• Andrew Starc

Cris Cyborg – The (Dope) Queen of MMA

On 29 December 2018, when Amanda Nunes’ fist careened into Cris Cyborg’s temple, plunging the Brazilian face-first to the canvas at The Forum in Los Angeles, it was the end of an era.

The scariest woman in MMA, unbeaten in 21 fights and famous for bullying her opponents in the Octagon, was finally conquered.

For years, Cris Cyborg seemed invincible.

With a body of an East-German Olympic shot putter, a face like a bad Halloween mask, and a voice approaching the gravelly tones of Louis Armstrong, the Brazilian was considered the undisputed Baddest Woman on the Planet.

Cyborg not only rag-dolled and mauled her opponents, but made them question the wisdom of choosing a career in MMA – one leading to the unfortunate fate of being locked in a cage with a woman who looks like the alpha male of a maximum security prison.

Hers was an era of terrifying dominance – an unbeaten streak spanning 13 years, two doping violations and five promotions, including Strikeforce, Invicta FC and the UFC.

Cris Cyborg vs Gina Carano – Becoming Strikeforce's first women's champion

After tasting defeat in her MMA debut, Cyborg went on to plow through a gauntlet of haplessly ill-matched women, before fighting for her first world title in 2009 against no. 16 in that year's Maxim Hot 100 list, Gina Carano.

Relentlessly stalking Carano down like a lion its prey, the Brazilian ended the fight – and Carano's career – by pummelling the American's head into the canvas. So brutalised was Carano that the 27-year-old soon quit MMA for Hollywood.

Cris Cyborg had made history – becoming Strikeforce's first women's featherweight champion.

Below: Gina Carano reconsiders her fight career amidst punishing blows from Cyborg.

Cyborg first title defence was against Dutchwoman Marloes Coenen – a fight that looked like a big brother dispensing a beat-down on his little sister. So intimidating had Cyborg become that her next slated opponent, Erin Toughill, opted to retire from MMA rather than face a reckoning with the Brazilian.

Cyborg instead faced Jan Finney, whom the Brazilian easily dominated, at one point holding the cowering American down with one hand whilst landing savage strikes at will.

In a different class – and for some of her less polite detractors, possibly gender – to her opponents, Cyborg's reign aloft Strikforce's women's division appeared unassailable. Only her own doing, it seemed, could knock the Brazilian off her perch.

And that's exactly what happened.

Doping violation and industry scorn

In her third title defence Cyborg obliterated Japanese Hiroko Yamanaka in just 16 seconds. The fight was the human equivalent of siccing a roided Pitbull – antagonised by a life of being regularly prodded with a stick through the bars of its cage – onto a Chihuahua.

The result, however, was soon declared a no contest after the Brazilian pissed hot for anabolic steroid stanozolol, whose other well-known benefactors include Tim Sylvia, Jessica Andrade and baseball legend-turned-villain Barry Bonds.

Stripped of her title and license for a year, Cyborg's detractors were vindicated for long-held suspicions surrounding the Brazilians gender-defying physique. These suspicions, and remarks about her masculine appearance, would dog Cyborg throughout her career.

Rhonda Rousey sneered that the Brazilian had "been on steroids so long she's not even a woman anymore," but rather, not to belabour the point, "an it."

UFC patriarch Dana White, whose own age-defying physical transformation from noodle-armed accountant to hulking mafia enforcer make him no stranger to steroid rumours, likened Cyborg's appearance to "Wanderlei Silva in a dress and heels."

Even Joe Rogan joked that Cyborg had a penis.

Cris Cyborg vs Marloes Coenen 2 – Back to domination

Returning from performance-enhanced exile, Cyborg joined Invicta FC. In her second bout with the franchise, she captured the featherweight belt by defeating Marloes Coenen in a rematch no one saw going any other way. The Brazilian then went on a streak of four first-round wins – the last of which in her UFC debut.

In her third UFC fight, against Tonya Evinger, she captured her third featherweight strap in as many promotions. She was next tested, but ultimately unanimously decided as victorious, against stalwart Holly Holm.

Now undefeated in 21 fights – most of which were criminally liable mismatches – it seemed even on MMA's most elite stage that there were no women capable of challenging Cyborg.

Except one.

Cyborg vs Amanda Nunes – The biggest women's fight in history

The trappings of success are the downfall of many a champion, distracting from the intense focus and discipline required to remain number one.

Cyborg, it could be argued, was getting wrapped up in the lifestyle. From training with Halle Berry and inexplicably shadowboxing in a Bhad Bhabie rap video, to taking part in the asinine social media fad du jour – one resulting in a spectacular pratfall that almost seriously injured the Brazilian.

All this leading up to the greatest challenge of Cyborg's career – a showdown with long-reigning bantamweight queen Amanda Nunes.

Below: 33 year-old Cyborg appears incongruously amidst Bhad Bhabie's squad of troubled teens.

The fight – one of the most spectacular in UFC history – would finally decide who was the Baddest Woman on the Planet.

As Bruce Buffer's voice boomed across the venue, and the camera panned to each fighter, it was clear Cyborg had met her match. Nunes, moving up a weight class, looked as physically intimating, if not more so, than Cyborg.

For 50 seconds, fight fans witnessed one of the most vicious, entertaining exchanges of striking, with both throwing PTSD-inducing blows at a frenetic pace. Nunes, however, seemed the sharper, landing the more devastating blows on a wobbly-legged Cyborg.

Cris Cyborg – her features mashed and the world spinning around her – finally succumbed to one last devastating blow, dropping her unceremoniously to the canvas and ending her 21-fight unbeaten reign over women's MMA.

Now fighting in Bellator, and given the devastating fashion in which she lost, Cyborg will likely never again reach the heights of her UFC career.

However her legacy as one of the baddest, most intimidating women in history – albeit one complicated by doping – will live long.

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