The current Bellator featherweight champion will attempt her second title defense against Smith in the main event of Bellator 259. The event takes place Friday night at Mohegan Sun Arena with the main card airing on Showtime.
This will be the first time in nearly a decade that the 35-year-old will compete on Showtime, and it takes her back to the days of fighting for the now-defunct Strikeforce.
“I feel very thankful that I had the opportunity at the beginning of my career to fight on Showtime against Gina Carano in Strikeforce and now working with them again in Bellator,” Cyborg told MMA Fighting. “I’m very happy, very blessed to defend my title with them.”
The first meeting between Cyborg and Smith took place nearly five years to the day of Friday’s rematch. In her UFC debut, Cyborg put Smith away in just over a minute of a 140-pound catchweight bout at UFC 198 in May 2016. It was the first time Cyborg had fought that low in weight in nearly eight years when she stopped Shayna Baszler under the Elite XC banner.
Now competing in her normal weight class, Cyborg believes both women have evolved to the point that, even the though the first fight is in the books, it’s a completely different matchup than the one that took place in the UFC’s octagon.
“I was remembering how this fight went before and what’s happening now,” Cyborg said. “My fans were the ones that campaigned for this fight to happen. They gave me and her the opportunity to have the fight. For me, it brings me back to my country, to Curitiba, my city, and now I’m very excited for this fight. There’s not a lot of girls who ask for a rematch and it’s been five years. I’m much better than before, she’s probably better, too. It’s gonna be a great fight.
“But it’s a different chapter now. When we fought in the UFC, she accepted it at 140 [pounds], and I think she was fighting at 135. So it’s different now, she’s at 145, she’s getting wins, she’s been getting prepared. So I think it’s a different time. I wasn’t really surprised they made the fight, I just had to be ready to see who would fight me for the championship. I have to be ready [for her].”
Cyborg signed with Bellator following her UFC 240 win against Felicia Spencer in July 2019. The former UFC champ captured Bellator gold in her promotional debut when she defeated Julia Budd via fourth-round TKO at Bellator 238 in January 2020. She would go on to successfully defend her title in October, submitting Arlene Blencowe in the second round at Bellator 249.
Smith, who also signed with Bellator after a rocky fallout with the UFC, is 2-1 in her three bouts with the promotion, earning decision wins over Sinead Kavanagh and Amanda Bell, the latter earning her a championship opportunity.
Many times in MMA when there’s talks of a rematch following a dominant result in the first bout, fighters will ask themselves how they can do it better the second time around. For Cyborg, she sees more time for dominance having a potential 25 minutes to make her presence felt.
“I feel like, in my mind, now I have five rounds to finish the fight,” Cyborg explained. “I know it’s my division, but the last time, I was cutting all that [extra] weight, but this time, I know I can handle it for all the rounds. So it’s a different mindset for the fight. I know I have five rounds this time. If I finish it faster this time, then great. But I’m ready for all five rounds.
“And Leslie Smith, she’s a very, very tough girl, and people who watch her know that. Everyone knows I have the heart of a warrior, too. So there’s gonna be a lot of violence, so you guys should get excited to watch this fight.”