One of the biggest names in MMA to have never competed in a UFC event will do exactly that on May 14. Cris “Cyborg” Justino, the Invicta featherweight champion and one of the most feared strikers in the sport, will fight in UFC 198, the company announced Monday.
UFC 198 will be held in Justino’s hometown of Curitiba, Brazil, and the card will feature a host of fighters from that country, including Fabricio Werdum — who defends his heavyweight title against American Stipe Miocic — Vitor Belfort, who faces countryman Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, and Anderson Silva, who takes on Jamaica’s Uriah Hall.
“It’s a dream come true for Cris, not only to fight in front of her home crowd but to step into the Octagon,” Justino’s manager, George Prajin, told ESPN. “… One month ago, we thought it would be a Hail Mary to get into the UFC. Now we have this opportunity. They’re the boss. Whatever they want moving forward is what’s next for her.”
The 30-year-old Justino (15-1-0) will square off against American Leslie Smith (8-6-1), 33, at a catchweight of 140. Justino normally fights at 145 pounds, but the UFC currently only has two women’s divisions: bantamweight (135) and strawweight (115).
The weight issue has been obstacle to a possible matchup with Ronda Rousey, who fights at 135, but Justino’s UFC debut has MMA fans excited that the long-awaited showdown may finally take place, although not until next year at the earliest. Rousey, who lost her bantamweight crown to Holly Holm in November, is expected to return to the Octagon late this year and face Miesha Tate, who upset Holm earlier in March at UFC 196.
Justino and Rousey have sniped at each other from afar for several years, with Rousey making frequent mention of a positive test for steroids that nullified a Justino victory in 2011. The Brazilian star offered last year to drop down to 140 to make a fight with Rousey happen, but Rousey has thus far been adamant about staying at 135.
It’s still far from a certainty that Rousey and Justino will ever meet in the Octagon, but Monday’s news brings that possibility closer to being a “when,” as opposed to an “if.” It helps that UFC president Dana White is well aware of the eagerness for that matchup and that his M.O. is usually to give the people what they want.
“I think they’re two volcanoes ready to erupt and that’s still a fight fans want to see, but we’re not basing Cris’ entire career on that fight because I don’t count on it ever happening,” Prajin said (via ESPN). “Particularly with Ronda’s recent absence from the sport, just the way she’s been reacting to the Holm loss. I think Ronda knew before that no woman could compete with Cris, and that’s why she avoided fighting her. Now, she knows that for sure. Whatever Holly did to her, it would be 10 times worse with Cris. I think she’ll end her career never getting in the cage with Cris.”
In the meantime, Justino is excited to make her UFC debut, according to her coach, Jason Parillo. “She knows the stage and she wants to be on it,” Parillo told Fox Sports. “She believes in herself that way. She’s campaigned long and hard for this.”