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Shannon Knapp: Cris Cyborg could still return to Invicta, defend her title

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Invicta FC

Cris Cyborg will make her UFC debut in May. But that doesn't necessarily mean she is done with Invicta FC.

Cyborg, arguably the top pound-for-pound women's fighter in the world, will face Leslie Smith at UFC 198 on May 14 in Brazil, the UFC announced Monday. The event will take place inside a 40,000-seat soccer stadium in Cyborg's hometown of Curitiba.

The fight will take place at a catchweight of 140 pounds. Cyborg normally fights at 145 pounds and she remains the Invicta champion in that featherweight division. That will not change any time soon, Invicta president Shannon Knapp told MMA Fighting.

Knapp said Cyborg will not be vacating the title, because there is the possibility of her returning to Invicta to defend it.

"Anything is always up to [the UFC and Cyborg], so it could be whatever," Knapp said. "I think this is probably a situation, too, where they're trying it out. Who knows? I am not quite sure what the long-term plan is or if anybody does at this point. Cris has expressed interest in coming back and defending her belt. At this point, it is not vacated."

The relationship between Cyborg (15-1), the UFC and Invicta is complicated. Cyborg has been under contract with Zuffa, the UFC's parent company, for two years now with the previous hope of one day putting together a fight between her and Ronda Rousey. The UFC, though, does not have a women's featherweight division, so Cyborg has fought for Invicta with Zuffa still paying her fight purses. Invicta cards air on UFC Fight Pass and the organizations have a close tie.

The Rousey vs. Cyborg plan was a bust. Rousey was knocked out by Holly Holm in November and lost her women's bantamweight title. Plus, the stipulation for the UFC was always that Cyborg had to make Rousey's 135-pound weight class to earn a spot in the promotion and she decided late last year that was a physical impossibility.

The UFC still doesn't have Cyborg's division, hence the catchweight with Smith. So if the Brazilian knockout artist is to stay in the UFC, the promotion will have to develop a 145-pound women's division or just have Cyborg compete against true 135-pounders in catchweight bouts.

Given those things, it probably makes sense for Cyborg to continue on with Invicta and defend her title, even on a part-time basis. Knapp said she is comfortable with whatever decision is made.

"Cris Cyborg is probably the most known name in the organization, the biggest star," she said. "But guess what? We don't build Invicta on one athlete. We have a lot of incredibly talented athletes. There will always be a new star born. So it's all good. That's the way I look at it. ... I'm open to whatever works for everybody."

Cyborg, 30, has not lost a fight since 2005, in her pro debut. She has finished 13 of her 15 victories and an opponent has not made it out of the first round with her since Marloes Coenen in 2013. Cyborg, whose real name is Cristiane Justino, is the most dominant female athlete MMA has ever known.

Knapp is not quite sure what the future will bring regarding Cyborg and Invicta. But in her limited talks on the subject with Cyborg, she has intimated her desire to return to Invicta.

"We haven't had long conversations about it," Knapp said, "but it's been my understanding that is what she wants to do."