ANAHEIM, Calif. – It might be a while before the UFC women’s featherweight division hits its stride.
In the second bout in the division’s history, the legendary Cris “Cyborg” Justino claimed the belt vacated when Germaine de Randamie was stripped of it by stopping Tonya Evinger with a series of knees at 1:56 of the third round Saturday at the Honda Center.
Justino’s win was emphatic, but it wasn’t the dominant, jaw-dropping performance that she’d become known for, and which many expected to happen Saturday.
Her journey to get to the UFC was long and difficult, with much heartache along the way. She feuded with UFC president Dana White and with former women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, who was the face of the promotion and its biggest star.
The UFC didn’t even have a women’s featherweight division until earlier this year, when it was created for Justino, but then she didn’t take part in the first match at UFC 208. Justino said she needed more time to get ready after a tough weight cut last year.
De Randamie won the belt by defeating Holly Holm, but was stripped when she refused to defend against the power-punching Justino, whom she alleged might be using performance-enhancing drugs.
Justino was supposed to fight Megan Anderson on Saturday, but Anderson pulled out for personal reasons and the veteran Evinger stepped up.
Evinger fought smart and wasn’t fearful of Justino, but she didn’t have the size or the firepower to really do much with her. Evinger, who gave up her Invicta bantamweight title to move up in weight and fight Justino in the UFC, showed a strong chin early.
She also managed to take Justino down several times, but couldn’t do much for it.
And while it wasn’t the dramatic star-turn performance from Justino that many had hoped to see, there also aren’t a lot of serious challengers in that weight class.
So while Justino does have the potential to become a star, she needs a foil to play off of and that person, if it’s not Anderson, doesn’t seem to exist at this point.
Justino fought a technical and patient fight, refusing to engage with Evinger on the ground, where she excels, and taking her time setting up the punches.
The crowd, though, came to see her blow Evinger out and in that regard, she failed to deliver.
But there was enormous pressure on her to shine, given her past feuds with the organization and the belief among many experts that she was the finest female fighter in the world.
Still, she won in dominant fashion and was never in serious jeopardy, and it’s going to take a major effort from anyone to defeat her.
So, while a new champion was crowned, the women’s featherweight division is going to have to wait a while to get the shine that so many of the others have.
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