Women’s MMA icon Cris Cyborg returns to the Bellator cage on Saturday night to make the fourth defense of her featherweight title, and it could be her last bout before heading back into free agency.
On April 23 in Honolulu, Hawaii Cris “Cyborg” Justino will face top contender Arlene Blencowe at Bellator 279 in a rematch of the pairs bout from October 2020. The booking is a major moment. Not only because it is the latest installment in the Hulk-smash career of Cris “Cyborg” Justino, but because it could be the last time the organization gets to promote one of her fights.
Earlier this year, the former UFC featherweight champion revealed that she only has “one or two fights” left on her Bellator contract. And that she would be done with her deal this summer. As much as fight deals are about agreed-to-bouts, they are also about time, and her contract could very well be finished in just a few months, and not require another bout before then.
Earlier this week, the MMA great said she still pines for a rematch with her UFC championship counterpart Amanda Nunes. Opening the door to the idea of her fighting for another promotion soon. Assuming “Cyborg” does head back into the free-agent market, here are the five best fights for Justino outside of Bellator.
Vs. Amanda Nunes
As mentioned above, Justino still yearns to avenge her 2018 loss to “The Lioness” at UFC 232. It was the only time fans had ever seen Justino hurt, dominated, and finished in over a decade. And the fact that she hasn’t lost since adds to the intrigue of a second fight. After Nunes’ shocking loss to Julianna Pena in December, there is a vulnerability to her that we have seen in a long time.
While the 36-year-old wouldn’t be the favorite this time around, a much more human version of Nunes versus a vengeful and still very dangerous “Cyborg” would be an easy pay-per-view main event for the UFC. Assuming the promotion and their former employee can make up after ending their relationship on bad terms in 2019.
Vs. Kayla Harrison
A fight with PFL superstar Kayla Harrison was one of the most talked-about fights outside the UFC over the last few months. This is pretty amazing when you consider that Harrison was a free agent during that time. The two-time league champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist has made it known she wants to fight Justino and is very confident she could beat her. Well then let’s see it.
There has been scuttlebutt of late about possible co-promotion between the PFL and Bellator. That’s unlikely. The easiest route would be for Justino to sign with the league and get paid a boatload for a one-off fight against the league’s biggest name.
Vs. Gabi Garcia
Gabi Garcia is an imposing 200-pound mountain of muscle. She is also a gift Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner, but still very much a work-in-progress when it comes to MMA. She has competed in Japan for all of her fights because no women’s heavyweight division exists anywhere. Plus, it is the only place in the sport where a “freakshow” fight is something of a beloved tradition.
Nothing could be freakier and more fascinating than Garcia vs “Cyborg” in a matchup on Japanese soil. Surely, the BJJ champion would out weight her foe by at least 40 pounds, but Justino is many levels above Garcia as a fighter. Making this scrap like something you might see in a martial arts movie, where a smaller protagonist has an excellent chance of beating a much bigger foe.
Vs. Claressa Shields
A booking between Justino and two-time Olympic gold medalist Shields was suggested back when the 36-year-old was still a champion in the UFC. Now may be the perfect time for this one to finally happen. Be it in the PFL or with a boxing promotion. Yes, Shields has made the move to competing in MMA, but that wouldn’t be a fair fight after she’s only had two bouts in a cage.
Shields would be a serious favorite in a boxing matchup, but it would still be far more competitively appealing than an MMA fight. And if they did it in a cage with four-ounce gloves then even better. It would be a fantastic special attraction to have for the league’s planned debut on pay-per-view.
Vs. Julianna Pena
Julianna Pena shocked the world when she beat Nunes last year for the bantamweight title. Pena has already suggested moving up in weight and also taking Nunes’ featherweight belt. It’s unclear at which weight an expected Pena vs Nunes II bout will take place. But if it was at 145 pounds and The Ultimate Fighter winner were victories, Justino could be the next great challenge for “The Venezuelan Vixen.”