If all goes as planned, Cristiane Justino’s Octagon debut could lay the foundation for a long-term future in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Jason Parillo, Justino’s boxing coach, believes that an impressive showing by Justino against Leslie Smith at UFC 198 might plant the seed for a 145-pound division in the Las Vegas-based promotion. The May 14 bout between “Cyborg” and Smith will be at 140-pound catch-weight, however, and even that cut could prove difficult for the Brazilian knockout artist.
“Our biggest opponent I think is the scale,” Parillo said during an appearance on the Sherdog Radio Network’s "TJ and the Tooth” show. “When the crowd sees that energy that Cris brings into the cage and the ability to finish the fight at any given moment, it’s so exciting to watch. I’m hoping it’ll open doors to the idea of a 145-pound division.
“Cris is doing a great job. She’s working with George Lockhart, spending day in and day out making the weight cut…We don’t want to get into Leslie’s fight, some type of brawl, ugly style fight,” he added. “If we don’t cut weight properly and our gas tank isn’t proper [that could be an issue]. Cris is in tremendous shape, but we haven’t been down to 140. This fight isn’t at 145 and I know what a struggle that is, so 140 in itself is gonna be a whole other animal.”
Justino, who is currently the Invicta Fighting Championships featherweight queen, campaigned for a spot on the UFC 198 bill. Now, her showdown with Smith will be on the pay-per-view main card, and she will compete in front of more than 50,000 people in her home country. “Cyborg” hasn’t fought in Brazil since Nov. 25, 2006. Still, the pressure to succeed shouldn’t be any greater than usual.
“She’s gonna feel the pressure like any human being. At the end of the day she’s determined. She’s been a champion for 10 years now. She’s been a champion training like a contender now for a long time,” Parillo said. “This is the moment that Cris deserves. There’s going to be more moments for her in the future. She wants people to know who she is. Is she gonna feel the pressure? 100 percent. Is she going to feel the pressure of 50,000 people? Who wouldn’t? Is she going to react in the right way? I believe 100 percent she is going to react the right way with this pressure. She controls her emotions. She’s got experience. Cris is a girl that’s been waiting for this moment and visualizing this moment for a long time. She’s going to handle it just fine.”
More importantly, Justino will have to put forth a vintage performance against Smith, an undersized opponent who in the past has competed at 125 pounds in Invicta.
“Leslie’s a little bit wild. I look at her as more of a brawling type. The fight that I’ve watched, she’ll throw some kicks and she’s a little wild. Sometimes fighting a wild girl or a wild guy can be more difficult than fighting a fundamentally sound fighter,” Parillo said. “She’s a little bit more unpredictable. It’s hard to guess what somebody’s going to do if it looks like they don’t know what they’re going to do sometimes. One of her strongest attributes is her durability and her toughness, and she’ll sit there and fight with Cris.”
Considering that Justino has been mentioned as a potential foe for the likes of Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate and Holly Holm, she will be expected to dominate against the less-heralded Smith. Justino hasn’t lost a fight since her pro debut in 2005, and four of her last five official victories have come inside of a round. No one has come close to being competitive against her.
“That’s where the pressure lies. She has to win in a fashionable way,” Parillo said. “If she goes in and gets in a dogfight and wins a three-round decision against a girl like Leslie Smith, that’s not gonna be a good look for us It’s not a bad look. Every win’s a win, but to open the door to thoughts of 145 we want to see her win in a high fashion. Realistically with the company you’ve got to give them a reason to open up that division.
“Cris Cyborg is a great reason, and she can generate a tremendous amount of money. She’s just amazing to watch. She makes noise. The crowd anticipates when she walks out. You’ll see in this next fight. It’ll be a blessing to see a 145 pound class open up.”