Brazilian fights Arlene Blencowe on Thursday night and hopes to turn her hand to boxing, possibly against Katie Taylor
Cris Cyborg, the featherweight world champion, is admired around the world for her fearlessness as a mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter, but the 35-year-old has fears about how body-image pressures affect young women.
The Brazilian is preparing to defend her Bellator title against Australian Arlene Blencowe on Thursday night at the Mohegan Sun Resort in Connecticut.
“You see a lot of girls who are not eating, [who] feel like they must be skinny,” she told Telegraph Sport. “The media, Instagram — none of it is real. They photoshop everything. You have to be happy with who you are, not with what others want you to be. I’ve had problems in my life when I was younger but I love who I am now. I take care of my body and I’m healthy.”
After 15 years in the sport, Cyborg says it is only recently that her profession is not given a second glance. “I’ve been happy with my body, but people would look at you weird. This is ten years ago. Especially when you’d say you’re a fighter, it was always a response of ‘what?’ But now fighters are commonplace.
“When I told my mum I wanted to be a fighter she thought I would end up on the street. It was a different time. My mum didn’t like it in the beginning, but once she saw it was a real sport she now likes it.”
Cyborg was the first woman in the sport to claim the “grand slam” of titles in Bellator, Strikeforce, the UFC, and Invicta, the all-female fight league. She has often blitzed through opponents, with 18 knockouts in her 22 victories. Her standing and maturity is reflected in the way she carries herself, and her work away from the cage with charities and children in Africa.
There is an aura about her. Not just of destruction, but as an ambassador for the sport.
“I think you have a lot of different types of guys and girls and they decided for themselves which body they like. I’ve always had this body, I started training when I was 12 years old,” she explained. “I think the most important thing is to feel great.
“If you carry a little more weight and feel great then that’s you. Make yourself happy. If you’re happy with yourself then it doesn’t matter what people say.
“I think women in this sport have an athletic body. I like that look and I think all the girls do. You’re in shape. I don’t think there’s difference between our bodies and other athletes’.”
Women’s MMA has exploded in recent years and Cyborg is surfing the crest of a wave which she helped to create.
“I feel so blessed to be fighting at this moment. When I started my career there were no fighters, no events. I always believed in it, though, that it would grow. Now you can see people love women’s MMA. I know it’ll grow and grow and I’m really happy to be part of this story. Yes, I believe we get respect. It grows. Once we had the opportunity we showed up.”
By dint of her success, Cyborg has become a target for every rising star, with Bellator having grown its 145lb roster into a powerful line-up. It only makes Cyborg more ambitious, more determined.
There has even been talk of an attempt to become a women’s boxing world champion. Katie Taylor, the Irish fighter who is undisputed lightweight champion, has been touted as one possible opponent. It would be a seismic match-up.
“It would be another thing for my legacy to be a world champion in boxing and MMA,” Cyborg said. “I want to show everyone you can achieve anything with hard work. You have to trust and have faith. For now, I’m not thinking about Katie Taylor. I’m not focusing on it.”
Have there been discussions with Eddie Hearn, Taylor’s promoter ?
“We didn’t talk to him but maybe Scott Coker did. I’ll let Audi Attar [her manager] decide what’s next. For sure, it’s my dream to do boxing. Katie Taylor next would be great, but I have my fight on Thursday.”
“But everyone knows boxing is a dream for me.”