Bellator 271: Is Now the Time for Kavanagh to Upset Cyborg?

Cris Cyborg and Sinead Kavanagh, Bellator 271
Cris Cyborg and Sinead Kavanagh, Bellator 271 face-off Credit: Lucas Noonan/Bellator MMA

Sinead Kavanagh will look to record a historic upset as she takes her turn against the legendary Cris Cyborg for the featherweight championship at Bellator 271.

Cris “Cyborg” Justino has been dominant for so long that the day her reign truly is over will mark the end of an era.  With title belts in every major promotion she has been a part of and only one loss in over a decade of being a professional, there is no question that Justino is the definition of a living legend in mixed martial arts.  So great is she that at 36 years old she is still regarded as one of the most dangerous forces in the sport and was signed to a lucrative deal by Bellator in 2019.

With such a reputation, often a fighter is judged not by their performance on any given night but how the performances compare to their body of work.  In May, Justino dominated Leslie Smith in a rematch of their fight from 2016.  Justino brutally stopped Smith years ago, and the fact that Smith was now 38  led many to believe that “Cyborg” would dominate once again.  Instead, Justino controlled the majority of the fight but needed nearly nearly all 25 minutes to finally get the finish.  Normally, it would be a successful night by most standards.  But the consensus second best female fighter in MMA history not being able to stop a nearly 40 year old challenger had many wondering if we may be seeing the beginning of a decline after so many years of intimidating dominance.

Sinead Kavanagh may be preparing for the best version of Cyborg, but one can’t deny she may indeed benefit from any advantage Father Time may grant.  A former boxer for the Irish national time alongside Katie Taylor and Kellie Harrington, “KO” is a 7-4 pro who has spent her entire professional career in either BAMMA or Bellator.  While she is coming off her career best victory against former title challenger Olga Rubin, Kavanagh has come up short against top contender Arlene Blencowe and prospects Leah McCourt and Janay Harding during her Bellator run.  With significantly less experience than the champion, it would be a colossal upset for Kavanagh to best Justino at this particular juncture of their careers.

While the numbers don’t favor Kavanagh, she is not lacking for confidence going into the biggest fight of her career.  It should come as no surprise.  She is a product of the Straight Blast Gym (SBG) that churned out none other than the sport’s most braggadocious superstar in Conor McGregor and her countryman James Gallagher.  Though she was not part of Bellator’s recent card in her home country, Kavanagh could bring great glory by bringing a major title back to Ireland and recording the most significant victory for SBG since the last victory by “The Notorious.”

Justino on paper should be able to handle business at mid-range and use her reach and athleticism to outwork the more physical Kavanagh.  The champion does her best work when controlling the tempo in the outer circle inside the cage so Kavanagh will need to come forward with a high volume and multi-faceted attack early to force Justino out of her game.  While a prolonged brawl is not recommended, forcing Justino back and going for takedowns against the fence will be the best route for Kavanagh to tire the champion.

The women’s featherweight division is currently awaiting a potential shake up.  Bellator is expected to make a pitch for current PFL star Kayla Harrison in a move that would bring a major player for Friday’s winner.  Should the two-time gold medalist not sign with the company, contenders such as Pam Sorenson and Cat Zingano remain the most likely options and would be new opponents for both Justino and Kavanagh.