As she approaches her UFC 214 title fight against Tonya Evinger, all is well for Cris Cyborg. But as the old saying goes, timing is everything and, for a long time, it looked like Father Time was conspiring against the Brazilian standout.
One of the most dominant and feared fighters in the sport for the better part of the last decade, Cyborg was often discussed as a possible opponent for Ronda Rousey during her reign atop the women’s bantamweight division, but there were two major stumbling blocks to making the fight happen.
First, Cyborg competed at featherweight. Standing five-foot-eight, the 32-year-old is a physical specimen who struggled to make the 145-pound limit early in her career, so the prospects of her dropping down to 135 pounds were grim.
Secondly – and perhaps more importantly – she didn’t fight in the UFC. After Strikeforce was shuttered, Cyborg signed on with Invicta FC, the all-female fight promotion helmed by industry veteran Shannon Knapp, whose events were almost immediately picked up to be broadcast on UFC FIGHT PASS.
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While it was a dream fight many wanted to see, it never moved past the dream stage, and the longer Cyborg continued to wreck shop under the Invicta FC banner, the more it seemed like a transition to the UFC wasn’t in the cards.
That all changed last year as the female superstar was added to the lineup at UFC 198 in Curitiba, Brazil in a catchweight bout at 140 pounds against veteran Leslie Smith. Just 81 seconds after the fight began, it was over and Cyborg had registered her first official UFC victory. Four months later, she picked up another win in another catchweight assignment, this time finishing Swedish newcomer Lina Lansberg midway through the second round in the main event of a UFC Fight Night card in Brasilia.
More than a decade into her career, Cyborg had finally arrived on the biggest stage in the sport and quickly established herself as a bankable headliner while reaffirming her position as one of the most ferocious finishers in the game, regardless of gender.
But when the UFC announced its plans to finally introduce the featherweight division and crown its first champion, the long-time queen of the 145-pound ranks was unable to compete and the advent of the division moved forward without her.
There is another old axiom that rings true here though: patience is a virtue.
Five months after unveiling the division in Brooklyn at UFC 208, Cyborg will step into the Octagon on Saturday night in Anaheim to challenge for the vacant featherweight title against Evinger, a talented veteran and Invicta FC bantamweight titleholder, in a championship superfight of sorts that sits in the middle of this weekend’s loaded Pay-Per-View lineup.
“For me, I think this is happening at the perfect time,” said Cyborg, upbeat and positive just days in advance of her championship showdown. “I think I’m in the prime of my career. It’s been 12 years I’ve been fighting and it’s the perfect time for me to be UFC champion.
“People say, ‘It’s too late; it’s getting too long,’ but I think it’s the perfect time. The opportunity came and I feel healthy, I feel happy, I get to be in my division at 145 and I’m happy for the opportunity. I think it will be great.”
Initially scheduled to meet Megan Anderson, who followed Cyborg as Invicta FC’s featherweight champion once the Brazilian matriculated to the UFC, Evinger tagged in for the unbeaten Aussie when she was forced to withdraw from the contest for personal reasons at the end of June.
Like Cyborg, Evinger maximized her time competing under the Invicta FC banner, rising to the top of the bantamweight division and posting an undefeated record in eight appearances to extend her unbeaten streak to 11 heading into Saturday’s contest.
“It’s really sad when you change opponents really close to the fight, but I think Tonya Evinger deserves to have the big platform,” Cyborg said. “She’s Top 10. She’s the 135-pound champ and she has a lot of courage accepting the fight. After this fight, people are going to know who she is.
“We’ll make a nice fight for the fans,” she added. “I think this would be the best fight, best opponent – better than Megan Anderson; she has more experience and we can make a great show for all the fans on Saturday.”
One of the unexpected pleasant surprises of Cyborg being unavailable to compete in February is that her first championship opportunity in the UFC will now come close to home, as Saturday’s event at Honda Center in Anaheim is less than 100 miles from where she resides.
And Cyborg expects the crowd to be reminiscent of the one that welcomed her to the Octagon for the very first time last year in her hometown of Curitiba.
“For me, I think it’s going to be like Brazil at UFC 198 – all the fans will come to watch,” she said happily. “I moved to California in 2009 and all the fans who supported me are going to be there.
“It’s going to be great. I’m going to do everything perfect and Saturday is going to be my day.”