She gave it her all. She even made it to the final bell of the final round. But in the end, Holly Holm got the same result that nearly everyone who has stepped into the cage with Cris "Cyborg" Justino has over the past 12 years.
There is, of course, no shame in losing to Justino, because everyone loses to Justino. Her only mixed martial arts loss was in her first professional fight, way back in 2005, to a kneebar submission by Erica Paes just 1:46 into the first round. Less than two minutes into her career, and she was forced to submit. Forced to acknowledge she'd been beaten by a better opponent.
It has been 12 years since that night in Curitiba, Brazil, and over the course of 21 fights, she has been the one battering opponents into submission. Breaking their will. Rendering them a bloody mess and a swollen, fun-house version of the person they were before.
Only once had another human survived into the fourth round with Justino. Holm took her to a decision. Holm will get plenty of backhanded credit for that moral victory, as well she should. She had a few bright moments, too, landing punches that appeared to stagger Justino. They were few and far between, though, and do you want to know the truly unnerving thing? Those moments when Holm showed strength seemed to make Justino smile, as though she appreciated that, finally, another human was giving her a run for her money.
But that moral victory (and swollen/broken facial features) is all Holm will take home to Albuquerque, and moral victories are not highly prized by professional fighters. Holm wanted this one. You could see it on her face, see it during her frenetic *will you please stop pacing* introduction. She *wanted* to beat Justino so badly, and what a *story* it would've been if she'd been able to do it, right? The only woman to ever beat Ronda Rousey and Cris Cyborg. What a moment.
But it was not to be. Justino was on a different level Saturday, even from her own prior career performances. She had power, of course, and she had incredible accuracy with her striking. But what she had in spades was energy. Justino was a constant presence in Holm's personal space, rarely affording her a chance to breathe, and Holm's game plan of circling into Justino's powerful right hook played out pretty much exactly as one would expect. Holm was double-tough, though, and was able to survive until the final bell, after which Justino took a unanimous-decision win.
Saturday night was the kind of moment I never expected Justino to see. For so long, the Ultimate Fighting Championship closed its doors to her. It fawned over the blond-haired judoka, gave her a new division and bestowed on her a title without actually having her go through the process of winning it. But the bald-headed guardian at the gates constantly refused to acknowledge what the rest of the world could already see: that Cris Cyborg, not Ronda Rousey, was the best female fighter alive.
Justino's long road led to Saturday night. The UFC didn't relent. It didn't accept her, not even begrudgingly. No, she forced her way here. She kicked the door down. And on Saturday night, Dana White—who once said Justino looked like Wanderlei Silva in a dress and then did a grotesquely offensive impersonation of her—was forced to grimace and wrap the featherweight championship around her waist.
Karma is a...funny thing, isn't it?