At this point in the career of Cris Cyborg, the question marks aren’t about where she stands in the conversation of best female MMA fighter of all-time or who will be her greatest challenge in 2019 and beyond, but about motivation.
Let’s face it, she’s done it all over the course of her nearly 14-year MMA career, winning titles in the UFC, Strikeforce and Invicta FC while beating a Who’s Who of the sport. But dominance comes with a price, and after she took a short-notice fight against former Invicta bantamweight champion Yana Kunitskaya in March and still dispatched her foe in less than four minutes, wondering how Cyborg will get out of bed in the morning and do roadwork or spend countless hours in the gym perfecting her craft had to be a concern for her legion of fans.
It shouldn’t be.
As Cyborg recalls her visit to a children’s hospital in Brazil before her Octagon debut in 2016, it’s clear that her motivation to fight and succeed and set an example will never be an issue.
“I went over there and visited them and they made a belt for me,” she said of that trip to the hospital. “Everyone signed it for me and they put the name of the hospital and this meant so much for me. And when I got the (UFC) belt I went back and gave it to them. This is something special for me, it’s gonna stay in my heart.”
To the Curitiba native, being present for these children and giving them the inspiration to keep fighting is the true benefit of her championship status. And it extends far beyond the Octagon, whether she’s handing out food to the homeless in Los Angeles after the Kunitskaya fight or going on a missionary trip to Portugal.
“It’s the little things that can help save people,” said Cyborg. “It’s not just being the champion in the cage. For me, it’s being a champion in life. I’m not here to just hold the belt. It’s nothing. One day I’m gonna lose the belt. One day I won’t be the champion anymore. But it’s good to be a memory in the hearts of the people. When I go to Brazil I like to go to the hospital, I like to visit kids. I left my first UFC belt at the hospital because they fight every day. I just fight sometimes every year. They fight every day for their life. I tell them, ‘You kids are the champions.’”
Yet as much as the 33-year-old is a shining example of the good folks in the sport, people heading to The Forum in Los Angeles this Saturday will be reminded just why Cyborg is seen by many as the most dominant female fighter of all-time. The fact alone that she accepted the challenge of women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes for the UFC 232 co-main event speaks volumes, and it was a fight she agreed to as soon as “The Lioness” called for it. But as Cyborg points out, she was a little annoyed that the SuperFight has taken so long to get here.
“She called me out after the Holly Holm fight and I accepted right away,” said Cyborg, who defeated Holm a year ago in her last SuperFight. “When you challenge somebody, you can’t ask for nine months to train. If somebody goes to your house now, locks the door and says, ‘I’m gonna kick your ass,’ are you gonna say, ‘Okay, wait, I have to do one hundred push-ups, I have to do bag work, I need to start running.’ No. You have to be ready to do this.”
Cyborg smiles as she says this, well aware that there is no line outside the door of her California gym filled with opponents ready to challenge her. The fact that Nunes did has seemingly earned her a measure of the Curitiba native’s respect.
“I think it’s gonna be special,” Cyborg said of this Saturday’s showdown. “Amanda Nunes is a great fighter, she did a lot for women’s MMA, she beat big names like Ronda (Rousey), like Miesha Tate, and I think it’s gonna be a great fight.”
That doesn’t mean Cyborg won’t be Cyborg when it’s time to throw down.
“I think when we’re gonna be face to face and I start touching her, she’s gonna feel the difference,” she said. “I don’t think she ever fought somebody like me.
“After I beat her, nobody’s gonna see her as the champ at 135,” Cyborg continues. “Everybody’s gonna remember how I beat her. It doesn’t matter if she has the belt or not – now she’s safe, she goes up and fights me and she has her belt at her house – but nobody’s gonna remember this. Everybody’s going to remember how I beat her.”
Motivation? Yeah, Cyborg has plenty of it.