyborg brutally stopped Evinger in the second round with a barrage of knees followed by ground-and-pound.

Displaying some phenomenal timing and distance control against Holly Holm in her first title defense, a measured Cyborg claimed a unanimous decision victory. Holm was widely expected to provide the stiffest challenge of Cyborg’s career to date, but under the guidance of Jason Parillo, Cyborg exacted a masterful gameplan.

Headlining UFC 222, Cyborg faced recent Invicta FC signing Yana Kunitskaya in the second attempted defense of her 145-pound gold. Yana forced some interesting scrambles and clinch displays early in the bout and for a moment, took Cyborg’s back. After shaking the Russian off, Cyborg again measured her opponent, before setting up the finish with precise striking and ground-and-pound.

The All Brazilian Affair:

Setting up a champion versus champion clash in the third defense of her featherweight championship, Cyborg met fellow Brazilian and bantamweight bruiser Amanda Nunes. The meeting garnered intense media attention with many posing the question, how could Cyborg deal with Nunes’ sharp boxing skills and forward momentum. It’s fair to say we did witness some bad blood ahead of this clash and in my opinion, a clear gameplan was ditched by Cris early on after she had felt Nunes’ initial power while within range. After some cagey exchanges, both women began swinging winging hooks and overhands, with Nunes landing quicker, knocking the Curitiba champion down on three separate occasions before Marc Goddard stepped in after a particularly brutal overhand right connected, and Cyborg slumped away against the cage. An undefeated streak which had lasted since 2005 and for twenty one fights, had been snapped inside the opening minute.