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Cris Cyborg feels 'terrible' about the fan backlash against Ronda Rousey

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Invicta FC

COSTA MESA, Calif. -- It might be a totally different situation in almost every way, but Cris Cyborg empathizes with Ronda Rousey.

In 2011, Cyborg was the Strikeforce women's featherweight champion and the pound-for-pound best female fighter on the planet. Then she popped for steroids after a win over Hiroko Yamanaka and was suspended by the California State Athletic Commission.

It was during that dark time that Cyborg said she found out who her real friends were. She suspects Rousey is going through something similar now. Rousey fell by second-round knockout to Holly Holm at UFC 193 in November and has faced a harsh backlash from fans because of it.

Rousey was the best female fighter in the world and arguably the most dominant champion in the sport. And just like that, she became a mean-spirited internet meme.

"It's terrible," said Cyborg, who will defend her Invicta FC featherweight title against Daria Ibragimova here Saturday night in the Invicta FC 15 main event. "When you're there, every body is with you. I feel sorry about this. I know this, because before something happened in my career -- the doping -- and before everybody is with you [and then they're not]. But I love my fans. Some fans kept with me and I'm sure she has that, too. It's sad, but sometimes it's good so you can see who's with you. You can see who you really have to appreciate."

Cyborg (14-1, 1 NC), whose real name is Cristiane Justino, was long thought to be an inevitable opponent for Rousey. That fight happening seems less and less likely by the day. The two women have sniped back and forth in interviews and social media for years at this point. But Cyborg said she has never hated Rousey and wasn't rooting for her to lose. She doesn't condone some very ugly things fans have said about Rousey, even though Rousey has said some ugly things about her.

"This is not nice," Cyborg said. "Losing a fight, winning -- it happens. But these people make fun. ... I know it's not nice. I know she hurts now and I know depression."

Cyborg, 30, lost a Muay Thai fight in 2014. She said it didn't crush her, because winning and losing are a part of the sport. Justino, though, thinks Rousey probably feels as bad as she does because of all the talking she does before fights.

"Always you can lose," Cyborg said. "You can lose, you can win. It's not embarrassing. It's embarrassing when you speak before you fight. It's embarrassing speaking bad. I think you have to work hard on what you say, because if you lose, when you come back from the airport you have to have a pillow on your face."

Cyborg is, of course, referring to the scene TMZ captured of Rousey walking through LAX with her face obscured. It was an unflattering video for Rousey, but she seems to be back on her feet now. The former UFC women's bantamweight champion will be hosting Saturday Night Live at the end of the month.

"I think she'd like to use this to challenge herself and get better," Cyborg said. "To come in and change. Something bad in life has to happen before you change and grow. I can't say anything bad about her. She's been good for women's MMA. She opened a lot of doors. I know I [fought] before her, but she had opportunities and she's handled it and helped everybody."

That big money fight between two of the best known women in the sport's history might never happen. And the two will almost certainly never be best pals. But Cyborg has seen something from Rousey that she respects. Before, she thought a loss would break Rousey; now she's not so sure.

"I think she's an athlete," Cyborg said. "I think maybe she won't stop, she'll keep going. You can't care what people say. People can say what they say, but only you know. Only you and your family."