One has to wonder how many times Cris Cyborg has created a dedicated space for her many MMA awards, only to need expansion a short time later. Saturday night brought a new piece of hardware to add to her trophy room. When Cyborg stopped Julia Budd on strikes at Bellator 238, it marked the fourth major championship of her career. She has now won featherweight belts in Strikeforce, Invicta FC, UFC and Bellator.
That’s an incredible achievement, but just as impressively, she shows no signs of slowing. Her finishing sequence on Budd was classic Cyborg, a relentless, Chute Boxe-style barrage against a wounded opponent. It’s an intensity that helped make her name, and it’s still here after all these years.
Look at this finishing sequence! It’s vintage Cyborg, a bombardment of strikes that confused, damaged and ultimately stopped Budd. Cyborg alternates between speed and power, punches and kicks, head and body. Ultimately, she throws over 30 strikes in less than 13 seconds, overloading Budd’s ability to defend through variety, volume and impact. For Budd, it must have felt like fighting two people at once until she finally folded from a right hand to the body.
It was crazy to see. It’s also stunning that she can still do it after all this time.
Four major organizations into her career, Cyborg appears to be as good as she’s ever been, an all-time purveyor of MMA violence. At 34 years old, she’s just a few months away from her 15th anniversary as a professional. Few fighters make it this far; even less remain at stages that can rival the effectiveness of their primes. Cyborg is a wonder in that regard. She has maintained a clear level of excellence from then to now, a few blips aside.
Here is where critics will point to her Amanda Nunes’ loss, and call that more major than a blip. While it was certainly a disappointing result, It’s the only time she has truly failed with the weight of expectation on her. That’s something that not even Nunes can boast. Remember, as great as Nunes is, she was stopped by Alexis Davis in Strikeforce and by Cat Zingano in the UFC, and was dominated by Sarah D’Alelio in Invicta. Nunes is a late bloomer while Cyborg’s been here all along. She’s spanned organizations and generations, yet she remains right at the top.
That kind of consistency is to be admired and respected in a sport where one small mistake can end a fight.
For most of her career, Cyborg has been the one forcing the errors with her high-pressure approach. It was no different against Budd, the most decorated true featherweight she has faced in several years. Budd came into the bout riding the momentum of an 11-fight, six-plus-year win streak, but she never came close to finding a rhythm. Cyborg outmuscled her in the clinch, out-struck her on the feet and out-grappled her on the ground. And after nearly stopping Budd from the mount to end round three, she turned up the pressure with one of her patented blitzes.
When Cyborg smells blood, she is relentless, and the only way out begins with a referee standing over you. All this time later, that hasn’t changed. The way she finished Gina Carano is the way she finished Tonya Evinger is the way she finished Budd.
Focus. Fury. Ferocity.
From the looks of it, she remains far from done. The next challenge for Cyborg will be the same challenge she’s always had: finding someone worth her while. Prior to Cyborg’s arrival, Budd was by far the best featherweight on the Bellator roster, with a drop-off to the rest of the pack. One potential challenger? Cat Zingano, who signed with the promotion last October but has yet to fight in the Bellator cage. Zingano didn’t fight a single time in 2019, and not much has been rumored about her promotional debut.
Another (more far-out) possibility? Bellator enters into a co-promotion to set up Cyborg against PFL champion and former Olympian Kayla Harrison. This would actually be a fascinating setup and would be compelling to many MMA fans who salivate at the possibility of such one-off challenge matches. It would also provide plenty of attention for PFL, which remains a distant third among the major American promotions. Bellator’s Scott Coker has said he’s always open to co-promote, and he’s already done so with Rizin, so Cyborg should request they explore this.
Hopefully, Cyborg and Bellator can find her a fight that is worthy of her talents. But whatever the future may hold, she is a guarantee. To compete with unrestrained ferocity. To advance with inexhaustible aggression. To remain relentless in pursuit of domination. Nobody can fight like this forever, but Cris Cyborg’s damn well going to try.