More than 12 years after her pro debut, the most dominant female athlete in MMA history will finally compete in her first UFC championship match this summer.
Cristiane "Cyborg" Justino's long and tumultuous road to UFC gold comes to a head July 29th when she takes on Megan Anderson for the vacant UFC Women's Featherweight title at UFC 214, which takes place at Honda Center in Anaheim.
The Brazilian's opportunity comes at the expense of another, though, because along with Monday's announcement of Justino vs. Anderson, came the news Germaine de Randamie had been stripped of the Women's Featherweight belt she claimed by defeating Holly Holm at UFC 208 in February.
Justino has been a menacing presence in the sport since she lost her first pro fight in May 2005. She's put together an 18-fight unbeaten streak (17 wins, one no-contest) since that result and has etched her place in history as the most dominant and violent female ever. Justino doesn't just beat opponents, she leaves them bloody, bruised and physically mangled.
Although the arch of her career has been somewhat tainted by testing positive for banned substances in December 2011, Justino's opportunity to fight for a UFC championship has been a long time coming. She's clearly the best 145 pound fighter on the planet, but after making a pair of unnecessary weight cuts to 140 pounds at the UFC's demand in her first two Octagon appearances, was not medically fit to fight in the inaugural belt when her weight class was finally introduced to the UFC earlier this year.
That set up the fight between de Randamie and Holm, which "The Iron Lady" narrowly won on the scorecards. It was clear from the moment the belt was wrapped around de Randamie's waist that she was reluctant to defend against Justino, and as time went on, her stance became crystal clear.
"The position is that she will not fight 'Cyborg' because 'Cyborg' is a known and proven cheater," de Randamie's manager Brian Butler said in May. "Even after so much scrutiny has been put on 'Cyborg,' she still managed to pop for something and will always be a person of suspicion who is trying to beat the system rather than just conforming to the rules."
In addition to Justino's failed 2010 test, she was also briefly flagged for a potential doping violation from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), which oversees the UFC drug testing program, earlier this year. She was immediately condemned as a cheat, but shortly thereafter was cleared of any wrongdoing and approved a retroactive therapeutic-use exemption for the substances found in her system.
Despite evidence to the contrary and the fact Justino has been drug tested 17 times over the past two years, de Randamie felt Justino was still benefiting from the use of banned substances and stood her ground in her unwillingness to fight. She said the UFC could take her belt if it wouldn't support her position, and that's exactly what happened, as the Dutch fighter became the 11th person in UFC history to be stripped of a title belt.
“UFC has informed Germaine de Randamie and her management team that she is being removed as the Women’s Featherweight champion due to her unwillingness to fight the No. 1 ranked contender, Cris 'Cyborg' Justino," UFC officials announced in a statement. "UFC maintains that any champion is expected to accept fights against the top contenders in their respective weight classes in order to maintain the integrity of the sport."
Justino has been a human wrecking ball throughout her career, earning 15 of her 17 wins by knockout, with nine finishes coming inside the first round. She's won titles under Invicta FC and now-defunct Strikeforce banners, but for many years the UFC was just not the right fit.
In recent years the UFC has fully embraced women's MMA, though, adding four new weight classes since February 2013. Although the likes of Ronda Rousey and Joanna Jedrzejczyk have stood out for their stellar title reigns, no female brings a fearsome, Mike Tyson-esque aura into competition quite like Justino.
She's waited a very long time to fight for a UFC championship at her most comfortable weight, and now that the opportunity has arrived, it's going to be a gargantuan task to not only stop her from claiming the gold at UFC 214, but going on to defend it for as long as she sees fit.
"A lot of people say, 'Oh, she's the best in women's MMA,'" Justino says. "But we have a lot of new fans, and I think with this fight, I have the opportunity to show them who 'Cyborg' is. I just have to go there and do my job. It's the same work I've done at other events. I will do the same in UFC. I just have to be me, the same 'Cyborg' as all the fights."