Cris Cyborg vs. Holly Holm: Time to move on from Cyborg's cheating past

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist

LAS VEGAS — Cris Cyborg has never been called the world’s most dominant athlete, even though she hasn’t lost since her pro debut in 2005 and has won 18 consecutive bouts since. More than half of those – 10, to be exact – have come in the first round.

She hasn’t hit the talk show circuit, she hasn’t been fully embraced by the sport and she’s managed to keep a relatively low profile despite being one of the sport’s elite fighters. Cyborg, the UFC’s women’s featherweight champion, is ranked 10th on the UFC’s pound-for-pound list, ahead of the likes of Cody Garbrandt and Robert Whittaker, among others.

She’s been derided as a cheater and, on this count, she’s guilty. She had a 2011 victory over Hiroko Yamanaka turned into a no-contest as the result of a post-fight drug test failure. Cyborg, then married and known as Cyborg Santos, tested positive for stanozolol, which she admitted taking but insisted was for assistance losing weight.

But according to the United States Anti-Doping Association’s website, Cyborg has been tested 13 times this year and passed each of them. She passed 11 times in 2016, and she needed a retroactive Therapeutic Use Exemption for one of them, but she was clean in each. USADA started testing UFC athletes in 2015 and Cyborg went 3-for-3 passing the tests.

That means that since USADA has begun testing UFC fighters, Cyborg has passed 27-of-27 times.

Is it about time to leave the cheating thing behind as a relic of the past? This is a clean fighter, the records show.

On Saturday, Cyborg will defend her title in what is essentially a two-woman division when she puts her featherweight title on the line at T-Mobile Arena against former bantamweight champion Holly Holm in the main event of UFC 219.

It’s fairly obvious at this stage that no matter what she does against Holm on Saturday, or in the rest of her career, that Cyborg won’t become a mainstream star in the U.S.

She stills struggles with her English and she’s not a natural in front of a camera like so many of her peers.

She is, though, something of a role model. She’s persevered and made it to the top in one of the toughest sports in the world against mind-boggling odds.

Not only were her ethics questioned, as she was assumed to have used performance enhancing drugs because of her massive frame, but she’s faced taunts about her looks. No less than UFC president Dana White said she looked like Wanderlei Silva, a male MMA fighter, in what wasn’t meant to be a compliment.

Ex-UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, her chief though theoretical rival, once called Cyborg an “it” instead of a she in an interview with Yahoo Sports because of all the PEDs Rousey alleged Cyborg had taken.

Cris Cyborg punches Leslie Smith in their women’s catchweight bout during UFC 198. (Getty)

Cyborg so desperately wanted to prove herself, she signed up to be tested by USADA before she’d fought in the UFC. And she nearly killed herself trying to get down to the bantamweight limit of 135 pounds so she could face Rousey.

There was physical and mental pressure on her like few others have known, and still she succeeded. And now, more than six years since she failed a PED test, Cyborg is at peace with the situation.

“I did a mistake in my career,” she said, referring to the 2011 incident that cost her a one-year suspension and a $2,500 fine. “I did, you know. I paid for that. And then I wanted to prove everything [so] I’m the first fighter to at least sign with USADA before the UFC to prove I’m actually clean.”

She overcame every obstacle she faced the only way she knew how: She put her head down, worked harder than just about everyone else and used her fabulous skills to win fight after fight.

It could be said that Holm has faced the better competition and certainly has recently given her slate of opponents includes Rousey, Miesha Tate, Valentina Shevchenko and Germaine de Randamie.

Cyborg, though, has beaten Marloes Coenen twice, Tonya Evinger, Gina Carano and Shayna Baszler. The win over Baszler was in 2008, long before her disappointing stint on “The Ultimate Fighter” or before her WWE days. Baszler was among the best in the world when she was stopped by Cyborg in the first round on July 26, 2008.

Cyborg has kept winning, doing the only thing she can do to silence the critics. After losing her pro debut via submission to Erica Paes, Cyborg won a unanimous decision over Vanessa Porto on Nov. 20, 2005, in her second pro bout. All but one fight since then has come by knockout.

At her peak, Rousey was being compared to the legendary ex-boxing heavyweight champion Mike Tyson because of her dominance and quick finishes. But given her enormous power, it is Cyborg who is probably best compared to Tyson.

Beating Holm, a former boxing world champion at three weights and an ex-UFC champion, would be the biggest accomplishment of her career. And it should set her up to, finally, become one of the sport’s brightest stars.

In her long combat sports career, which includes 38 boxing matches, three kick boxing matches and 14 MMA fights, Holm has only been knocked out three times, but never in MMA.

Cyborg doesn’t have the penchant for trash-talk that Tyson did, but she has the same attitude.

“Most of my fights, I won by KO,” Cyborg said. “But it’s different. I have power in my hands. I believe in my hands. And for sure, if I find the opportunity, if I see the clean time to go for the KO, I’m going to try. I’m going to do my best. Let’s see. Let’s just see what’s going to happen.

“I don’t think it’s right to say what you’re going to do if you don’t know. You have to go out there and then do it. You do the best you can. If I have the opportunity to KO her, I will. If not, it’s going to be my first submission. But I have power in my hands. All the girls fall to my hands. I think if we get in a clean shot, for sure, then she is going to feel the punch.”

Featherweight champion Cris Cyborg (L) puts her title on the line against ex-bantamweight champion Holly Holm on Saturday in the main event of UFC 219 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. (Getty)

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