Leslie Smith may not have picked up a win over the legendary Cris Cyborg in Friday's Bellator 259 featherweight championship main event, but she did score something of a symbolic victory in lasting nearly the entire five rounds of the fight. Cyborg dominated the contest, but Smith took shot after shot while getting back to her feet and coming forward until the champion was finally able to swarm to score the TKO victory just nine seconds before the final bell.
Smith and Cyborg met in a rematch of their first clash, which took place in May 2016 in the UFC Octagon. In the first meeting, Cyborg got the finish in less than 90 seconds, showcasing her trademark swarming striking style. On Friday, Smith proved to be a much tougher out.
Cyborg dominated the fight from the opening bell, patiently picking her spots to work over Smith with leg kicks, body work, powerful overhand rights and left hooks that kept Smith on the defensive. Even as the strike count tilted hard in Cyborg's favor, Smith continued to try to find openings to make something positive happen.
"I knew she is tough," Cyborg said after the fight. "I knew, I met her before and I know. I really respect her. She's a real fighter."
Cyborg mixed in takedowns throughout the fight, forcing Smith to occasionally fight off her back. Still, Smith kept finding ways to survive dangerous positions while absorbing the powerful shots of one of the best fighters in the history of women's mixed martial arts.
Finally, in Round 5, Cyborg put Smith on the ground and this time didn't let her off the hook. Cyborg flurried with heavy ground and pound until the fight was waived off at the 4:51 mark of the round. Smith became the 19th knockout victim of Cyborg's career.
In the end, Cyborg landed more strikes than Smith threw. Cyborg connected on 174 of 337 thrown strikes to 38 of 172 for Smith.
Cyborg now faces a familiar dilemma with a lack of legitimate challengers to her throne. She did, however, zero in on one fighter she would like to see in her next trip to the cage, former UFC title contender Cat Zingano.
"For you to be a GOAT, you have to stop running from the Cat," Cyborg said. "I would like to see Cat Zingano fight me for the next match."
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Elsewhere on the card, rising women's flyweight prospect Valerie Loureda suffered her first pro defeat by decision to Hannah Guy in the main card opener. Guy nearly submitted the jiu-jitsu specialist twice in the opening round by armbar and controlled the fight in the final two rounds to earn the third victory of her blossoming career.
CBS Sports was with you throughout the evening for the latest updates, highlights and results from the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut with our live blog below. Stay tuned for updates all night long.
Bellator 259 card, results
- Cris Cyborg (c) def. Leslie Smith via fifth-round TKO (punches)
- Leandro Higo def. Darrion Caldwell via split decision (28-29, 29-28, 29-28)
- Austin Vanderford def. Fabian Edwards via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
- Jaleel Willis def. Maycon Mendonca via unanimous decision is (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
- Hannah Guy def. Valerie Loureda via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
- Saad Awad def. Nate Andrews via first-round knockout (punch)
- Grant Neal def. Tyree Fortune via first-round submission (rear naked choke)
- Sumiko Inaba def. Kristina Katsikis via third-round TKO (punches)
- Aviv Gozali def. Sean Felton via first-round submission (heel hook)
- Davion Franklin def. Tyler King via first-round knockout (punches)
- Leah McCourt def. Janay Harding via second-round submission (triangle choke)
- Danny Sabatello def. Brett Johns via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
- Alexander Shabily def. Alfie Davis via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)