When featherweight juggernaut Cris Cyborg left the UFC in 2019, the allure of her joining Bellator was having a proper 145lb division around her.
Dana White and co. had never properly invested in the division (nor have they now that Amanda Nunes rules the roost). Instead, the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s idea of a 145lb “division” for women was essentially a string of one-off fights, with just enough action to produce the odd contender.
That thinly veiled cash grab is now a thing of the past for Cyborg. On Thursday, she made the first defense of her Bellator featherweight championship against Arlene Blencowe. The Australian entered off three straight wins in the division, and was no stranger to title fights, having previously challenged Julia Budd for gold.
Heading into the fight, Blencowe had suggested the key to victory was to “put it back on” Cyborg. Blencowe was certainly willing the stand with the Brazilian, but with her size advantage, Cyborg landed the heavier strikes, then tied things up and put Blencowe against the cage. Cyborg’s leg kicks were not to be overlooked either. With ninety seconds remaining in round one, Blencowe was on the ground, the champion on her back. Blencowe attempted to escape out the back, and eventually got back to her feet, only to eat some kicks to the body in a final exchange.
The second round opened with some nasty Cyborg leg kicks, and Blencowe soon found herself under fire. Backing up against the cage, she covered up after eating a number of heavy punches from the champ. Cyborg then put Blencowe on her back, and had soon moved to mount. Arlene Blencowe was bloodied, and Cyborg added in an elbow or two. Blencowe turned, giving up her back. Cris Cyborg locked in a rear-naked choke, and seconds later had the first rear-naked choke victory of her career.
Realistically, Blencowe never got out of first gear, and certainly wasn’t able to put it back on the champ. Instead, Cyborg brought the fight to her for most of the affair.
Where does Cris Cyborg go from here? With the first successful defense of her featherweight title, she has options. Cat Zingano leads the pack, but there’s also a potential rematch with Julia Budd. Sinead Kavanagh and Leslie Smith (who Cyborg defeated in the UFC) are outliers. There’s also the possibility of a boxing super-fight. However, that may end up on hold until the coronavirus pandemic winds down.
Official Result: Cris Cyborg def. Arlene Blencowe by submission (rear-naked choke), Round 2, 2:36