Defining Fights: Bellator 249 headliner Cris Cyborg

Cris Cyborg will look to continue the latest chapter of her remarkable MMA career Thursday night when she puts her newly-won Bellator women’s featherweight title on the line for the first time.

Cyborg (22-2 MMA, 1-0 BMMA) takes on Arlene Blencowe (13-7 MMA, 6-3 BMMA) in the main event of Bellator 249, which takes place Thursday at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. The main card airs on CBS Sports Network following prelims on MMA Junkie.

Ahead of fight night in Uncasville, let’s look back at six key fights that helped define Cyborg’s Bellator career to date.

Gina Carano at ‘Strikeforce: Carano vs. Cyborg’ | Aug. 15, 2009

One of the most important fights in women’s MMA history saw Cyborg and Gina Carano throw down in a matchup that not only shone a light on the women’s side of the sport, it also highlighted Cyborg’s blistering power.

In a matchup that was hyped to the max in the build-up, Cyborg entered the arena to boos as she prepared to face Carano, who was a huge fan-favorite. But the difference in power became evident almost immediately as the Brazilian crossed the canvas and let fly with the sort of high-intensity strikes that have become her calling card over the years.

Her power was too much to handle and, after the action went to the mat, Cyborg moved into a dominant position, then rained down heavy strikes that forced referee Josh Rosenthal to stop the fight one second before the buzzer at the end of Round 1.

It meant Cyborg handed Carano her first pro defeat and captured the Strikeforce women’s featherweight title. But, more importantly, it put women’s MMA firmly in the headlines and helped pave the way for the stars who followed.

But, while Carano left the sport and went on to achieve success in TV and movies, Cyborg continued her MMA career, and remains one of the very best female fighters on the planet to this day.

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Leslie Smith at UFC 198 | May 14, 2016

Cyborg went on to capture the Invicta FC title before finally signing for the UFC. Her first fight saw her face off against teak-tough Leslie Smith in a 140-pound catchweight matchup, but the Brazilian was in no mood for a back-and-forth battle as she demolished her opponent in quickfire fashion.

It took Cyborg just 81 seconds to finish Smith, whose only prior inside-the-distance defeat came via doctor stoppage, as the Brazilian made a big statement on her octagon debut.

Cyborg later called for the UFC to create a featherweight division so she should show her skills at her optimal weight, rather than after a punishing weight cut. She was eventually granted her wish and, after a second-round TKO finish of Lina Lansberg at UFC Fight Night 95, Cyborg was handed a shot at the vacant featherweight title at UFC 214.

Tonya Evinger at UFC 214 | July 29, 2017

For years fans had wondered if, or when, Cyborg would add a UFC title to her list of MMA accolades and, 14 months after her octagon debut, she achieved that landmark with a typically dominant performance.

Cyborg faced former Invicta FC bantamweight champion Tonya Evinger, who became the first fighter since Marloes Coenen in 2013 to take the Brazilian past the second round. Unfortunately for the American, it merely prolonged the onslaught as a fit and firing Cyborg, competing at her optimal weight for the first time in the UFC, eventually scored a third-round TKO victory.

The win saw Cyborg crowned the UFC’s women’s featherweight champion as she took over the strap that had been stripped from inaugural champion Germaine de Randamie earlier that year.

Holly Holm at UFC 219 | Dec. 30, 2017

Cyborg’s first test as champion saw her take on the Holly Holm in a fight that would push her all the way to the scorecards for the first time in almost a decade.

Holm had already written her name into MMA history, thanks to her spectacular knockout of Ronda Rousey at UFC 193, but her slick kickboxing skills weren’t enough to dethrone Cyborg, who battled toe to toe with Holm over the full five-round duration at UFC 219.

Holm’s best attribute, her counter-striking, came to the fore in the opening rounds as she effectively did something no fighter had previously been able to achieve, as she enjoyed consistent success countering the Brazilian’s aggression.

But despite being clipped frequently at the end of exchanges, Cyborg was still successful in her initial attacks and, as she adjusted her approach through the middle rounds, she began to stop Holm’s counters at source.

The champion then powered clear in the championship rounds as she loaded up on her power strikes to finish the fight palpably on top, and the three octagonside judges all agreed on the verdict, as they scored the fight 49-46, 48-47, 48-47 to Cyborg, who cemented herself as the top 145-pounder in the UFC.

But any thoughts of the Brazilian enjoying a long and dominant reign at the top of the division would be erased in the next outing, when she faced an even more powerful adversary.

Amanda Nunes at UFC 232 | Dec. 29, 2018

The champion-versus-champion clash between featherweight queen Cyborg and bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes was a mouth-watering prospect on paper, and the fight delivered one of the most breathtaking passages of action we’ve seen in a women’s UFC title fight as the two Brazilians went toe to toe and swung for the fences from the opening bell.

Cyborg’s plan to start fast and knock Nunes onto the back foot failed as Nunes arrived in the octagon with an identical gameplan. Chaos ensued as the pair traded big shots, with Nunes’ power making the crucial breakthrough.

“The Lioness” badly hurt Cyborg, then, after backing her up against the cage, unloaded a vicious salvo of shots that sent Cyborg face-planting into the canvas. It was a shocking sight to see the most dominant female athlete in the sport not just defeated, but finished so quickly as Nunes made history to become the UFC’s first female “champ champ.”

Any hopes of a rematch between the pair were squashed when it was confirmed in August 2019 that Cyborg and the UFC had come to terms on her release, and the following month she was officially unveiled as the latest addition to the Bellator roster, where she immediately set her sights on the promotion’s featherweight title.

Julia Budd at Bellator 238 | Jan. 25, 2020

One fight. One win. One belt. That was the story of Cris Cyborg’s first outing as a Bellator fighter as she stepped into the cage and bounced back in style as she dethroned long-reigning featherweight champion Julia Budd via fourth-round TKO at Bellator 238.

After her stunning knockout loss to Nunes more than a year earlier, fans were eager to see how Cyborg would fare on fight night against Budd, whose size and strength were expected to give the Brazilian plenty of problems in their title tussle.

But, ultimately, it was a return to business as usual for Cyborg, who showcased her trademark power, along with some savvy fight IQ, as she defeated the Canadian to capture her fourth major MMA title.

It meant Cyborg had captured the women’s featherweight titles in Strikeforce, Invicta, UFC and Bellator as she added another victim to her list, another belt to her trophy cabinet, and another stoppage win to her remarkable career record.

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In pictures: Cris Cyborg

Original article: https://mmajunkie.usatoday.com/lists/bellator-249-cris-cyborg-defining-fights

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