Cris “Cyborg” Justino arrived at the post-fight news conference for UFC 232 with a hood pulled up on her head and a pillow in her arms. When she got near the dais, she pulled the pillow tightly to her face for a few seconds.
She then pulled it back and laughed, and suddenly, the rest of the crowd in Inglewood, California, picked up on the joke.
Cyborg had just lost her women’s featherweight title and been knocked out in just 51 seconds by Amanda Nunes. She was making light of the way her one-time rival, ex-UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, reacted to her first loss in 2015 to Holly Holm.
Cyborg, who returns to the cage for the first time since that defeat on Saturday when she meets Felicia Spencer in a three-round featherweight fight in the co-main event of UFC 240 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, is now a mother.
She has adopted her brother’s daughter, Gabriela, and is raising her with fiance Ray Elbe in their Southern California home. Cyborg thought of Gabriela in the immediate aftermath of her upset loss to Nunes, a defeat that ended a 20-fight winning streak that stretched more than 13 years.
This is a classy and intelligent woman who doesn’t deserve the grief she has gotten over the years. That she has remained dignified and has set a positive example for her daughter even as she’s in the midst of her darkest professional hour speaks volumes.
“I want her to understand that there are going to be hard times in life and they’re as much a part of life as the good times,” she said. “Sometimes, things don’t go your way. God has other plans and you have to understand how to take the good with the bad.
“You’re not going to win every time. It’s tough to lose, but it’s the way you deal with it, and I wanted to teach my daughter that she’s going to have adversity in her life, and bad moments, but it’s OK. It’s how you deal with it and how you come back that is important.”
When she moved to the U.S., she didn’t speak English and struggled so much that for a brief period she had to sleep in her car. She has overcome all sorts of adversity, including battles with UFC president Dana White and the heckling from fans, to be a star and successful athlete.
Those tough times are seared into her memory and motivate her even now, when she has everything she could ever have dreamed of having.
“I remember everything that happened in my life, all the tough, hard times,” she said. “Losing a fight isn’t a hard time; it’s a sport. There is going to be a winner and a loser. You want to win and you should work as hard as you can to win, but even when you do, sometimes, you lose. But I think it’s important to never forget where you came from, because it inspires me to be better.
“I try to do a lot of charitable acts because I know God has blessed me and given me a lot in my life, and I’m grateful for that. A lot of people forget where they came from, but I want to remember so I can always relate to the people who are in need.”
She’s coming to the final fight of her UFC contract, and will be a coveted free agent if she actually hits the open market. She wouldn’t discuss her contract and said she’s considering only Spencer.
If she defeats Spencer, a rematch with Nunes would be a massive fight, and she’s down for that. She asked for a rematch in the cage after the fight and has been consistent ever since in saying she wanted another crack at Nunes.
White has said on several occasions Cyborg doesn’t want the rematch, which has frustrated her. But she wouldn’t let on whether her rocky relationship with White will influence her contract decision.
“Nothing coming from Dana White surprises me,” she said. “He’s told lies about me and said things before. It’s not surprising. But we’ll see what happens. I don’t want to think about anything but my fight on Saturday. Nothing else is productive.”
Expect her to come back with a vengeance. She lost one of the most epic slugfests in UFC history, a fast-paced brawl for the 51 seconds it lasted.
She didn’t expect to lose, but wasn’t shocked, either.
“I have been in sports all my life and what I understand is, there are no guarantees,” she said. “There are so many [variables]. All I can do is to prepare myself the right way and be at my best. I try to control what I can control and not worry about the things I have no control over.”
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