It’s been an auspicious start to Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino’s UFC career. Her highly-anticipated bout with her old rival and former UFC bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey never materialized, so “Cyborg” continued dominating in Invicta FC and became that organization’s featherweight champion.
The UFC finally brought Justino on board last year, but her first two bouts were catchweights against Leslie Smith and Lina Lansberg. Now she’s finally getting a chance at UFC gold, but went from facing former featherweight champion Germaine de Randamie, to former Invicta featherweight champion Megan Anderson to now facing former Invicta bantamweight champion Tonya Evinger at UFC 214 on Saturday, July 29.
The meeting of two former Invicta champions on the biggest UFC card of the year, for a UFC title no less, presents a huge step forward for women’s mixed martial arts. Evinger is probably one of the toughest fighters in all of MMA who many people still don’t know about. Evinger backs down from no one and relishes a challenge. But will she have any better luck against the likely best female fighter in the world?
Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino
Strengths: It’s really no secret what “Cyborg” has in mind when she enters the cage. She wants to march you down, hammer fists down upon you and in all likelihood, put you to sleep. That’s pretty much what she’s done her entire career, to the tune of 15 knockouts out of her 17 overall wins. There really isn’t need for too much analysis beyond that. Justino is a powerful puncher – one of the most powerful in all of MMA, male or female. It doesn’t matter how tough you are or how good you are; if “Cyborg” catches you with her right hand, chances are it is lights out for you. That’s really all there is to it.
Weaknesses: It’s also really no secret that “Cyborg” doesn’t have many weaknesses. Her lone loss came in her very first pro fight in 2005, by submission. Evinger has seven submission victories on her resume, so is it possible that she could catch Justino unexpectedly and pull off what would be a huge upset? Sure. Is it likely? Well, I’m not really a betting man to start with. But it would be difficult for me to place a wager on that happening.
The only other real weakness in Justino’s game is the ongoing suspicion surrounding her regarding the use of performance-enhancing drugs. A 2011 win for “Cyborg” was overturned after she failed a drug test. It appeared she might have failed another one after joining the UFC, but she was granted an exemption. But that, coupled with Justino’s muscular physique, hasn’t stopped the skeptics from doubting her legitimacy as a fighter.
Strengths: As I said before, Evinger is one of the toughest in all of MMA. You can count on her to always put on an entertaining performance, as she brings her best effort to the cage every time and does not back down from a good scrap. She combines great striking, with eight knockout wins, with a potent ground and submission game, where she’s achieved seven victories by submission. She’s knocked out or submitted some of the most well-known female fighters around, including Julie Kedzie, Ediane Gomes, Cindy Dandois and Irene Aldana. Evinger is one of the most well-rounded fighters in all of MMA, and her appearance in the Octagon is long overdue, frankly.
Weaknesses: Like “Cyborg,” Evinger seems to also have few weaknesses in her game. She hasn’t lost in roughly five years, and hasn’t been finished in a fight in nearly six. However, four of her five losses have come via submission, which could signal that she’s still a little vulnerable on the ground. While Justino is a powerful and dangerous striker, she’s also a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. If Evinger decided against trading strikes with “Cyborg” and try a ground-based attack, she may regret that choice.
Evinger’s toughness is tremendous asset as well, but it could hinder her somewhat against Justino. If Evinger takes more punishment than she needs to in order to prove she can trade punches with “Cyborg,” then Evinger’s pride may result in her suffering her first knockout loss. She has to play it smart against Justino, and not get drawn into a slugfest.
I’m sure most everyone is going to pick “Cyborg” to win, and it’s easy to see why. Simply put, she’s probably the best female fighter in all MMA and doesn’t seem to have an equal. But I wouldn’t underestimate Evinger, at all. There’s something to be said for a fighter with no fear. Evinger doesn’t fear Cyborg. She’s not going to be defeated mentally before she steps into the Octagon, like I’m sure many of Justino’s previous opponents were. Evinger is not easily intimidated, and will not be that way on Saturday. If anyone has the guts and heart to take “Cyborg” the distance, which hasn’t happened since 2008, it’s Evinger.
All that said, I just think this is finally “Cyborg’s” time to taste UFC gold for the first time and finally showcase herself to a mainstream audience. Evinger is just a tough, tough, tough fighter. But Justino is who she is for a reason. This will fight will definitely entertain, and it will end with “Cyborg” having her hand raised in victory.
Winner: Justino by TKO
Image Credit: UFC.com