Cris “Cyborg” Justino has for years expressed a burning want to challenge past combined martial arts and check herself in skilled boxing. But the truth that she shall be dealing with a two-time boxing world champion on Thursday night time is no longer what she’s maximum occupied with for Bellator 249.

“No, it is a other state of affairs, as a result of we are going to be preventing MMA,” Cyborg informed ESPN this week, referring to her major tournament matchup with Arlene Blencowe, who as soon as reigned as each the World Boxing Federation feminine welterweight champ and Women’s International Boxing Association tremendous light-weight titlist. “In the cage, we will use the whole thing in opposition to every different, no longer simply boxing.”

That stated, when the cage door closes at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, for the first defense of her Bellator ladies’s featherweight championship, it is no secret that Cyborg (22-2, 1 NC) will pop out swinging. “Everybody is aware of I really like to strike,” she stated. “The combat is going to be very thrilling.”

What makes it particularly thrilling for Cyborg is no longer 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 in the UFC. What’s maximum exciting for her is that status around the cage shall be a herbal featherweight. Cyborg spent a few years competing in opposition to bulked-up bantamweights whilst on the identical time having to solution to critics who concept she will have to trim down to 135 kilos moderately than compete in a department with nearly no different elite ladies.

“I believe more than pleased as a result of I fought for a very long time to make 145 an actual department, a forged department,” she stated. “I’ve at all times believed that our department may well be the most productive department in ladies’s MMA, as a result of there are numerous women; 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 simply combat wholesome as an alternative of chopping numerous weight.”

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

There could be no alternative for redemption in the UFC. Cyborg and promotion president Dana White had lengthy had a rocky dating, stemming in section from White making an offensive remark that she “gave the impression of Wanderlei Silva in a get dressed and heels,” a reference to the timeworn male fighter. So even supposing Cyborg texted White after her loss to Nunes soliciting for a rematch, and even supposing she wore a T-shirt in a TV interview with “Cyborg vs Nunes Coming Jan 2020” emblazoned around the entrance, White insisted that Cyborg was once attempting to dodge the combat. The UFC boss caught to that tale till her contract ran out, at which level White stated, “We’re out of the Cyborg trade.”

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

Coker instantly booked Cyborg in opposition to 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 increased the Brazilian legend to a standing she has termed “combined martial arts’ simplest grand slam champion” — she has reigned in Strikeforce, Invicta FC, the UFC and now Bellator.

The new belt in a brand new place of work additionally has rejuvenated Cyborg. After hinting at retirement all through her UFC tenure, she now says there is no finish in sight for her profession. “It’s a brand new time,” stated the 35-year-old, who lives and trains in Southern California. “I believe very, very motivated right here in Bellator to proceed. One day the top will come, however I really like to reside in the instant.”

Thursday night time would be the greatest profession second for Blencowe (13-7), who is 37 and from Australia. She started competing in MMA in 2013, however all through her first couple of years in the sport, Blencowe cut up her time between MMA and boxing. Her effects confirmed — she misplaced 4 of her first six MMA fights. But Blencowe has been on a roll ever since, with her simplest losses coming in opposition to champions. She competed for the Bellator belt as soon as prior to, losing a cut up resolution to Budd in 2017. Since then, she has gained 3 in a row.

As one may be expecting from an ex-boxer, Blencowe likes to throw palms. More than part of her MMA wins have come via knockout. Her nickname is “Angerfist.”

Cyborg maintains her center of attention in this being no longer a boxing fit however an MMA combat. However, she nonetheless does consider the candy science is in her long term. “I at all times need to to find new tactics to check myself,” Cyborg stated.

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

For Cyborg, it is all a part of the adventure — and the training. “When you separate talents like this, and teach to compete in simplest jiu-jitsu, simplest wrestling, simplest Muay Thai, you be told extra,” she stated.

Boxing is subsequent. Well, no longer subsequent, however inevitably down the street. Cyborg has skilled in the hoop with Vergil Ortiz Sr., whose protege son, Vergil Ortiz Jr., was once just lately known as “the future of boxing” via 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 in a while stated, “She has reliable talents.”

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

“I’m in reality targeted at this time on Arlene Blencowe,” she stated. “But boxing is a dream I’ve. Before I retire — and I have no idea when that shall be — I would really like to pass in the hoop. It’s going to be a large problem, however I’m able. I’m at all times able for a problem.”

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