Cris "Cyborg" is one of those rare fighters who exists as a mythical figure in her own time, a legend who opponents and peers speak about in whispers—and only after looking carefully around to see who is listening. In her prime, there was no fighter more fearsome than Cyborg, a rippling anthropomorphic muscle who rampaged through the sport like no woman had before or likely ever will again.
She won 20 in a row against anyone brave enough to step into a cage with her, helping pave a road for women in the sport that Ronda Rousey and many others would later tread.
But make no mistake—without Cyborg's fights with current WWE Superstar Shayna Baszler on CBS and her headlining tussle with Gina Carano on Showtime, there may have been no major league MMA for women like Rousey to use as a springboard to fame and fortune.
UFC champion Amanda Nunes was the first to make Cyborg human, knocking her out in the first round and usurping her position at the top of the sport. Cyborg's reputation, however, lingered. Even after 13 years without a loss, the promotion refused her a rematch and pushed her to the side. Reemerging in Bellator, she quickly resumed her winning ways, taking the promotion's featherweight title in front of more than 15,000 fans at the Forum in Inglewood, California.
Rumors of the Queen's demise, it appears, were slightly premature. Arlene Blencowe, the latest pretender to timidly step to the end boss of the featherweight division, was hopelessly overmatched Thursday night at Bellator 249. Cyborg scored the first submission of her career after more than a decade of merely bludgeoning other women in the cage.
Is it too frightening to consider the possibility that she may be improving with time?
Of course, Cyborg wasn't the only victor on the night. A fight night is filled with winners and losers up and down the card—and it isn't always as simple as the result written down in someone's Wikipedia entry. Let's look at the entire night of bouts and determine the real winner and losers at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
Loser: Bellator Featherweights
At 35, Cyborg isn't quite what she was at the top of her game. She's a little less vascular, a little bit slower to strike, the aggression that once carried her to great heights sometimes disappearing for minutes and even rounds at a time.
That, at least, was the story going into her fight with Blancowe, a boxing standout with heavy hands.
Instead, Cyborg demolished the Australian fighter, both beating her to the punch and dominating on the ground. She looked as unbeatable as ever—good enough that it's difficult to imagine any of the other women in the division challenging her reign any time soon.
Loser: Leandro Higo
Sure, Higo got an impressive, dominant win over the tough Ricky Bandejas. But it was a small step forward after a setback earlier in the week when Higo missed weight for the second time in his Bellator tenure.
There are mitigating factors here and it's hard not to feel for Higo after flight delays wreaked havoc on his plan to trim down to the bantamweight limit.
The Brazilian has 20 career victories and a ton of talent. It would be hard to deny that. Unfortunately, the guy seems snakebit at times, like he's suffering a permanent jinx. Now 31-years-old, it's time for him to finally thrive if he's going to become the star we all expected when he made his Bellator debut.
Winner: Unanimity and Consensus
The internet can't agree on anything. And I do mean anything—early this week I saw someone disparaging water. Yes, the elixir of life.
But one thing it seems almost everyone agrees on? Bellator's announce team needs a little work.
Mike Goldberg, John McCarthy and Josh Thomson no doubt try hard—but they don't gel well and don't explain or enhance the action the way the best sports announcers do.
I've been hoping they would develop with time. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be happening at anything better than a glacial pace.
Heavyweight stud Steve Mowry, a strapping 6'8" scrapper out of Sanford, Florida, has won eight fights, all decisively.
But he's actually 9-0 if you include a recent victory over COVID-19. Mowry was originally scheduled for Bellator 242 before bowing out with a positive coronavirus test.
A global pandemic, however, wasn't nearly enough to stop the big fella. Neither was the "Norwegian Nightmare" Shawn Teed, a veteran of the independent scene in the Northeast.
Teed, who stands 77 inches tall, likely isn't used to being the smaller man in any kind of confrontation. But Mowry towered over him, reaching up with a series of knees and connecting easily with the big man's chin.
And, to borrow a phrase from announcer Mike Goldberg, just like that, it was all over. With COVID and Teed behind him, it's time for Mowry to move quickly into the heavyweight title picture where his size and skill should make him a handful for anyone in the promotion.
Saad Awaad is a Bellator classic, a 37-year-old mauler with a penchant for bruising, physical violence. But no amount of veteran presence can help overcome a hard shot directly to the nethers.
Nothing brings out universal empathy more than a blow to the groin. Every man watching can relate—so, while we can't bring ourselves to look away, there's also a part of us that vicariously suffers alongside the victim.
Unfortunately, Awaad wasn't able to continue after less than two minutes of fighting. While it's understandable, it's disappointing to lose out on an opportunity to see one of the promotion's action fight staples as his career winds down to its inevitable end.
Loser: People who Bother With Striking Fundamentals
The first rule of almost any striking art is fairly simple and intuitive—try not to get hit in the face. It's bad enough in a schoolyard scuffle. Against a trained professional it can end with your rump on the canvas and a dazed look in your eyes as you turn towards the referee wondering what happened.
Unless, of course, your name is Kemran Lachinov, in which case you can drop your hands like a pro wrestler hopped up on a dozen Red Bulls and simply walk through whatever your opponent has for you.
In this case, the opponent was Kyle Crutchmer, twice an All-American on the mat for Oklahoma State. Crutchmer hit a defenseless Lachinov square on the chin twice—but it wasn't enough to stop him. In fact, his opponent's sheer craziness seemed to stop the wrestler in his tracks for a moment.
Who wouldn't be slightly intimidated by a foe who appears impervious to pain?
Lachinov did more than merely survive. He walked away with a unanimous decision after 15-hard-fought minutes.
Winner: The Youth
Aviv Gozali is just 19 years old—but he's managed to fit a lot of fighting into those 108 months. Now 5-0 (all five by submission) inside the Bellator cage, the teenage prodigy from Israel doesn't lack for confidence.
"I'm the best grappler in Bellator," Gozali told announcer John McCarthy. "This was my gameplan."
So far no one has been able to touch him—he's never even left the first round. While it makes sense for Bellator to tread cautiously with the young fighter, especially considering the bad luck they've had rushing other prospects too quickly to the top, now is the time for a move up in competition.
- Cris Cyborg def. Arlene Blencowe via submission (rear-naked choke)— Round 2
- Leandro Higo def. Ricky Bandejas via submission (rear-naked choke) — Round 2
- Steve Mowry def. Shawn Teed via TKO (knee and punches) — Round 1
- Saad Awad vs. Mandel Nallo is ruled a no-contest (accidental groin strike) — Round 1
- Andrew Kapel def. Joseph Creer via TKO (doctor stoppage) — Round 2
- Kemran Lachinov def. Kyle Crutchmer via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
- Christian Edwards def. Hamza Salim via submission (rear-naked choke) — Round 2
- Da’Mon Blackshear def. Mike Kimbel via submission (rear-naked choke) — Round 2
- Aviv Gozali def. Logan Neal via submission (Kimura) — Round 1
- Albert Gonzales def. Kastriot Xhema via TKO (retirement) — Round 2