LAS VEGAS – Well, Cris “Cyborg” Justino did away with the outdated notion that she simply overpowered her opponents.
Faced with an opponent in Holly Holm whom she could not trample and simply overpower like she’d done to so many fighters previously, Justino showed the skill, cardio and fighting mind she needed to carry her to a grueling unanimous decision victory.
Justino had never gone longer than 4:10 of the fourth round, but she was firing hard shots and chasing Holm down in the fifth as if she went 25 hard minutes all the time.
Judges had it 48-47 twice and 49-46 for the champion, who said she’d like to challenge Megan Anderson next.
There aren’t many options yet because the UFC hasn’t signed many fighters to its featherweight division, but Justino proved on Saturday that she is the complete package.
A three-weight boxing champion who had won the UFC women’s bantamweight title with a 2015 knockout of Ronda Rousey, Holm circled and made Justino use every bit of her skills.
Oddly, Holm moved to her left, and into Justino’s power hand, for much of the night. That allowed Justino to fire straight rights, but she varied her game and not only punched in combination, but came back with knees and kicks.
Holm, who has won seven of her 11 MMA fights with kicks, kept firing that familiar kick to the head that shocked so many 25 months ago when she ended the Rousey legend with it in Australia.
Justino was schooled well and blocked it nearly every time. The high kicks that Holm landed were never fully flush and didn’t have the power behind them that she can bring.
Both fighters were marked up and Justino’s nose was bleeding early from a crunching straight left by Holm. But Justino never panicked nor got out of her game plan.
She kept stalking forward, looking for a big shot, but when the opening wasn’t there, she raked Holm with hard combinations.
Holm’s left eye was a mess and she could barely see out of it by the third round. When the fight ended and ring announcer Bruce Buffer called Justino the winner, Holm threw her head back and looked skyward.
She knew she’d done about all she could do – other than moving toward Justino’s power, it was hard to find fault with anything she did – but it wasn’t enough.
Hopefully, the UFC can make a concerted effort to fill the division with the best featherweights so we can see how good Justino truly is. She’s dominated in the past with her sheer size, as she often walks around at 155.
On a night though when her size alone wasn’t enough, Justino showed she had the full package and proved herself an elite champion.
More UFC 219 coverage from Yahoo Sports:
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• Unbeaten Khabib dominates Barboza in violent win
• What’s next for Cyborg after defeating Holm?