While MMA fans around the world are focused on Saturday night's title fight between Ronda Rousey and Cat Zingano at UFC 184, another bout taking place this weekend a short drive away might be just as intriguing.
On Friday night at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, Invicta FC world featherweight champion Cristiane "Cyborg" Justino will defend her belt against Charmaine Tweet. (Invicta airs on UFCFightPass.com, the UFC's digital streaming service). Fight fans know Cyborg for her aggressive style, dominance in the cage and for that time she all but ended Gina Carano's career.
After defeating Carano, then the face of women's MMA, in August of 2009 in a highly touted Strikeforce match, Cyborg continued with the organization until being suspended for steroid use in 2011. She made her return to the sport in 2013 when she signed with Invicta.
She's also thought by many to be the most dangerous potential opponent for Rousey. While a possible showdown between the two powerhouse fighters may be more a dream than a reality at this point, that didn't stop us from asking her about it. We chatted with the 29-year old Brazilian star on Thursday following the Invicta weigh-in, and after she had gained back approximately 15 pounds in fluids.
That's a not misprint: Cyborg put on 15 pounds in roughly two hours after making the 145-pound weight limit.
espnW: It's been two years since the first women's UFC bout. Did you think you would have been in the organization by now?
Cyborg: I'm doing my best now to make 135, I have a new diet coach. He follows me and I'm doing my best to make that, because the UFC doesn't have my weight class at 145. We have goals now and we work together, the UFC and Invicta, to get there.
espnW: Do you think you're the best female fighter right now?
Cyborg: You know, I never think about this because when you think you're the best, you don't learn anything. A lot of people ask me "Why don't you think you're the best?" and I think you have to learn every day. And if you think you're the best, you don't need to train every day or learn every day. It's really about the fight in the cage and what other people think. People think this because I do the great work but it doesn't matter if you're the best, because you still have to train and learn and get better.
espnW: Do you think there's a fighter out there who's better than you?
Cyborg: I think everyone has something special. I respect all my opponents. I've learned something from all my fights.
espnW: How can you prove to fight fans that you're among the elite fighters, if not the best?
Cyborg: I think I just need to keep doing what I'm doing -- working and training and making my fights exciting fights. I think when I fight, I make it exciting. I like to excite the fans.
espnW: Do you need to fight Ronda Rousey to prove or validate your talent?
Cyborg: I think the fans want to make this fight happen. Before, when I was fighting at 145 in Strikeforce, she was also fighting there. And people would say she wasn't ready yet when I was supposed to fight her. It's different now because people want to watch this fight. At 135, she's the best and I'm in a different class at 145. But I think it would be a great fight. I'm trying 100 percent to make this fight happen for everybody -- for me, too. But I'm trying to respect my body and I don't want to make 135 and be weak. I want to make 135 as the same me.
espnW: Can you realistically make it to 135? How would that impact your abilities?
Cyborg: I'm trying my best. I made 140 for my first fight in America. It was hard, but maybe. Yeah, maybe.
espnW: Rousey has previously said she won't go up in weight to fight you but she will for Gina Carano. Why do you think that is?
Cyborg: It's funny. When I read that, I laughed. I think it looks like she's scared of me. I don't know. Why? I don't like to think too much about it, I try to fight inside the cage. If she doesn't come for me, maybe I'll come for her, follow her and make this fight happen.
espnW: A lot of people were hoping you would run into Rousey at Wednesday's open gym. If that had happened, what would you have said to her?
Cyborg: I'm a professional. I don't hate her. She can say whatever she wants, I think that's her style. Everything she says about me just keeps me motivated. Everything happens in my life, I change to a positive thing that I can learn [from]. Every day is something, and you grow up. If I saw her, I don't change my life, I just say hi. I don't think she would say hi to me, but I don't know. For me, there's no problem. I think as a professional, inside the cage you can fix anything.
espnW: What would your pitch be to Rousey to help convince her to make the fight happen?
Cyborg: I think it's not just her choice now. Everyone wants to watch this fight. I hope she accepts this fight so we can put on a big show for all fans. I think for women's MMA, it would be perfect. I wish I could make 135 so we can make this happen.
espnW: Any truth to the rumor that you'll be at the Staples Center for UFC 184 on Saturday night?
Cyborg: Maybe! I don't say for sure, I just say maybe. I am focused on my fight for Friday and then we'll see. I think it's important to fight my fight. Ronda is not my first fight, I just have to keep my thoughts on Charmaine, and everyone asks me about "Ronda, Ronda, Ronda." But Charmaine is my first step and I have to go through her. Maybe after this fight I can maybe go over there.
espnW: Is it hard to stay focused on your current fight when all the talk around you is about a potential future fight?
Cyborg: It's not new. It's been three years, two years and everyone's been asking me that question. It's OK, it's helped for sure make this fight [potentially happen].
espnW: How has the perception towards the sport and yourself changed since you started?
Cyborg: In the beginning when I told someone I did MMA ... Even my mom didn't like when I started training. She said, "Sometimes you'll have a black eye, I don't like it!" But I didn't listen and I just followed my heart and my dream and now my mom will watch my fights and follow me. Well, she doesn't like watching but she does know what happens. It's hard to watch someone you love. My brother started fighting because of me and it's hard to watch. You want to jump in there.
espnW: What does the future of women's MMA look like?
Cyborg: I know there aren't a lot of girls in my weight class, but I think it's growing. I think women's MMA, with girls coming to watch and seeing it as professional, I think we're getting more girl fighters and it's getting bigger.
espnW: What are your hopes for your future with the sport?
Cyborg: I want to make great fights, emotional fights for all my fans and everyone watching. I of course have other goals, personal goals. I want to help my family in Brazil, I want to adopt my niece [9-year-old Gabriela] who lives with me and even stayed with me here for six months once. I miss her; she's back in Brazil now because of her visa, living with my mom. I want to make life better and bring her here. She's practicing English and really likes theater. She's the opposite of me. I don't have kids but she's my daughter now, she's my first goal now. It's a good gift that God gave to me. I can't have kids now because of my career, and maybe God gave this gift for me. I have other goals too, I of course want to make great fights and maybe be a champion in the UFC soon.