An MMA fighter becomes proficient in a number of martial art disciplines, including boxing, standing in front of a fighter who could throw a kick, punch, elbow, knee, or attempt to wrestle you to the ground, requires a different stance, footwork, and mindset. To become a successful boxer at an elite level, an individual must be trained in that discipline for years.
Expecting an MMA fighter to drop their instinct of standing more upright with a square on stance, forgetting to use their legs as weapons, and resisting the temptation of a chokehold is not an overnight process. However, none of this deters Cristiane Justino Venâncio, better known as Cris Cyborg, who has her pro boxing debut on September 25th against fellow Brazilian Simone Silva (17-22).
The Curitiba native was born on July 9, 1985. From a young age, she demonstrated a natural aptitude for the sport and was on track to becoming a professional handball player. This all changed when one day, one of her fellow handballing competitors saw something in young Cyborg and convinced her to go to a Muay Thai gym with her. That one trip changed the trajectory of her career plans, and her path to MMA stardom began.
It was the feeling of being punched that made her want it more. That base animal exists of fighting ferociously yet successfully only exists in a few. Pounding the punchbags and soon after her opponents, Cyborg soon fell in love with the two-way feeling of leather crashing into her cheeks sending ripples through her own face and her opponent's. In raw terms, it excited her. Gasping for breath as she'd grapple on the mat, not knowing if it would be her last, using the power of an elbow or knee joint to bring her opponent to their destruction became an addiction she simply had to fuel.
The MMA legend explained. “I think when you start training, you either want to run when you get punched, or you want to punch them back harder than they punched you. When I had my first training session, I saw that I had the feeling that I wanted to punch them back right away, even harder than when they hit me. I have lived my entire life as a professional athlete, and before fighting, I was an elite level handball player who would have had the ability to play professional had I kept pursuing that goal. I think I always knew I was athletic enough to find a job in professional sports.”
When the 37-year-old talks of her home city, she exudes pride. “Curitiba is nicknamed A Cidade da Gente, which translates to Our City; The People's City, which diverts my mind to current UFC star, ‘Meatball' Molly McCann's entrance song by Jamie Webster, This Place. “I loved growing up in Curitiba. It is one of the safest cities in all of Brazil. It is very clean, and my city has a reputation of taking care of and respecting the elderly. For foreigners looking to travel to Brazil for the first time, it is a great experience. As a kid, I loved everything about my city and have always been proud to represent Curitiba all over the globe. I cannot say one bad thing about the city, I am a Curitiba, and my family still lives in the city today.”
Six months after walking through the doors of the Muay Thai gym, on May 17, 2005, Cyborg made her professional MMA debut in São Paulo against fellow debutant Erica Paes. One would expect Cyborg to have blown her opponent away, as many might expect in her pro boxing debut, but it was not the case. Paes won via submission and a knee bar to Cyborg. Irrespective of how each fighter's trajectory unfolded after, it was a great lesson for Cyborg to battle back from.
Many would have walked away from the sport after incurring a loss on their debut, suffering an injury so bad you couldn't carry on when your pride is on the line, but Cyborg is built differently. There was no way she would walk away from fighting. “I lost that fight because of an injury. My arm dislocated when I jumped into the air to stomp on her and fell, dislocating my own arm. I remember leaving the ring and loving that this sport was different from handball because there was no red card if you were too rough. I only had six months of Muay Thai training and no MMA training for the fight, but after the experience, I knew I was going to be an MMA fighter.”
The Brazilian went on to lose only one other fight, to the great Amanda Nunes, but now has set her sights on boxing. The sweet science of hit and don't get hit back is a world apart from the savagery of MMA, where only the kitchen sink is not thrown at your opponent. It would be easy to stick to what you know and continue dominating inside the octagon, but that is not the mindset of an elite sportswoman. Cyborg explained. “I am an athlete at heart and am a fan of the sport of boxing. I love what is going on with women's boxing in the USA, Ireland, and the UK, and I think I can help create a bigger stage for other female fighters in Brazil who are wanting to help grow the sport of women's boxing in the country. We have so many great female boxing champions in Brazil that nobody in the USA even knows about.
“As an athlete, I love to challenge myself. I won two world championships in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, competing in the Kimono. I have had pro-Muay Thai fights and competed against the GOAT Jorina Baars for the Lion Fight Muay Thai World Championship. I've done Greco Wrestling and Submission Grappling at the highest levels, and for me, I love the challenge of trying boxing.”
— CrisCyborg.com Boxing Debut Sept 25th (@criscyborg) August 25, 2022
‘Trying boxing' could be a dangerous mindset to bring into the square circle, and her middleweight opponents could prove to be a banana skin, possessing more boxing pedigree. “My opponent Simone Silva is a pioneer in women's boxing in Brazil, having won a National Title in 2007. She has almost forty fights and competes internationally, representing Brazil against some of the best world champions in boxing. She is a tough, durable opponent with almost 300 rounds of Pro Fight experience. She recently fought my sparring partner Maricela Cornejo who is ranked #3 in the world at 160lbs, and she lost a decision. I have seen her fight a couple of different styles. She is durable enough to trade with a lot of fighters and has good enough experience to use her ring movement to win rounds. I'm not sure which style of fighter I am going to get on September 25th but I am expecting to put on a great performance for all the fans who make it to the stadium.”
Approaching the tail end of her fighting days, it is unclear specifically which sport Cyborg sees her future in, or even if it's just one sport. Still, from a commercial perspective, the hurt business is money orientated, and the Bellator featherweight world champion has one eye on her financial security. “I want to make great fights for my fans. I don't know if I am going to fight Katie Taylor or Jessica McCaskill in boxing or if I am going to face Cat Zingano or Kayla Harrison in MMA, but I am wanting to make the biggest fights that the most fans want to watch, that will make the most money now that I am coming to the end of my career.”