Cris Cyborg was on the verge of clearing out Bellator’s featherweight division barely a year after arriving in the promotion.
On Friday night at Bellator 259, Cyborg was set to make her second title defense. Wins over Julia Budd and Arlene Blencowe had started her run in the promotion; next up, a rematch with fellow UFC ex-pat Leslie Smith.
A win over Smith would leave only Cat Zingano and perhaps Leah McCourt as credible contenders at 145lbs. But Cyborg has never been one to look past an opponent, and “The Peacemaker” was clearly in her sights Friday.
Unlike many of Cris Cyborg’s fights, the Bellator 259 main event made it to round five Friday night. Which was impressive in itself, and perhaps a small badge of honor for the game Leslie Smith.
The pair faced off at center to open the bout, Cyborg steadily marching forward, throwing hard and forcing Smith to clinch. The second exchange saw a volley of lefts and rights from the champ; Smith covered up and survived the attack. Cyborg mixed in a body kick at range, and went to the body with a right hand. That body kick would show itself again moments later. Smith, meanwhile was surviving, but unable to make a dent in terms of offense of her own. Her attacks were turning into looping hail Mary punches, and before long, Cyborg had Smith down off a 1-2 that connected.
From there, the champ went to work on the ground. As ferocious in the ground n’ pound department as she was on the feet, Cyborg landed some heavy blows, but Smith would survive the round.
The second saw Cris Cyborg on the attack again, targeting the body. Once again, Smith struggled to get her own offence going, too often firing back blindly after Cyborg’s attacks. Cyborg’s left hand was sneaking around Smith’s guard, hitting the side of the head more than once. The round belonged to Cyborg, but Smith had already made it far beyond the point she had in the pair’s fist meeting back in 2016.
Round three had Smith pressing forward early, but Cyborg caught a kick, landed the takedown, and nearly took the back. A scramble by Smith kept her out of harm’s way, however. A short time later, Smith herself would try to find a takedown off a kick, but Cyborg’s balance proved up to the job. Smith did land a stiff jab; Cyborg landed a low kick on the challenger. The third frame was no doubt the best yet for Leslie Smith, but it still ended with Cyborg knocking her off balance and controlling from the back.
Heading into round four, Smith was going to need to turn up the heat. If the plan was to drag Cyborg into deep waters, she seemed to be swimming well enough, still bringing the fight to the challenger. Once again, Cyborg would land a punch that sent Smith off-balance and to the ground briefly. If not a clean knockdown, it was another sign of who was in control. Cyborg finished the round with a combo followed by a takedown, well up on the scorecards heading into the fifth.
Smith unquestionably needed a finish to win gold Friday. And she fought like it early in round five, pushing the pace and bringing the fight to the champ. But Cyborg was fresh, and still deadly. Her kicks, her hands were still a threat. It became apparent that Smith simply wasn’t going to be able to put the champ away — and instead, it was Cyborg with a late knockdown, which led to her swarming Smith, getting the stoppage in the final ten seconds of the round!
Smith will get high marks for heart and durability, but once again, it was Cris Cyborg with her hand raised at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT on Friday night. Next up, Cat Zingano, a fight Cyborg called for after the victory.
Official Result: Cris Cyborg def. Leslie Smith by TKO, Round 5, 4:51