Coach Jason Parillo believes his star pupil Cristiane Justino was her own worst enemy against Amanda Nunes in their title fight at UFC 232, as she disrespected the ability of the featherweight champion in allowing herself to be drawn into a brawl.
The champ-versus-champ superfight -- the first of its kind between female fighters in the Ultimate Fighting Championship -- ended in a stunning first-round finish, with Nunes knocking out the favored “Cris Cyborg” in 52 seconds. After Nunes landed the killer blow and the referee called a stoppage to the fight, Parillo could be seen cageside, holding his face in reaction to what had just transpired.
Parillo spoke to MMA Junkie after the fight and said he had a fear that “Cyborg” would go out there to try and take out Nunes with reckless abandon.
“I saw Cris go out there and beat herself,” Parillo said. “I’ve said it in many interviews before, and it was always my biggest concern, which is her just going for broke, losing the plot and swinging wild. Just going back to old school Cyborg. Because I told her that the higher we climb the ladder, we’re not going to be able to get away with this style. We need to think a little bit more and stay behind the jab.”
Just 24 seconds into the fight, Nunes landed a leg kick on “Cyborg” which appeared to hit a switch on the former featherweight queen, who went straight onto the attack putting herself in harm’s way.
“I know Cris. I know my fighter and saw the way she reacted to that leg kick when it hit her,” Parillo explained. “Instead of moving out and staying behind her jab, she went for broke off the get-go and got caught doing it.
“It was very much ‘oh no you didn’t,’ and she just started swinging for the fences,” Parillo added. “Cris went straight disrespect mode, like she can walk down anybody, but she was in there with a skillful fighter who has a really good punch. That’s how maybe Cris was going to get beaten, against someone who has the fortitude to be able to sit in there with that aggressive style. You have to respect Amanda for that.”
Parillo says the loss for “Cyborg” -- her first in 13 years -- is a good wakeup call and a reminder that high-level fighters such as Nunes are capable of exploiting any mistake. Despite the loss, Parillo says Justino is still motivated and that she still has “fire in her heart.”
“Not losing for 13 years, being as dominant as she has, that all adds to the pressure,” Parillo said. “She’s still one of the greatest fighters out there, and her career is not over, but this is a loss, and we lose in this game. It’s about how you handle it.
“Cris and I have talked and texted every day since the fight and, because she has been dominating all these years, this is a new feeling for her, but she still has that fire in her heart,” Parillo continued. “This is essentially a brand new feeling for her, so everything I say has to be sensitive to that. But harsh truths are also what’s going to make you better, sharper and smarter. This is an experience she has to get through, to prove who she is, and I know she will.”
Parillo said he’s been assessing their game plan since the loss to see if there were improvements to improve regarding Cyborg’s focus going into the fight.
“I’ve thought a lot about what happened over the camp, how our mentality has changed a little bit because our mental game has been going strong for a long time now,” Parillo said. “I’ve been thinking about what I could have changed to keep her more focused and her mind where it needed to be. This is my livelihood so, when you lose, you’ve got to think about this stuff.
“Cris likes to do a lot of different things and train at a lot of different places, and sometimes I might think there are too many chefs in the kitchen,” Parillo added. “I’m not saying that’s what it is but, when you’re on top, everybody wants to be a part of you. You start letting other fighters, sparring partners, managers, and coaches talk to you – everybody and their mother. But you’re better at fighting than everyone that’s talking to you, yet you’re listening to them.
“But that’s always what happens when you’re on top, particularly if you’re kind to everyone around you, and you’re letting them all in the door,” he continued. “Is that what’s to blame for the loss? I don’t know, but we’re making that the past, and we’re going to focus on the future.”
Parillo claims the loss has a silver lining as fans will now get to see the other side of the Brazilian’s personality instead of seeing the serial winner who dominates every opponent put in front of her.
“The positive thing I’m taking out of this fight is that people are going to finally get to see Cris Cyborg’s personality,” Parillo said. “When they’re always winning, you don’t always get to see that personality – you just take them for being winners or one of the baddest people on the planet.
“I don’t think the fans or people in the industry would ever get to see who Cris Cyborg is without her first losing a fight like this,” Parillo added. “If you saw the way Cris embraced Amanda, how humble she was about her loss, that’s Cris Cyborg.”
Despite Nunes stating she’d like to defend her bantamweight belt next, Parillo believes the 145-pound division is uncovering more talent and “MMA math” means there will be some exciting match-ups in the future.
“I’m hoping it opens up the division and creates more opponents,” he said. “You’ve got to remember that Cat Zingano beat Amanda, and Megan Anderson just beat Zingano. So, now there’s a little mix going on at 145 pounds, and that’s the way we’ve got to look at it.
“We’re not going to leave the UFC,” Parillo concluded. “We’re going to stay there, plug away and get back the title that Cris had. She has the time and ability to do it.”