After four occasionally tumultuous years with UFC, Cyborg penned a multi-fight deal with Bellator MMA last September, signing the richest contract in the history of women’s mixed martial arts.
“We’re out of the Cyborg business,” UFC president Dana White declared, as the promotion cut ties with its former featherweight champion for good.
The 34-year-old hasn’t had long to wait to get business up and running again. Saturday marks her debut for the promotion, challenging Julia Budd for the featherweight title at Bellator 238 in California.
It’s another test in a gruelling career at the top of MMA - Cyborg has won the 145lbs title wherever she gone, reigning as champion in UFC, Strikeforce and Invicta FC, firmly believing she has nothing else to prove in the sport.
A fresh start in 2020 however presents her with the chance to build on her accomplishments and more importantly, after her acrimonious split with UFC, by happy in her work again.
“My goals are to continue working hard and putting on the best fights for my fans and to continue building my legacy,” Cyborg told Standard Sport. “And most important, be happy, be happy every day with no stress outside.”
Cyborg’s move sets up a host of fresh challenges in a division that also features Cat Zingano, another major name of women’s MMA to have made the move to Bellator. The two have not yet crossed paths in their respective careers and it is one of a number of fights that excites Bellator’s box office arrival.
“I am thinking of things day-by-day, but I feel great, I know the opportunities are here to fight as often as I want to. But my focus is now on my next fight.
“It’s nice, I can have so many more fights here, I don’t have to wait for someone to move weight or I don’t have to wait 10 months [for a fight] – it’s a great thing. You can fight more.”
In her way stands Budd, the queen of the featherweight division, its augural champion whose only defeats in a superb MMA career coming against elites in Ronda Rousey in her pomp and the greatest of all-time in Amanda Nunes.
But Cyborg warns she is a different beast.
“I respect my opponent, Julia is an all-time great champion. I know she is a big challenge. I need to be prepared for anything.
“For sure, to fight Cyborg, it brings a lot of stress. I think all the opponents I fight, they know it is a different athlete you are going to fight. She has to know this.
“I prepare for anything, whatever the fight. I have to feel the fight. I train for every situation that can happen. I have to see. It’s nice to have a plan [going in]. But sometimes Plan B works out better. You have to feel what it going to happen.”
Cyborg went on a 13-year winning streak before that was halted in December 2018, suffering just the second loss of her MMA career after being knocked out by Nunes.
Last July she rebounded with a win over Felicia Spencer but but was frustrated in her attempts to get the Nunes rematch - perhaps still the biggest fight in women's MMA.
Aligning herself with Bellator opens the door to the cross-promotional opportunities that weren’t possible during her time with UFC. Among her ambitions is a potential WWE appearance and a move into professional boxing alongside her close friend Claressa Shields.
But she is also eager to explore new options within Bellator, including the possible introduction of a featherweight grand prix and a bantamweight division somewhere down the line.
“For now I focus on Julia. It is good to focus on the present. I think Scott [Coker] has done great for our division. 145lbs and the other division [Bellator's flyweight division]. I am open if he changes his mind and wants to do something different.”
Bellator 238: Budd vs. Cyborg will air live on Sky Sports Mix and Sky Sports Arena at 03:00am on Sunday 26th January.