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On the same night that Cris Cyborg unleashed hell, she also caged it

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Leslie Smith wasn’t just some Fiona Muxlow out there in Curitiba, not that it ended up mattering all that much. Smith made a name for herself with her volunteer work against Cristiane "Cyborg" Justino at a catchweight of 140 pounds on Saturday night, a move that was heralded as anything from courageous to loony on the collective scale of awe. Just 81 seconds into the bout referee Osiris Maia pulled the wailing banshee off of Smith, who was still conscious enough to protest the stoppage.

Osiris and Cyborg…the future has arrived and it’s like something out of Blade Runner.

And that was how Cyborg’s long-awaited debut in the Octagon went down at UFC 198 in front of 45,000 of her countrymen. Exactly how we thought it might. With another crushed specimen and a lot of whiplash. This Reebok-clad Cyborg, just like the one that rag-dolled Jan Finney into the second round all those years ago in Strikeforce -- just like the one that sent Gina Carano off to Hollywood forever -- reiterated what we already knew about her. That she’s an exceptionally scary figure in prizefighting.

Her performance in Brazil jangled the same chords of wonder we’ve been strung up with for so long: What would’ve happened if Cyborg had fought Ronda Rousey? More to the point, will she ever? Is she the greatest that has so far ever been? Or, you know, like…why doesn’t she just want to obliterate all those who’ve hogged her spotlight for so long and pound home the point that we’ve been extremely misguided, naïve, gullible, dead wrong?

Just like with Fedor Emelianenko and Randy Couture back in the day, these questions feel destined to survive the point of caring. Though she did post a Facebook message to Rousey on Sunday, when given the chance to call her out in the post-fight interview -- or even current bantamweight champ Miesha Tate, who was, by the way, actually willing -- Cyborg said she was ready to defend her 145-pound title in Invicta and continue on with the odd superfight at a catchweight. Just when she could have called out the fanciest names in women’s MMA, she invited the familiar unknown back into the picture. She said she’d defend her belt against the featherweight woodwork.

She issued a challenge to anonymous.

Or, more indirectly, she issued an invitation for all the brand-named fighters in the smaller division to come meet her on her own terms. After all, though she tipped the scale at 139 pounds on Friday, we are getting further and further into the extreme by asking her to wring her body of four more pounds of fluids. She was sunken like an old road on the scale already, and just as miserable. Asking her to cut down more than what she did has more than a few cruel undertones.

It might sound counterintuitive to admit, but Cyborg is human being.

Then again, I mean…she made it to freaking 139 pounds, so close to the red zone weight of the Holms and Zinganos that it feels like mocking. At this point, the dangling carrot is forever six inches beyond reach. In the pursuit to answer the question as to who’s the greatest at a given time, four pounds feels simultaneously like not all that much and a mute ton. It doesn’t help that Cyborg won’t play with her food before devouring. She gives her opposition almost no hope from the jump. She is looking to destroy the woman in front of her in the fastest, most emphatic way possible.

That is, via ruthless knockouts.

Just like Rousey with her fast, no-nonsense armbars, the signature move that sent her myth of infallibility all the way to Ellen. Cyborg might want to give her next opponent a ray of hope if she’s going to remain in higher weight class where not much else exists, including the division itself in the UFC. She might want to stop making it look so damn violent and easy.

Because if Leslie Smith proved anything, it’s that courage only goes so far in the battle against delusion. Smith played right into Cyborg’s hands. She even walked out to a song tailor-made for the Brazilian who has made a bigger career in the world of hypotheticals than she has in the cage. Smith walked out to The Doors’ "Break on Through."

That’s the thing. It was great to see Cyborg finally break through into the Octagon. Since she won the inaugural Strikeforce featherweight title against Carano in 2009, she’s been on that course. She’s gone through her travails en-route, some of it pretty ugly. Some of it that turned people against her. When she popped hot for stanozolol against Hiroko Yamanaka four-and-a-half years ago, people focused on the last three letters of the banned substance — LOL.

One of those was UFC president Dana White, who was no early fan of Cyborg’s. Even now who knows how much White and Co. have thawed on Justino.

Yet since Rousey first showed up at UFC 157 and took the world of mixed martial arts by storm, Cyborg has been hovering out there as her natural nemesis. As her otherworld equivalent. Perhaps, it could be argued, as her superior. The two have been champions for as long as both have played the game. Rousey stumbled against Holm at UFC 193, which kicked the first log off the fire for a Cyborg-Rousey fight. But Rousey remains a transcendent star six months later. Cyborg is finally in the UFC, and could have let Rousey’s name cross her lips after her first big showcase in front of her fellow Brazilians.

Instead she said a few words about defending her featherweight title in a different league, words that were as different from what people wanted to hear as the literal meanings between "legend" and "travesty."

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