Cris Cyborg is among the baddest women on the planet.
An explosive knockout artist, the Brazilian has torn through practically every opponent put in front of her with 15 of her 17 MMA victories coming by stoppage.
Indeed, she is unbeaten in nearly a decade of bouts and has amassed a belt collection equally impressive with Strikeforce and Invicta FC featherweight straps gathered.
But one piece of gold has remained allusive. The UFC has long been held up as the premier promotion and despite her impressive record and star appeal, Cyborg has found herself on the outside looking in.
Offering just two weight classes, strawweight (115lbs) and bantamweight (135lbs), the 31-year-old has been forced to watch on as the likes of Ronda Rousey elevate women’s MMA to a new level of mainstream success. Cyborg’s hulking frame means the cut down from 145lbs to 135lbs is dangerous and damaging, forcing her to take her devastating brand of MMA to Invicta, an all female MMA promotion back in 2013.
Predictably, she dominated, winning the featherweight title in just her second fight before going on to successfully defend the belt three times. In her five Invicta fights she knocked out all but one of her opponents in the first round and the need for a bigger stage was obvious. Last year saw that come to fruition as Cyborg made her long-awaited UFC debut. At a catchweight of 140lbs, she delighted a fervent hometown support by dispatching the well-respected Leslie Smith in Curitiba with a first-round stoppage.
This weekend I got a chance to attend @bravemmaf in Abu Dhabi. The promotion was recently in my hometown of Curitiba Brazil and while I had already heard many great things I was really impressed with all the hard work Indian MMA pioneer Mohammed Shahid @shahidthehawk @thehawkshahid has accomplished under the patronage of HH Sheikh Khalid Bin Hamad Bin Isa Al Kalifa @khaled_hamad_alkhalifa of the Kingdom of Bahrain. Too many times promoters will get into MMA for all the wrong reasons. It was great to see the #bravecombatfederation putting together an event truly for the fighters! The fights were shown on TV around the world in over 40 countries giving the athletes a chance to display what makes combat sports so special. Every fighter left their heart and soul inside the cage last night and The entire staff for the promotion made sure the fighters were taken care of and treated like real professionals! I was really impressed with the whole event, and glad to see a promotion in the Middle East able to showcase all of the talented and hard working athletes from around the region. Mashallah! After I win my UFC belt I look forward to returning to the @bravemmaf event as an ambassador of the sport. Thank you team @lpcarrano and team @khkmma for helping make this trip such a great experience
And her next bout was just as impressive, Lina Lansberg becoming Cyborg’s second UFC victim in a savage performance which culminated in a second-round finish.
But she was still without a permanent home, stuck between outgrowing Invicta and catchweight UFC bouts from a small pool of willing opponents. Then belated change arrived. Late last year the UFC opened up a 145lbs division, yet the inaugural title fight was between Holly Holm and Germaine de Randamie.
Recovering from the brutal weight cuts of her catchweight bouts and the complex nature of a failed drugs test appeal, the UFC proceeded to open up the division without her and at UFC 208 De Randamie made history, albeit in controversial circumstances after two separate late hits after the bell, to become the UFC’s first 145lbs champ.
In the aftermath, a tidal wave of criticism toward the Dutch woman led to calls for a rematch but Cyborg is, of course, doing her best to stem the flow.
“Everyone knows who the champion is at 145lbs,” Cyborg told Sport360 during a visit to Abu Dhabi as a guest for Brave 4. “I showed the number one record in the world at 145lbs and I think people want to see me fight. I don’t think anyone wants to see Holly Holm versus Germaine again, I’m sorry but I think they want to see me fight against her.”
She added: “I think Germaine won the fight. I think she made more damage on Holm. Holm fought well but I think to win the fight she needed to use more wrestling but I think Germaine won.”
Who says Women can not fight? We deserve all the same opportunities as the Men. As @gloriasteinem once said, Women are always saying "We can do anything that men can do." But Men should be saying, "We can do anything that Women can do." Supporting each other and helping women realize they are special is why I started my @pinkbeltfitness Program. Looking forward to meeting all my fans in Abu Dhabi tonight at #Brave4 @bravemmaf Quem disse que as mulheres não podem lutar? Nós merecemos todase as mesmas oportunidades que os Homens. Como disse uma vez @gloriasteinem, as mulheres estão sempre dizendo: "Podemos fazer qualquer coisa que os homens possam fazer". Mas os homens devem estar dizendo: "Podemos fazer qualquer coisa que as mulheres possam fazer". Apoiar uns aos outros e ajudar as mulheres , percebem que são especiais é por isso que eu comecei meu programa @pinkbeltfitness. Olhando para a frente para encontrar todos os meus fãs em Abu Dhabi esta noite em # Brave4 @bravemmaf #lessHatemoreLove
Having vacated her Invicta featherweight title earlier this year, Cyborg has her eyes fixed squarely on De Randamie and UFC gold.
And with the division in a mess, it needs her more than ever to legitimise it. The former Strikeforce champ is adamant she is next in line but unlike other title contenders before her, she is happy to step back into the Octagon before getting a shot.
“They guaranteed that whoever wins the belt is going to fight me so Germaine will be my next opponent,” she said. “I don’t know if it will be soon or not because she has a hand injury but if she’ll be ready I’m ready.
“You know I’m training, I’m not in a rush for the belt. I think it’s God’s plan if I’m going to fight soon and I really don’t care about the belt, I already know I’m a world champion. It doesn’t matter if I’m holding a belt. I really want to fight for it because it belongs to me but let’s wait and see what’s going to happen. I want to fight soon, though, I don’t want to sit down and wait for this fight. I don’t want to wait to fight for the belt, I want to fight.
“I don’t want to wait so much and if the opportunity to fight for the belt is the next one OK if not then the one after. I’m 10 years undefeated and I want to put on a good fight for all my fans.”
Accusations of doping have followed Cyborg throughout her career but as one of the most tested UFC athletes by USADA, she remained clean until being notified of a failed out of competition drug test in December. One week after De Randamie won the belt, though, USADA cleared Cyborg of the accusations. Her use of spironolactone, a diuretic which can appear to mask steroid use, was prescribed to her by her physician to treat an endocrine disorder. Now, she can refocus on her goal of becoming world champion.
With no fight currently booked, Cyborg joked about challenging Rousey in a WWE tag team match alongside pro wrestling star Gabi Castrovinci, since she feels that she and Ronda won’t be sharing an MMA cage anytime soon.
“You know Gabi she’s from Curitiba, from my city and she’s competing in pro wrestling and she’s in California and we trained together,” Cyborg laughed. “Ronda has the four horsewomen, girls that compete in the wrestling and I said maybe we’re not going to fight in MMA so we can fight pro wrestling for the fans. We just joked about it but you never know.”
For years a superfight between Cyborg and Rousey has been discussed as the pair headed up the pound-for-pound discussion but after the former’s back-to-back defeats, which slid her further towards retirement, it’s a bout which looks nothing more than fantasy.
However, a post recently emerged which had MMA fans in disarray when strength coach and nutrition specialist Dan Garber, welcomed Rousey to his team, saying: “Excited to have her on board and to accomplish some great things with her this year”. Will we see her back in the Octagon?
Cyborg sure hopes so.
“You know I think Ronda Rousey did a lot of things for women’s MMA,” Cyborg said.
“I’m very thankful for her and it would be cool if she came back. I don’t think it’s good to send a message to all your fans that when you lose, you give up and you never come back. I think if you lose or win it doesn’t matter. She did a lot for women’s MMA, I think she should come back to overcome everything that happened to her and I think it would be nice for women’s MMA.”