She's been competing and dominating in mixed martial arts for 15 years. She's had 25 fights, and seen her hand raised in victory 22 times. She's won the world title in the four major organizations for which she has fought.
There's little left for Cris Cyborg Justino to accomplish in MMA. Still, at age 35, she remains motivated to continue walking to the cage and challenging herself in front of whoever they put in front of her. This time, on Thursday night, inside the Bellator cage at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, it will be Arlene Blencowe as the name opposite Cyborg as she defends her Bellator featherweight title for the first time.
"I always think in my mind I’m the No. 1 contender, always," Justino said Tuesday. "I’m going to fight to get my title. And I always think this way. I think this way motivates me every time, every morning when I wake up."
It seems to have worked quite well for her so far. Justino (22-2, 1 no contest) won the Strikeforce title in 2009 when she defeated Gina Carano in the first women's MMA event to headline a major promotion. In 2013, almost two years after Strikeforce was bought by the UFC and Justino served a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs, she won the Invicta FC title against Marloes Coenen. In 2017, Justino became the UFC featherweight champion when defeated Tonya Evinger for the vacant belt. And in January 2020, before the coronavirus pandemic changed the world, she added the Bellator title to her collection by stopping Julia Budd via TKO in the fourth round.
Along the way, the Brazilian Justino has faced and beaten virtually all the biggest names in her sport in or close to her division.Two notable exceptions: Amanda Nunes, who took Justino's featherweight title from her with a 51-second stoppage in December 2018, and former bantamweight star Ronda Rousey, against whom Justino never fought.
"I'm very stubborn for learning every day. And even if I win for a long time, I always like to learn and learn and learn to improve my game," Justino said. "And for me I feel very blessed to be where I'm at, you know, but it's hard work. It’s not just something happened one day, but years of work with hard training and just motivate me to keep improving my game."
Cyborg weighed in at 145 pounds on Wednesday, with Blencowe coming in at 144.5. Blencowe (13-7), on a three-fight win streak, lacks the name recognition of some former opponents. Still, Justino said she approaches this fight the same as any other.
"The first thing I feel like when you love a job, you dedicate the more you can. And I wake up in the morning happy," Justino said. "Every day, I try to the train the most I can. I want to train more than my opponent. This motivates me every morning."
Some Long Island flavor
The man with the fastest submission in Bellator history returns for his fifth pro bout. And Aviv Gozali is all of 19 years old. The undefeated Gozali (4-0), from Israel and the son of Israeli MMA pioneer Haim Gozali, will face Logan Neal in a welterweight prelim bout.
Gozali's four wins all have come via first-round submission, including an 11-second heel hook of Eduard Muravitskiy last year, but he now is training under Ray Longo at Longo and Weidman MMA in Garden City.
"He's got the skills, he just needs the fight time," said Longo, who guided Matt Serra and Chris Weidman to UFC titles. "He's got a bright future."
Bellator 249 main card, CBS Sports Network / DAZN, 10 p.m. Eastern
Women’s Featherweight World Title Bout: Cris “Cyborg” Justino (22-2) vs. Arlene Blencowe (13-7)
Lightweight Co-Main Event: Patricky “Pitbull” Freire (23-9) vs. Jaleel Willis (13-2)
Bantamweight Feature Bout: Ricky Bandejas (13-4) vs. Leandro Higo (19-5)
Lightweight Feature Bout: Saad Awad (23-13) vs. Mandel Nallo (7-1)
Bellator 249 prelims, Bellator MMA’s YouTube Channel / DAZN, 7 p.m.
Middleweight Bout: Curtis Millender (18-6) vs. Joe Schilling (4-6)
Heavyweight Bout: Steve Mowry (7-0) vs. Shawn Teed (6-2-1)
Middleweight Bout: Andrew Kapel (15-7) vs. Joseph Creer (7-1-1)
Welterweight Bout: Kyle Crutchmer (6-0) vs. Kemran Lachinov (9-2)
Light Heavyweight Bout: Christian Edwards (3-0) vs. Hamza Salim (5-3)
140-Pound Contract Weight Bout: Mike Kimbel (3-2) vs. Da’mon Blackshear (7-3)
Welterweight Bout: Aviv Gozali (4-0) vs. Logan Neal (1-0)
Welterweight Bout: Albert Gonzales (1-2) vs. Kastroit Xhema (3-4, 1 NC)