Rivalries: Cristiane Justino

By Brian Knapp May 18, 2021

No woman has accomplished more as a mixed martial artist than reigning Bellator MMA women’s featherweight champion Cristiane Justino.

“Cyborg” will defend her 145-pound title when she rematches Leslie Smith in the Bellator 259 headliner on Friday at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. Justino, who enters the cage on the strength of a three-fight winning streak, needed just 81 seconds to close out Smith with punches at UFC 198 five years ago. The 35-year-old Brazilian last appeared at Bellator 249, where she submitted Arlene Blencowe with a rear-naked choke in the second round of their Oct. 15 main event.

As Justino approaches her second encounter with Smith, a look at some of the rivalries that have helped shape her remarkable career:

Gina Carano

A sizzling crowd of 13,976 greeted Justino and Carano at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, California, where they faced one another for the inaugural Strikeforce women’s featherweight championship on Aug. 15, 2009. “Cyborg” swarmed Carano with punches out of the gate, threatened with a heel hook, scrambled to her back and fished for a rear-naked choke. The exchange brought the building to a boil, but it was not the end. Carano rallied, executed a takedown and briefly climbed to full mount. However, she surrendered the position in order to stand—a decision that all but sealed her fate. “Cyborg” cut loose with power punches from close range and delivered a takedown of her own with roughly a minute to go in the first round. She settled in half guard, made a pass at a keylock and then repositioned herself above Carano. Standing-to-ground punches forced the American into the fetal position, and Justino closed her out with burst of unanswered blows, forcing the stoppage 4:59 into Round 1.

Marloes Coenen

Justino laid claim to the inaugural Invicta Fighting Championships featherweight title when she put away Coenen with punches and elbows in the fourth round of their Invicta 6 main event on July 13, 2013 at the Ameristar Casino Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri. Coenen succumbed to blows 4:02 into Round 4, an admirable effort having fallen short. Justino—who had beaten “Rumina” to retain the Strikeforce women’s featherweight championship in 2010—methodically weakened her counterpart with power punches, takedowns and damaging ground-and-pound across the first three rounds of their rematch. A right hook floored Coenen in Round 1, and she he the deck again in the fourth. There, Justino finished the job. With Coenen foundering beneath her in a dazed state, “Cyborg” uncorked a volley of punches and elbows that prompted referee John McCarthy to act on the Dutchwoman’s behalf.

Holly Holm

Holm had the will but not the horsepower to go along with it. Justino powered through “The Preacher’s Daughter” across five rounds to retain the Ultimate Fighting Championship women’s featherweight title in the UFC 219 headliner on Dec. 30, 2017 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. “Cyborg” curried favor with all three judges by 49-46, 48-47 and 48-47 margins, even though it felt far more one-sided than the scores indicated. Holm landed her share of straight left hands and attempted to hold off the Brazilian with body kicks, blocked head kicks and clinches, often pushing her to the fence with double underhooks. However, it proved to be an exercise in futility. Justino routinely bashed the Jackson-Wink MMA stalwart with clubbing right hands, doing noticeable damage to her left eye in the process. She unveiled more and more weaponry as the fight drifted along, mixing in devastating knee strikes to the body in close quarters, a few head kicks of her own and a punishing jab for good measure.

Amanda Nunes

Nunes made history at the expense of a fellow all-time great in the UFC 232 co-main event on Dec. 29, 2018 in did so in utterly spectacular fashion. The American Top Team star blitzed Justino with punches and leveled the Brazilian with one final overhand right behind the ear to claim the undisputed featherweight championship and become the first woman to hold UFC titles in two weight classes simultaneously. Nunes brought it to a close just 51 seconds into the first round, the result sending shockwaves through the MMA world and those in attendance at The Forum in Inglewood, California. A left hook-right hook combination sent “Cyborg” into a tailspin from which she could not recover, as she suffered her first defeat since May 17, 2005.
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