Cris Cyborg is one of the most feared MMA fighters on the planet when the cage door closes. But her brutal side feels like a distant dimension when she’s in her backyard.
It’s not rare to see MMA smashing machines surrounded by dogs or cats at home, or even horses on farms. But Cyborg went a step further, building a pet zoo.
“I’ve always loved animals,” Cyborg said in an interview with MMA Fighting. “I wanted to be a veterinarian when I was a kid. I even worked at a pet shop before I started fighting, and I always loved it. I love animals. Being with them is a hobby.”
The only fighter to ever capture belts in the UFC, Strikeforce, Invicta FC and Bellator returns to action Thursday night, attempting the first defense of her featherweight title against Arlene Blencowe in the main event of Bellator 249 in Uncasville, Conn.
Cyborg has been in the MMA game for more than 15 years, a run that includes 22 victories and just two defeats. But being around her little friends brings her closer to her childhood dreams.
“A cat showed up at first, and then another cat — and I never had cats before in my life,” Cyborg said. “And then we thought, how about a little pig? We have chickens now, and all of a sudden the house was too small for the animals [laughs]. I like it. It’s a different passion you bring to your day-to-day life.”
Every animal Cyborg has in her home is adopted. The list of pets is so long the 35-year-old MMA vet has to stop and count the pets currently in her California home: five chickens, one pig, one parrot, one parakeet, two dogs, two cats, and some fishes. One of the dogs, a young red nose pit bull, is currently being trained to work as a service dog, she said.
“I adopted a parrot – I think he must be 30-year-old or so – and I’ve been bitten so many times while trying to win him over [laughs],” said Cyborg, who created an Instagram account to show the world her private zoo. “We called it Cyborg’s Zoo on Instagram, but it’s my backyard. We have an area for the pig, one for the Bengal cats, and for the fish, too, a tilapia. I’m learning a lot. I definitely want a bigger place in the future to focus more on this.”
Having your own zoo already sounds amazing on itself, but Cyborg took it to another level when she chose their names.
“When I started fighting, the first dog I had was a French bulldog called Ernesto Hoost, because I really loved Ernesto Hoost’s fights,” Cyborg said. “He passed away two years ago. And then I had Fedor, Fedor Emelianenko, a Labrador, who’s 12 now. And when I started bringing other animals I just continued naming them after fighters.
“There’s Manny Porkiao, the pig, and the cats are Laila Ali and Sugar Ray. The dog I just got, the pit bull, is Holly — I texted Holly [Holm] asking if I could name one of my dogs after her and she said it’s cool. The chickens don’t have a name, I just call them Las Chicas and Las Niñas because one is older than the others. We called the parrot Chael because Chael Sonnen likes to talk a lot [laughs], and the parakeet is Belal [Muhammed], one fighter from Arabia.”
Most of these animals were recent additions to the Cyborg family. But Fedor the Labrador has been with Cyborg for over a decade. When a friend had to leave the city and could no longer keep Fedor, she offered to take him in. They got very close very quick.
Cyborg had just split with then-husband Evangelista Santos and moved to a different city in the U.S. She had no credit to rent a place and barely spoke English. Months away from her first Strikeforce title fight in a boundary-breaking headliner against Gina Carano, she was sleeping inside her car with Fedor.
She dominated Carano to win the Strikeforce featherweight title. Then she met a Brazilian woman living in San Diego, and she finally had a roof over her head — for a few days, at least.
“I got to San Diego on Thanksgiving Day, [and] the car was packed with stuff and the dog,” Cyborg said. “I ended up meeting a woman – a friend introduced us – and asked if I could live with her for a few days, and she said, ‘She can stay for a day to two because I have to work and I don’t know her, I can’t have her by herself here.’ He explained I was a fighter, but she said, ‘I don’t know her.’”
After staying in her house for three days, Cyborg befriended the woman, and her stay was extended. The woman even helped the champ find a permanent place to live.
Fedor wasn’t allowed in the house, though, so he had to stay inside the car overnight.
“We went through several difficult moments together,” Cyborg said. “I felt bad for him because I had to train, but I had to get him tired first, so I would throw the ball 50, 100 times so he would get tired and sleep and I could train.
“I thought about giving him away so he wouldn’t suffer anymore, but the day I was handing him away, he started crying, so I changed my mind [laughs]. He really is very special. I’m glad I kept him. We had several happy moments together and will continue to.”
In her first title defense, Cyborg stopped Marloes Coenen with punches in the third round. She later added belts from Invicta FC, UFC and Bellator to solidify her legacy as one of the best female MMA fighters in history.
That legacy helped build the sanctuary that now reminds Cyborg how far she and Fedor have come.
“We had no place to stay, we were living in a car, and now we have our own house,” Cyborg said. “It’s so cool. We have a history together, we would always run together — he can’t anymore — [but] we were together in many training camps. I love the relationship I have with Fedor.”