Cris “Cyborg” Justino has waited a long time to have the words “UFC fighter” next to her name. Yet unlike some who play it cool in the lead up to such a monumental career moment, she is not downplaying her Octagon debut against Leslie Smith this Saturday, a UFC 198 bout that just happens to be taking place in her hometown of Curitiba, Brazil.
“Every day when I run in the morning, I think about my fight, all my fans, the crowd,” she said. “This is with me every day now.”
The excitement is clear in her voice, simply because this was something that may not have ever become a reality.
“I couldn’t believe it,” she said of the call to compete in the UFC. “It took two years. I feel very blessed for this opportunity and I’m very happy.”
For nearly eight years, Cyborg has been the most feared fighter in the world of women’s MMA. Her knockout victims include Shayna Baszler, Gina Carano and Marloes Coenen (twice) and her five fights in the Invicta FC promotion have resulted in five knockout wins, four in the first round and two in under a minute.
So with women gracing the Octagon since 2013, what’s been the delay in bringing the 30-year-old to the promotion? The fact that the only two weight classes being showcased at the moment are the bantamweight (135 pounds) and strawweight (115 pounds) divisions. Cyborg is a 145-pound featherweight. But with fans demanding to see the Muay Thai destroyer, and with the Curitiba event being the perfect place for her debut, the UFC presented Cyborg with an offer to fight Smith at a catchweight of 140 pounds.
It’s not easy for her to make the move, but it was an offer she couldn’t refuse either.
“Now is a very hard time for me getting down to the catchweight,” Cyborg said. “But I just remind myself that everything happens for a reason. All this time waiting and hoping for this opportunity, it just makes me stronger. I feel very blessed to be here and very motivated for this fight in Brazil. There are a lot of people that follow me and know me before, and I have a lot of new fans too that never heard about Cyborg. And after May 14, for sure they will know who Cyborg is.”
RELATED CONTENT: Watch: UFC 198 Countdown - Jacare vs Belfort | Cris Cyborg - Welcoming Opportunity | Miocic in hostile environment | Read: Reasons to watch UFC 198 | FIGHT PASS spotlight - Preview UFC 198's fights
If there is an MMA fan that doesn’t know who she is, just take a glance at her official UFC bio, where she describes her style as “Chute Boxe.” For the uninitiated, Chute Boxe is the team that housed the likes of “Shogun” Rua, Wanderlei Silva, Anderson Silva, Rafael Cordeiro and some of the most ferocious strikers ever seen in the sport. This is the first lady of Chute Boxe, and it’s where she turned from Cris Justino to Cyborg.
“When I started training for my career at Chute Boxe, they had a lot of guys fighting in Japan, and I just watched them and I learned a lot of things from them and from Shogun, Anderson Silva and (Fabricio) Werdum,” she said. “I feel very happy to compete on the same card as them and it’s an amazing time to have all these Chute Boxe fighters on the same event.”
Keeping the memory of the team going this Saturday are the obvious names of Rua and Silva. Cordeiro is coaching heavyweight champion Werdum, who has been well schooled in the squad’s art of war, and even Vitor Belfort trained briefly with them. But Cyborg will have just as many eyes on her as she looks to make a statement with a finish of the durable Smith.
“All fighters have their own style, and my style is to be aggressive,” she said. “I always train for five rounds, but I’m very aggressive, so my fights end in the first round or second round. It’s the same thing here – I’ll go over there to do my job and finish it as soon as possible.”
If she does, Cyborg will hear the roar of her hometown crowd and know that the rollercoaster ride it took to get here was all worth it.
“I feel very thankful for all my fans,” she said. “They are always loyal and with me through bad times and good times. Sometimes I didn’t know if this would happen and I got emotional. But I kept training hard every day, and I never gave up.”
And now she’s here.