At long last, Cris "Cyborg" Justino is UFC champion.
Justino bolstered her longstanding reputation as the most violent woman in MMA on Saturday at UFC 214, dismantling Tonya Evinger en route to a third-round TKO to win the organization's vacant featherweight title.
The victory caps Justino's two-year search for UFC gold after signing with the company in March 2015. That delay seems outrageously long considering she's been near peerless throughout her 12-year, 20-fight career.
The UFC belt now becomes the crown jewel in a collection that also includes a Strikeforce championship and Invicta FC title. Justino has now captured every premiere featherweight championship available in women's MMA—and she's done it all without facing a serious challenge to her dominance.
"I am very happy and proud to own this belt, and it will be really hard to take it away from me," Justino said after the fight. "For the Cyborg Nation fans who were expecting the third belt, here it is."
If there was any drawback to her lopsided win over Evinger in Anaheim, California, it was that the fight contained precious few highlight moments. That's because Evinger lived up to her own billing as Justino's most formidable opponent in years, despite moving up from bantamweight and taking the fight as a late replacement.
Justino dropped Evinger to the canvas with a counter left hook seconds into the first round, but the exchange proved that, while Cyborg had a clear edge in strength, Evinger wasn't going to be easy to put away.
The smaller fighter remained game throughout the two-plus rounds she spent in the cage with Justino. Cyborg routinely punished Evinger's legs with low kicks, snapped her head back with punches and swatted her face with high kicks, but Evinger refused to yield.
Evinger had put her own Invicta FC bantamweight title on ice to step in here after Invicta featherweight champion Megan Anderson pulled out June 27, citing "personal reasons." She came in riding an 11-fight unbeaten streak and fulfilled her reputation as a wily and tough veteran.
Despite giving up significant size and power, Evinger succeeded in forcing Justino into the longest fight of her UFC career and the longest overall since 2013. Justino had no trouble finding a home for her venomous strikes, but every time she tried to finish Evinger with a flurry against the fence, the challenger would suck her into a clinch and slow her progress.
Without the stature necessary to consistently take Cyborg to the ground, however, it was a strategy that couldn't go on forever.
The end came early in the third round after Justino struck Envinger against the fence with a superman punch. This time as Evinger tried to clinch, Justino opened up with a series of knees to the head. Those shots sent Evinger crumpling to the canvas and prompted referee Mike Beltran to halt the action.
The stoppage itself was anticlimactic, but at least the unanimous pick for the best women's featherweight in the world finally had her title.
"I was very calm this time, calculating the right time to throw the right punches and kicks," Justino said. "I respect Tonya a lot. She is a hard fighter, and I hope she has a chance [at bantamweight]."
The road to the title wasn't always linear, nor was it easy for Justino. The UFC had no 145-pound female division when she inked her initial deal with the company, and so her first two fights in the Octagon were contested at 140-pound catchweights.
Along the way, she publicly beefed with UFC superstar Ronda Rousey and at times with company president Dana White. The relationship between Cyborg and the UFC softened a bit in the weeks leading up to UFC 214, and one of the most interesting storylines of her budding title tenure will be how long that honeymoon period lasts.
Her UFC deal is set to lapse in October, raising questions about what the fight company can or should do with her next:
Ariel Helwani @arielhelwani
Cyborg is one of the UFC's biggest stars. She has that superstar factor. They'd be wise to keep her and push her aggressively.2017-7-30 03:33:06
She has already established herself as a ruthless finisher and a decent drawing card but now helms a division that has been nothing but trouble since the UFC announced it in December 2016.
The company couldn't come to terms with Justino in time to include her in the inaugural featherweight title fight at UFC 208. It ended up wrapping the title around the waist of Germaine de Randamie after she defeated Holly Holm by unanimous decision.
Soon after that matchup was announced, news also broke that Justino faced a possible suspension after popping positive for a banned diuretic during an out-of-competition test. Two months later, Justino was retroactively granted a therapeutic-use exemption, and her suspension was waived.
Still, that mess postponed Justino's official featherweight debut, and in the meantime de Randamie's title reign went up in flames. After she refused to fight Justino, the UFC stripped her in June and finally set Cyborg up for her long-awaited title shot this weekend.
With the gold now in hand, Justino could well face an upcoming fight against Holm. The Albuquerque, New Mexico, native got back in the win column after three consecutive losses with a head-kick KO of Bethe Correia in June. With a dearth of featherweight contenders, she might well make the most lucrative and sensible opponent for Justino's first title defense.
The UFC could also still make the Anderson fight if the 27-year-old Australian is available to return to active duty. For now, though, the organization finally has the featherweight champion it set out to crown when it created this division.
And Justino finally owns the top prize in a sport she has dominated for years.