When MMA women's pioneer Cris Cyborg considers the best part about her transition over the past 12 months from the UFC to Bellator MMA, the fact that she is finally able to compete at her own weight class against fighters her own size ranks right up near the top.
Cyborg (22-2, 1 NC), who captured the Bellator featherweight title in her promotional debut in January by stopping Julia Budd, believes she's now the face of the deepest 145-pound women's division across the globe. It's a far cry from her nearly two-year run as UFC featherweight champion, which featured multiple bouts against blown-up bantamweights.
"The one thing that makes me really happy is [to have] real 145-pound opponents," Cyborg said during Tuesday's virtual media day. "I always fought for this, and in the beginning of my career, I always believed in the 145-pound division. It makes me really happy that [Bellator MMA president] Scott Coker is signing all of the girls at 145. It's going to be a great division and there are going to be great fights.
"I know all the girls are 145 pounds. I don't see another organization where all the girls are 145 -- maybe two or three. In Bellator, we have all the girls."
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The 35-year-old Cyborg will make the first defense of her crown on Thursday when she faces former title challenger Arlene Blencowe (13-7) in the main event of Bellator 249 from the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut.
Blencowe, a 37-year-old native of Australia, enters as the division's top contender thanks to a run of 7-2 over the past five years. The only defeats have come via close decision to Budd, including one by majority decision in 2016 and a split-decision loss in their rematch for the title one year later.
"I understand why I'm an underdog, I'm 13-7. If anyone is on the outside looking in at my record without knowing the full story, for sure I'm the underdog," Blencowe said. "I lost to Julia twice and Cris finished her in the fourth round. But what I have said is that styles make fights. I feel like I have the skills to beat Cyborg.
"I have to put some fear in her, stand my ground and just fight my fight. I think everyone just crumbles into fighting her fight but, at the end of the day, I've never shied away from punches."
Despite Blencowe bringing experience as a former pro boxer to the fight, oddsmakers are leaning heavily in Cyborg's favor, including William Hill installing her as a -1200 favorite. Cyborg is aware of her standing as a massive favorite, yet won't take anything for granted.
"For me, I always think in my mind that I'm the No. 1 contender, always. I always think like I have to fight to get my title," Cyborg said. "I think this way motivates me every morning when I wake up. It's the same pressure that I put on myself in the gym every day leading up to a fight.
"I watched a couple fights of [Blencowe], and she's tough. She likes to strike, and is two times a world champion in boxing. But this is MMA and it's going to be a great fight."
In the co-main event, Patricky Pitbull is back in action when he takes on Jaleel Lewis in a lightweight showdown. It's his first official fight back with the promotion since February 2019. He took part in the RIZIN lightweight grand prix last December where he lost by unanimous decision to Tofiq Musayev in the final. Willis, meanwhile, will be making his first appearance under the Bellator banner since 2016. He's won four straight bouts, including one in LFA in August.
Also in action on Thursday is bantamweight prospect Ricky Bandejas, who rose to prominence when he shockingly stopped James Gallagher in 2018. Even with the win, Bandejas has amassed just a 3-3 record with the promotion, though all of those losses have come against elite competition (Patchy Mix, Juan Archuleta and Sergio Pettis). He gets a tough test in Leandro Higo.
Bellator 249 main card (10 p.m. ET)
- Cris Cyborg -1200 vs. Arlene Blencowe +750, women's featherweight title
- Patricky Pitbull -310 vs. Jaleel Lewis +250, lightweights
- Ricky Bandejas -170 vs. Leandro Higo +145, bantamweights
- Mandel Nallo -270 vs. Saad Awad +220, lightweights
Bellator 249 prelims (7:15 p.m. ET)
- Albert Gonzales vs. Kastroit Xhema, welterweights
- Aviv Gozali vs. Logan Neal, welterweights
- Mike Kimbel vs. Da'Mon Blackshear, 140-pound catchweights
- Christian Edwards vs. Hamza Salim, light heavyweights
- Kyle Crutchmer vs. Kemron Lachinov, welterweights
- Joseph Creer vs. Andrew Kapel, middleweights
- Steve Mowry vs. Shawn Teed, heavyweights
- Date: Thursday, Oct. 15 | Start time: 10 p.m. ET (main card)
- Location: Mohegan Sun Arena -- Uncasville, Connecticut
- TV Channel: CBS Sports Network | Live stream: CBSSports.com (authentication required)
- You can also stream the prelims after the main card for free without authentication here
One of these days, Cyborg is going to show up old in a fight. Yet if her recent defeat of a perennially-tough Budd is any indication, those days don't appear to be anytime soon.
The major issue for Blencowe, despite her hunger and confidence, is that everything she does well as a stand-up striker with good hands -- Cyborg does even better. That's a formula that doesn't bode well for Blencowe unless she can bite down and take Cyborg's power shots while finding a way to land meaningful counter shots of her own.
To her credit, Blencowe has never been finished due to strikes in 28 combined pro MMA and boxing fights. None of those fights, however, came against a living legend in Cyborg. Pick: Cyborg via TKO3
So who wins Cyborg vs. Blencowe? And what underdog should you back on the main card? Visit SportsLine to get the latest breakdown from an MMA expert up more than $20,000 over the last 20 months that has nailed his predictions at an extremely high rate!