Cristiane 'Cyborg' Justino battles for Muay Thai title, but knows move to bantamweight is key

Guilherme Cruz, MMA Fighting

Cris "Cyborg" Justino, the elephant in the room when any discussion of Ronda Rousey as the best woman fighter in the world is brought up, has a battle plan that includes proving late this summer that she can make 135 pounds, and challenge the UFC champion in her own weight class. But first, she battles for the Lion Fight Muay Thai welterweight title Friday night against Jorina Baars.

Cris "Cyborg" Justino is now talking openly about fighting at 135 pounds, with a time frame of the late summer or early fall set for her debut in the new division.

This, of course, is to open the door to fight with UFC bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey.

Making 135 isn't going to be easy for someone who said she was 165 pounds with four percent body fat before cutting this week. She wasn't expecting it to be a piece of cake cutting to 145 for her Muay Thai fight on Friday night with two-time champion Jorina Baars of The Netherlands. The bout, a five-rounder to create the women's welterweight (145 pound) title, airs live on AXS TV, from the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. She's had issues making 145 in the past, including one fight being only able to get down to 151 before the California commission ordered her to stop cutting over health reasons. But she has made 145 for seven MMA fights and two kickboxing matches since 2009.
Baars, 25, has had her own problems getting fights of late. She has a 35-0-3 record, but it's been three years since she's fought last. Baars has claimed nobody in Europe was willing to face her.

But no matter who Justino is fighting, the discussion always ends up in the same place, with Rousey.

She has claimed Rousey is trying to avoid her. Rousey, on the other hand, stated that she believes the failed test has made Justino's entire career a fraud. She's always said she would be willing to face her, whether she was clean or not, if she got to 135 pounds. UFC did try and put the fight together last year as it's first woman's fight ever. But negotiations at the time broke down over money, and Rousey instead faced Liz Carmouche.

At the time, Justino said, for health reasons, she couldn't make that weight. But now, among her biggest goals this year is to prove the opposite.

After Friday, her schedule is for a May MMA fight in Invicta at 145 pounds, a July return to Muay Thai with Lion Fights, also at 145, and then making 135 for the first time for an Invicta fight in either August or September.

She said if it was up to her, she'd like to fight every two months, and if there's an opening, she's also up for competing in jiu-jitsu tournaments this year.

"I (will) try to make 135," she said. "I will try. I think it's very important to make 135 so I can fight for the belt, and because I want to keep that weight class because there are more girls I can fight. I can fight a superfight. I'm already the champ at 145 (she holds the featherweight title with Invicta). I don't want to be selfish. I want one more belt. If I can fight at 135 for the belt, it's okay. I can fight at 145 and be more healthy. But it's not possible at 145 or a catch weight because Ronda is running from me. If I make 135, Ronda can't run."

Justino, considered the most ferocious as well as perhaps the most controversial female fighter in the world, is currently doing Muay Thai, a sport she has a 2-0 record in, with the Lion Fight promotion, and MMA with Invicta at the same time. Obviously, her goal would be to face Rousey, the UFC's bantamweight champion. If the fight can be pulled off, it would be the biggest fight in women's combat sports history, and could be in the top tier for interest when it comes to fights in UFC history.

But it's not as simple as it sounds. The fight likely would have been done already had Justino never failed a steroid test, which put a different light on her career. She broke into prominence in the U.S. with a reign of destruction that started with the old Elite XC promotion, when she stopped current UFC fighter and Rousey training partner Shayna Baszler, on July 26, 2008. Billed at first as "The toughest women south of the equator," the dynamic between Cyborg, the muscular powerhouse, and Gina Carano, the face of women's MMA at the time with her actress looks, pretty much closed the book on any ideas that women couldn't effectively main event a big show.

The fight was a gigantic success, setting what was at the time the record for the highest rating for a Showtime fight in history. Carano vs. Cyborg not only drew higher ratings but also sold more tickets in San Jose, Calif., where it took place, than the Fedor Emelianenko fight with Fabricio Werdum, in the same building.

But there was also a lesson. Cyborg, then known as Cris Santos, won the fight, handily. Since debuting in the U.S., nobody has even proven to be competition for her, due to the huge discrepancy in physical power between her and every opponent to date. Marloes Coenen, who lost to her twice, remarked that Cyborg was strong like a man.

From its peak on that night, interest in women's MMA nose dived as Carano never fought again. It rebuilt with the rise of Rousey starting two years ago. Interest had dropped greatly even before Justino failed a steroid test for Stanazolol after a 16 second stoppage of Hiroko Yamanaka on December 17, 2011. That led to a one-year suspension, and being stripped of her 145 pound title.

The failed steroid test led to a dark period in her life. She divorced her husband, fighter Evangelista "Cyborg" Santos, at that same time. And she was out of the sport for a year. Since Rousey's Strikeforce bantamweight title moved into the UFC directly, had the drug test failure not happened, Justino's championship could have as well.

"For me, it was a hard time," she said. "I know everything happens for a reason. I grew so much personally. I now know who is with me. You find the true people who like you. I always live my life for God. God has good plans for me. I'm always training. I think God wants the best for me. In God I trust, so I'm kept going and kept training to follow my dream."

She's been tested frequently since returning, including a recent test ordered by the Nevada State Athletic Commission several weeks before this fight.

"I did a test and I'm clean," she said. "I tell people, I'll take a test anytime, so if I make 135, she (Rousey) has no excuse to run anymore."

She said it was that belief that led to her asking out of the UFC when she was offered an eight-fight deal more than a year ago, and sign with Invicta. The decision kept her out of the main spotlight as women's MMA exploded in popularity.

"I felt in my heart it was better to go to Invicta," she said.

"God said go to Invicta and I followed him. The contract with UFC was very hard, eight fights at 135 pounds. I didn't know if it (making 135 pounds) was possible. I followed by heart, went to Invicta, and fought at my weight."

While the idea to change training to doing a lot of running to drop natural body weight and get within striking distance of 135 sounds good on the surface, she noted that it's more difficult than that.

"I love to run," she said. "I always run. But from running, it makes no change (in weight). I run eight miles every day, no change. I have to change a little my food, my dieting, I change something To make a difference, (I have to) not only run.

"I have to do something different for my health. I think it'll be okay (making 135). I want to make this. I've been disciplined and (am) training to try and make 135."

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