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'Cyborg' Justino's UFC debut leaves just as many questions as answers

The long-awaited UFC debut of Cris "Cyborg" Justino was quick, violent and a triumphant personal moment on Saturday night in front of her hometown fans in Curitiba, Brazil.

But Justino's 81-second demolition of former sparring partner Leslie Smith at UFC 198 failed to answer the most important question entering the 140-pound catchweight bout: Is "Cyborg" willing -- or, more important, able -- to drop down five more pounds to where the money is at 135?

After the fight, Justino (16-1), a former Strikeforce champion and the current Invicta 145-pound titleholder, missed a key opportunity to let her words leave the same kind of impact her right hand did inside the Octagon against Smith.

The expected callout of former UFC bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey never came. Neither did the mere mention of current 135-pound champion Miesha Tate, or the fighter she dramatically defeated for the belt in March, Rousey conqueror Holly Holm.

Instead, Justino was noncommittal, leaving more doubt about whether a move to bantamweight for the right fight is even possible.

"I'm the Invicta champion and I want to defend my belt," Justino said, while still in the Octagon after the fight. "I also want to fight at a catchweight in the UFC. But I'm the champion."

Justino reiterated her comments later while addressing the media, saying, "Tonight I feel great. Yesterday, I made 140. I feel good. I think maybe I can make catchweights or defend my belt at 145."

While the idea of Justino making her UFC debut was a great storyline (and likely boosted ticket sales in her hometown at Arena da Baixada), a few key facts remain: The UFC still doesn't promote a 145-pound division and the jury is out whether it would continue to show a willingness to accommodate Justino's need for a catchweight.

With unrivaled power in all of women's MMA, Justino entered Saturday ranked as the top pound-for-pound female fighter by ESPN.com. But with the marketable trio of Tate, Holm and Rousey trading the title among themselves over the past seven months, how exactly will Justino fit in should she prove unable to compete for the belt?

The fact remains that Justino -- despite declaring she would on multiple occasions -- has yet to make a heartfelt effort to cut to 135 pounds. She weighed in at 139 pounds on Friday yet it was far from convincing by looking at her body that cutting an additional four pounds would be possible.

Based upon her postfight comments, one has to wonder whether Justino already knows the answer to that question. Even if Justino was able to make the final cut to 135, would the potential compromise in stamina and explosiveness be worth the trouble it took to get there?

The good news for Justino is she looked great Saturday against Smith (8-7), who was game and vehemently argued the quick stoppage of referee Eduardo Herdy after the fight on social media. But make no mistake, this was a different "Cyborg."

Gone was the unbridled frenzy and furious attack off the opening bell. In its place was a more measured and patient game plan. Justino calmly stalked forward but never flirted with being reckless, going on to land an incredible 21 of 32 strikes (66 percent).

Justino's power was still there in a massive way, meaning she remains an almost unrivaled threat to knock out any opponent in women's MMA. A three-punch combination ended with a right cross that floored Smith, before a series of subsequent hammerfists on the ground forced the stoppage.

But how much of her controlled pace was due to maturity and how much a calculated plan to conserve energy thanks to a difficult weight cut? It's an answer we never had the chance to find out because of Smith's limited skill set, but it's interesting to ponder how quickly an elite fighter -- say Tate, Holm or Rousey -- would be able to.

Rousey has talked negatively about Justino for years and hasn't let her live down a 2011 suspension for steroid use, meaning a superfight between the two remains one of the most attractive bouts the UFC could make. Meanwhile Tate, the current 135-pound champion, also shared her interest on social media late Saturday about facing Justino.

But the best fight stylistically that the UFC could make with Justino would be against Holm, the most dangerous striker of the three who has voiced interest in the past of facing "Cyborg," including at a possible catchweight.

Whether we get there remains to be seen and probably depends on how committed Justino is to making one final (and sincere) effort to make 135 pounds.

Still, despite the lingering questions, "Cyborg" was able to complete a dream and have her UFC moment, making her an incredibly marketable (and dangerous) addition to the mix. Three years after the UFC created a women's division around Rousey's star, we are one step closer to finding out with certainty who's the best female fighter in the world.