Cris Cyborg lost the first fight of her career, getting submitted by Erica Paes in the opening round of their joint debuts at Show Fight 2 on May 17, 2005.
Over the next 13 years, the native of Curitiba, Brazil who now calls Orange County home developed into one of the most feared fighters on the planet. She went unbeaten in 21 consecutive fights, claiming championship gold in Strikeforce, Invicta FC and the UFC while collecting victories over standouts like Shayna Baszler, Gina Carano, Marloes Coenen (twice), Tonya Evinger and Holly Holm.
At the end of last year, her unbeaten run came to a sudden halt.
Paired off with bantamweight titleholder Amanda Nunes in a “Champion vs. Champion” clash with the featherweight belt hanging in the balance, Cyborg pressed forward aggressively, but couldn’t match the speed of “The Lioness.” Every time she fired off a wide hook, Nunes countered down the pipe, crashing home a series of hard rights and lefts that ultimately put Cyborg on the canvas and ended the fight.
In the span of 51 seconds, her extended reign of dominance was over, leaving everyone to wonder how the most fearsome force in women’s mixed martial arts would respond to such a high-profile defeat.
“For me, it’s normal because I’ve done sports all my life and I know some days you win and some days you lose,” said Cyborg, who returns to action this weekend in Edmonton, taking on Felicia Spencer in the co-main event of UFC 240.
“I think it’s different mentally if you think you’re unbeaten for 13 years and you’re never going to lose and then you lose; that would be very frustrating. But every time I step into the cage, I know you can win and you can lose. I know some days you’re going to lose, some days you’re going to win and for me, it’s another day.
“That day that I lost the fight, it was not my day,” she added. “I feel like God used me to bless Amanda and it’s her chance now to be the champ in the UFC and that’s it. I have to continue working hard, training and Saturday is going to be another page in my career.”
Following the loss to Nunes, Cyborg did what she always does — she took a little time for herself, spending time with family and traveling while getting back in the gym to learn from her mistakes and continue improving as a fighter.
While fans and media had always held her out as an unbeatable juggernaut and her results prior to the bout with Nunes backed up that designation, the 34-year-old featherweight had always remained humble and focused — far more interested in sharpening her tools and readying for her next appearance than singing her own praises and bestowing honorifics upon herself.
“My focus is always to learn something from every fight and continue training hard and learning,” said Cyborg, who currently trains at the RVCA Training Center under the watchful eye of Jason Parillo. “I’ve always known that I have more to learn.
“You never hear me say, ‘I’m the best fighter in the world, I can beat anybody, I’m never going to lose’ because you always have to learn,” she added. “When you think you know everything, you’ve already lost, so I’ve just tried to improve my game and learn like I do.”
With Nunes returning to bantamweight to defend that title against Holm, Cyborg shifted her focus to the next best option, zeroing in on the matchup between Spencer and Megan Anderson, the two women to follow her as Invicta FC featherweight champion, as a bout that could very well produce her next opponent.
Entering as a considerable underdog and making her promotional debut, the undefeated Spencer made relatively quick work of the highly touted Australian, getting the fight to the canvas and ultimately forcing Anderson to tap to a rear-naked choke less than four minutes into the opening round.
It was a dominant, breakthrough effort for the Montreal-born, Orlando-based newcomer and her reward was to be immediately questioned about squaring off with the long-feared former champion. After Spencer said she’d be open to the matchup, Cyborg took to social media to congratulate the debuting featherweight and suggest a showdown at UFC 240 in Edmonton.
Both sides quickly agreed, the paperwork was signed and this weekend’s penultimate pairing became official.
“I like to fight and I like to be ready,” said Cyborg when asked about quickly moving to secure the bout with Spencer following her win over Anderson in May. “When you have a fight scheduled, I think it motivates you to train and continue improving your game.
“When I saw the opportunity, why not? She’s in my division, so why not? I’m glad the UFC offered this fight to me and it’s my job to fight and keep busy. I hope she’s ready so we can have a great fight.”
While Saturday’s contest is a crucial one in the 145-pound weight class, with the winner likely next in line to face Nunes for the featherweight title after the American Top Team representative successfully defended her bantamweight title against Holm at UFC 239, this weekend’s bout with Spencer isn’t the subject Cyborg is being asked most about as she counts down the days to her return.
But the former champion isn’t biting when it comes to talk about the future, opting instead to focus exclusively on the task at hand.
“For me, I just think about my next fight — I just think about Saturday and what I’m going to do,” she said. “After this fight, I’m going to take a long time to figure out what I’m going to do, but for now, I’m going to focus on Saturday.”
And just what can fans expect come on Saturday night in Edmonton?
“You’re going to see the same Cyborg,” she said. “I trained really hard, I’m ready and I’m going to do my best and leave it in God’s hands to determine who gets a victory that night.”