Cris Cyborg is only nine months into her suspension, 75 percent of the way through her forced absence from fighting. In a sport where an athlete's prime may last only a few years, that may seem like an eternity, but that chapter of her life will end soon enough, and when it does, Cyborg will be ready. She trains every day, she's motivated and she sees the increased attention on women's fighting as a welcome environment in which to return.
In many ways, the heightened profile of women's MMA can be traced to one person: Ronda Rousey. The Strikeforce bantamweight champion, who is scheduled to fight Sarah Kaufman this weekend, has become both its mouthpiece and poster girl. With media microphones and notebooks aimed at her, she's had plenty to say about various names, and Cyborg is no exception.
Starting in January -- a month after Cyborg tested positive for the steroid stanozolol -- Rousey has criticized Cyborg, saying she doesn't "have the least bit of respect for her" and that "everyone knew she was cheating."
Those mentions have not escaped Cyborg's notice. The former featherweight champion said that upon her return, she would welcome a fight with Rousey.
"I really wanna fight Ronda," she said on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. "I really want to. She says bad things about me. I never say bad things about my opponent. I want to do my best in the octagon, and if she says she wants to fight me, she can come to my weight or at 140."
Cyborg, whose lowest weigh-in weight has been 140 pounds for her U.S. debut in 2008, said she can not make 135 to meet Rousey at her weight class. In her mind, it would simply be an impossible weight cut. Currently, she said, she is about 160 pounds and considers herself to be "very skinny."
Even if Rousey wins on Saturday and paves the road for a bout with Cyborg, it's impossible to tell if Strikeforce brass would make the fight at a catch weight, though after last Saturday night's UFC 150 event, Dana White voiced an interest in it, saying, "I like that fight."
But as far as Cyborg sees it, it's not her responsibility to meet Rousey on her turf, but the other way around.
"She started at 145," she said of Rousey's Strikeforce career. "And she's running to 135. She's running to not fight me. And after, she speaks a lot of s--- about me. I want to fight her soon. I'm very excited to fight her. And when we're in the octagon, we'll see if she says anything. And if she says anything, I can punch her."
Ultimately though, Cyborg says it's not her call what happens. First, she must finish dealing with the penalties imposed upon her by the California state athletic commission after failing a drug test. And then she has to wait to see what Strikeforce matchmakers and her management have to say about things.
Despite her feelings over Rousey's statements, Cyborg credited Rousey for her part in boosting awareness of women's MMA, saying she's done a "great job." But it's a job that piggybacks on what she was already doing, helping to grow interest with fights like her landmark Strikeforce: Carano vs. Cyborg fight which marked the first time a major promotion featured a female main event. In that fight, Santos knocked out Carano in the first round, cementing herself as the most savage talent in the division.
"I'm a women but I want to fight the same as a man," she said. "I like training hard, I like to punch the face. I like getting punched in the face. I fight the same as a man. I train the same as a man. I think this is different from other girls."
Rousey is among the growing number of women who have taken to training with men, recently spending time with the Diaz brothers, among others.
Cyborg, who trains in San Diego -- said she'll be in attendance on Saturday at the city's Valley View Casino Center to watch the Strikeforce: Rousey vs. Kaufman main event. Maybe she'll be doing a little scouting, too.
For all of the critics who insisted her positive test was proof that she was a longtime steroid user, Cyborg says that her future success will prove them wrong. Buoyed by a tireless work ethic and unique training, she thinks that her next opponent, whether or it's Rousey or anyone else, will have a tall order ahead of them. And while she's not willing to "cut her leg off" to make 135 and meet Rousey on her home turf, she is willing to meet her halfway.
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