Cris Justino: 'I now believe I can make 135'

HUNTINGTON BEACH, California -- As you watch Cris "Cyborg" Justino go through a judo session inside Punishment Training Center in 2015, it's impossible to miss the sense of irony in it.

Less than three years ago, in this exact gym, Justino and her manager at the time, Tito Ortiz, held a news conference to announce it was "literally impossible" for her to cut to 135 pounds for a proposed fight against UFC bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey. It simply couldn't be done.

Today, making that cut down from her longtime weight class of 145 pounds has become Justino's entire life. She fuels her body only with what it needs to get through three training sessions per day. She will fight in Invicta FC at 140 pounds in November against an opponent yet to be determined. If that goes well, she'll debut at 135 pounds in early 2016.

All with one goal in mind: A UFC championship fight against Rousey, potentially at UFC 200 on July 9 in Las Vegas.

"I pray everyday," Justino said about making the weight. "What I remember about some fights at 145 pounds, I think, 'Man, it's impossible (to make 135).' But I now believe I can make 135. It's in God's hands. If I do 90 percent, I'm sure he'll do the other 10 percent.'

"I know it will be tough. Sometimes I train bad [because I have no energy]. I cry, I go home and fight with everybody, then I say I'm sorry. I'm crazy. I'm eating less and training harder. I know this won't be easy, but nothing in my life is."

Even as recent as this year, Justino, 30, has been hesitant to fully commit to the weight cut. She's accused Rousey (12-0) of doing nothing to make the fight happen. She's repeatedly mentioned the idea of a catchweight fight, at 140 pounds.

But the UFC and Rousey haven't budged on the issue. Currently, there is no 145-pound female weight class in the UFC, so the promotion doesn't see the benefit in moving Rousey up. For her part, Rousey has continually accused Justino of using performance-enhancing drugs. Justino tested positive for an anabolic steroid in 2011 but has passed multiple out-of-competition tests in California and Nevada since.

Justino (14-1) appears to have finally accepted she must at least try to make 135 pounds to book a fight against Rousey. For the first time in her career, she's all-in on the cut. But she says she won't compromise her health if it comes to that.

She's hired well-known nutritionist and former U.S. Marine Corps combat condition specialist George Lockhart to oversee the drop in weight, with one major stipulation.

"She made me make a promise that if at any time my mind changes and I don't think she'll be optimal at the weight, I won't let her do it," Lockhart said. "Scientifically, I don't see it being a problem -- but I told her I would."

Lockhart's goal is to not only get Justino down, safely, to 135 pounds by the day of a weigh-in. He intends to rehydrate her to approximately 165 pounds in the 24-hour window leading up to the fight.

"My goal is to make her fight better at 135, which I know sounds cheesy," Lockhart said. "But my goal is to get her almost back to the same weight she's competing at now, in the 145-pound division. A lot of people talk about [UFC heavyweight Roy Nelson] needing to lose all this weight, but the kicker is that weight, when you throw a right hand, all that weight behind it creates a serious problem for your opponent.

"It's the same thing with Cris. Her weight really does help her style. You have a girl who weighs 168 pounds pulling down on your neck and throwing punches, that's a lot to deal with.

Justino received an unexpected boost of confidence last month in the form of an introduction to UFC bantamweight Holly Holm -- who, coincidentally, will challenge Rousey at UFC 193 in November.

Holm is considered relatively big for the 135-pound division. Justino compared herself, physically, to Holm and drew hope in the fact Holm is able to make the weight.

"She's giving me hope," Justino said. "She looks the same size as me, but then I asked for her weight and she said 158. I said, 'Woah, I'm 10 pounds more.' I'm the same size as her, but I think my muscle is heavier -- but she gave me hope."

Lockhart, who estimates he's helped "hundreds" of professional martial artists make weight between the UFC, Bellator MMA and WSOF, has more than hope. He's supremely confident in Justino's ability to make 135, within basically any reasonable timeframe the UFC might offer. He acknowledges the pressure all of them are under though, until it happens.

"I don't mind saying, I'm the best at what I do," Lockhart said. "I am a nerd when it comes to this stuff and I'll say this: The numbers never lie. I know the numbers -- but this is going to be the most publicized weight cut in UFC history. You're still going to get stressed out. I believe in everything I'm calculating, but if one little thing goes wrong, that's probably the end of my career. This is the most mentally demanding thing I've done because there is so much riding on this."

To be sure, what's potentially riding on it is the biggest female fight in the history of combat sports. Rousey and Justino are universally ranked the Nos. 1 and 2 female fighters in the world. They bury opponents inside the first round -- inside the first minute. Both have acknowledged if they never fight, they'll be answering questions about each other the rest of their lives.

It's been Rousey though, who has benefited far more from her position in the sport. It's been Rousey who has crossed over, into a mainstream star. According to Forbes, it was Rousey who made $6.5 million in endorsements and fight salaries within the last year. And it's Rousey who has the high-profile UFC title -- thus, it's Rousey who dictates the terms of a Justino fight.

It's taken years for Justino and her team to accept this. She says she's never felt "jealous" of Rousey's financial success and actually says it's well-deserved.

But she's tired of fighting Rousey in the headlines, where she knows she'll lose every time. She's wants to fight her inside a cage. And after years of uncertainty about 135 pounds, she's finally doing absolutely everything she can to try and make it happen.

"It's easy for [UFC president Dana White] to say I don't want the fight," Justino said. "Why doesn't he say Ronda Rousey doesn't want it? Because she is their champ and so he puts words in my mouth.

"I want to KO her. I want to beat her into the floor. I will put everything inside me. Five years, I listen to her speak bull---- about me, and I'm just here in training. When we're in Octagon, I put everything out. Everything I hold here, in my heart. It will be different, because she's never fought someone like me. I know that she knows this."