Cris Cyborg is facing the “plan C” at UFC 214, but she believes things could have been easier if the promotion had taken a different path in the past.
With Germaine de Randamie refusing to compete, and Megan Anderson dealing with personal issues, Cyborg will now face Invicta FC bantamweight titleholder Tonya Evinger for the vacant UFC featherweight gold on July 29 in Anaheim.
The original plan would have had de Randamie defending the belt she won earlier this year against the Brazilian, but the Dutch fighter preferred to be stripped of the belt than facing Cyborg. Anderson, who won the Invicta FC 145-pound belt that once belonged to the Brazilian, jumped promotions to compete in the Octagon, but ended up being removed days later.
UFC president Dana White has cited many times in the past that lack of female athletes in the featherweight division was one of the reasons why he wouldn’t open the weight class in the UFC, and Cyborg would always argued back that, yes, there are enough fighters to build a division.
After having a hard time finding an opponent to face at UFC 214, with the promotion once again bringing a natural bantamweight to face her in the Octagon, is Cyborg still convinced there are enough women at 145 pounds?
"Since it took a long time for the UFC to open the (featherweight) division, most of the athletes signed with Bellator. That’s why the girls with bigger names in the division are at Bellator,” Cyborg said during a chat with the media on Tuesday. "But some still are in Invicta. I was going to fight Megan Anderson, but due to lack of (visa) she won’t be able to fight — and also due to her irresponsibility, she pulled out of the fight a month before."
With Julia Budd (10-2) as the current featherweight champion, Bellator currently has 11 other featherweights in its roster, including Marloes Coenen (23-8), Alexis Dufresne (6-3), Sinead Kavanagh (4-1) and Talita Nogueira (6-0).
Cyborg fought twice under the UFC banner so far, finishing Leslie Smith and Lina Lansberg via TKO in 140-pound catchweight bouts. Undefeated over her last eight fights with five stoppage victories and several title defenses in Invicta FC, Evinger is “brave”, her opponent says.
"Tonya accepted the fight on a month’s notice, saving the event and giving me an opportunity to fight,” Cyborg said. "She’s coming from the (bantamweight) division, but I think she’s a top 10 at 135, she just never had the chance to fight in the UFC. And she’s brave. I respect her for fighting me on short notice, and that also gives her a chance to show her work inside the UFC and, who knows, open more doors for her to fight at 135, her original division.
"I believe Tonya is a great opponent, she has a lot of fights and experience,” she continued. "I believe she will give me more trouble than Megan Anderson because she has more experience. We’ll see. I don’t like to talk before the fights, inside the Octagon is different. Everybody has a game plan, but the plan changes after the first punch."
And what about de Randamie, Cyborg’s original opponent? Ultimately, the Brazilian believes she never had the intention to defend the featherweight belt she won against Holly Holm.
"(The champion) can’t turn down a fight if he thinks you’re tough, if you’re a tough fight. It doesn’t matter. If you have the belt, you have to fight anyone,” Cyborg said. "Like Dana White said, she knew, even before she entered the Octagon (against Holm) that, if she won, she would have to fight me, so I believe she acted in bad faith, she already went there with this intention of going back to her division if she won the belt and try to become the first (female) athlete to hold two belts.
"I believe that some athletes have fear, but you have to work on that. Athletes can’t have fear. Fear of what? Fear of losing? Everybody loses one day. You win and lose. Both fighters can’t win in this sport, so you have to leave it in God’s hands. Losing is not the end of the world. Losing is natural, the better prepared athlete will win.
"If you’re a fighter, you might lose a battle but you can’t lose the war. That’s what fans love, overcoming, bouncing back and winning again. That’s what makes an athlete grow and fans to follow you. You go through hard times without fear of losing because that might happen."
The UFC stripped de Randamie of the belt days after she voiced her idea of not facing Cyborg, so, in the end, Cyborg will battle Evinger for a vacant title in Anaheim. The Brazilian, a former featherweight queen in Strikeforce and Invicta FC, has a different approach to the title fight.
"I see this fight in the UFC as a title defense for me,” Cyborg said. "I haven’t lost my belt. I vacated it. To me, it’s like a title defense. Some people might see the UFC as something with more value than the one that I held before, but, to me, it’s another title defense. I train and work hard as if I were always the No. 1 contender for every fight though."