Cristiane Justino is finally about to get her stab at the belt of a UFC division that she was basically responsible for creating.
But the road to get here was anything but smooth.
First, many wondered if the former Invicta FC featherweight champ would ever make it into the UFC octagon at all. That happened, but it took compromise – she’d have to make a tough 140-pound catchweight limit. Twice. All the while, Justino made her weight struggles known. She spoke up about the UFC’s failure in promoting her. And she pushed for the creation of her own division.
“Cyborg” once again got her wish, but even that took a weird turn. When she was unable to make the turnaround that the promotion had in mind for its initial title fight, she was left out of it. All the while, UFC President Dana White made his difficulties in dealing with the Brazilian fighter clear. And she always fired back.
Finally unblocked on Instagram, ‘Cyborg’ Justino looks forward to working with Dana White, UFC
On July 29, at UFC 214, Justino (17-1 MMA, 2-0 UFC) finally gets her UFC title shot when she meets Invicta FC bantamweight champ Tonya Evinger (19-5 MMA, 0-0 UFC) for the vacant 145-pound belt. White has already admitted to a lot of wrongdoing when it comes to the long-reigning featherweight queen. And, at least for now, the two seem to have come to somewhat of a truce.
Through it all, was the vocal “Cyborg” ever afraid her willingness to speak up would hinder her career?
It doesn’t seem like it.
“I can’t be just another one in the UFC,” Justino said on Tuesday. “If I say amen to everything people say, I’ll be just another one. And I never wanted to be just another one. I want to make a difference. I want to improve this sport. I want to be remembered by the other athletes not only as the world champion, but as someone who made a difference.
“I try to fight for improvements for fighters, the same way I fought for women to have more divisions. I’ll keep fighting whenever I think something’s wrong, even if it might hurt me. I’m in there to make a difference. I’m not there just for status. Giving things to me just to keep me quiet? No, I believe that doesn’t corrupt me.
“I believe in making the sport better. I’m an athlete, and I know that I won’t fight forever. One day I won’t fight anymore, and what happens after that? I have to make things better for the athletes who come after me.”
UFC 214, which features three title fights, takes place at Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. The main card airs on pay-per-view following prelims on FXX and UFC Fight Pass.
Ahead of the bout, Justino spoke to Brazilian reporters about numerous topics. One part of the chat, in which she addresses the rocky division, original UFC 214 opponent Megan Anderson and ex-champ Germaine De Randamie, can be checked out here.
For ‘Cyborg’ Justino, UFC 214 scrap for vacant belt is actually a title defense
For additional thoughts on filling the void left by former champion Ronda Rousey (12-2 MMA, 6-2 UFC), the matchup with Evinger and a possible scrap with ex-champ Holly Holm (11-3 MMA, 4-3 UFC), as well as a (very) brief update on the situation with Angela Magana (11-8 MMA, 0-2 UFC), check out the translation below.
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With Ronda Rousey out of the picture, do you think a title win at UFC 214 would solidify your as the face of women’s MMA?
Justino: I believe women’s MMA can’t be about a single face. There are many athletes in the UFC. What happened was, they made Ronda the face of MMA, and when she lost, which she did twice, she didn’t want to come back. It’s about all the women who are in there, not just a face. When you make it about one face and the person leaves, you miss that. When I carry my belt, I’ll be representing all women. The same way women in the UFC are representing all women in MMA. I think it’s bad when you make MMA about one face. MMA is about all women.
Any updates on the legal situation after you “attacked” Angela Magana at the 2017 UFC athlete summit?
Justino: She attacked me, as well. There are many types of attacks. My lawyer is handling it. I have nothing to say. When I have more information, I’ll share with you. But my lawyer is handling it.
Thoughts on Evinger saying she’s your toughest challenge yet?
Justino: I think she’s been showing a lot of courage for taking this fight on short notice. She’s a great opponent. She has many fights. She’s experienced. I believe she’ll be more work than Megan Anderson (because she’s had) more time in the cage. Let’s see. Things are different in the octagon. Everyone has a plan going in there, but after the first punch that changes.
Considering Evinger is coming in from a lighter division, do you agree that you’re the favorite coming into the fight?
Justino: I believe Tonya taking this fight saved us. It was last minute, a month before. It was very irresponsible of Megan Anderson to accept the fight and not have the documents in order to fight. Thankfully, Tonya Evinger accepted it. I believe you have to respect your opponent, and a fight is a fight. You can’t judge it before it happens. You have to be ready for whatever may happen. Whenever someone goes in the octagon with me, I never see it as an easy fight. I see that I need to be prepared for five rounds. The win or the loss will be God’s will. I just need to give it my best in there.
Who might be next after Evinger?
Justino: Since Holly Holm fought for the 145-pound belt, I believe it’d be a good fight. The fans would like it. She’s a striker. She likes standup. I like standup. Why not? It could be my next fight. I know she’s up there for the 135-pound belt. Maybe if she fights for it, or wins the belt – though I believe it stays with Amanda (Nunes, current UFC bantamweight champ). If that opportunity comes up, it’s a fight that I think all fans would like to watch. Who knows?
Do you think there is such a thing as fighters being scared of certain fights or opponents?
Justino: I believe some athletes are scared. But they have to work on that. Athletes can’t be scared. Scared of what? Losing? Anyone can lose. Some days you win, and some days you lose. We’re in a sport in which it’s impossible for both fighters to come out victorious. You need to give it your best, train and leave it in God’s hands. It’s insecurity. But losing is not the end of the world. It happens to everyone, naturally. But you have to be prepared to give it your best. If the other person is better that day, they’re going to win. If you’re a fighter, you can’t lose – you can lose a battle, and not the war. You need to keep going. That’s what the fans like: overcoming. Getting back out there and winning again. That’s what makes athletes grow, and that’s what makes the fans follow you – overcoming adversity.
Your contract with the update has been reported to expire in October. Do you have any plans when it comes to that? Do you feel that, with that deadline approaching, there’s more pressure on your next fight?
Justino: I’m thinking about this fight now. If I’m happy, I’ll keep working with them. There’s no reason why I wouldn’t. (But) as far as my opponent goes, I don’t think there’s pressure. I need to be ready to fight at my best. And I always leave it in God’s hands. If His plan is for me to win the belt and the fight, I’ll win. If that’s not His plan, it’s OK. I’m prepared. I don’t see it as added pressure on me. I see myself as the champ. I’ll defend my belt. But there’s no pressure. I have to train, to be ready, give it my best inside the octagon and leave the win in God’s hands.
You’re already looking slimmer on social media this time. How’s the weight coming along?
Justino: I think these three years I’ve been cutting to make the (140-pound) catchweight helped a little in staying lighter. It made it easier for my (145-pound) division. It’s not easy, but I believe I’ve been getting better with my diet every day. I’ve learned a lot in these three years of dieting. Now it’s a lot more professional. I’m very happy with the results. I’m working and training well, training happy. My last weight cuts, of course, were a good opportunity for me to showcase my work. But I wasn’t going into training happy. The people in my camp are a lot happier that I’m in my division now. I’m happy in training, I’m eating a little more. And I’m enjoying it more. I love my job, so going to the gym (while I’m) happy is a different vibe.
Despite the weight difficulties, would you ever consider trying for a two-division championship?
Justino: Only if they open my division at 155 pounds (laughs).
For more on UFC 214, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.