Cris "Cyborg" Justino is arguably the most dominant female fighter in MMA history. She has held featherweight titles in the UFC, Strikeforce and Invicta. She has 20 wins -- 10 of which ended in first-round knockouts -- including victories over former champions Gina Carano and Holly Holm.
Cyborg was unbeaten from November 2005 until December 2018, and despite her KO loss to Amanda Nunes, she's still one of the most feared fighters in the sport.
And the UFC just might lose her.
Her UFC 240 co-main event bout against Felicia Spencer on Saturday night marks the final fight on Justino's UFC contract, and the popular former champion has stated her desire to test her value on the open market.
There should be no shortage of suitors for one of the best female MMA fighters to ever live, and it will ultimately depend on what Justino covets most at this point in her career. With that in mind, let's handicap the likely landing spots for one of the most coveted MMA free agents-to-be in recent memory.
ESPN's Odds: - 250
Despite Justino's seemingly constant unhappiness with UFC's decisions during her tenure with the company and a poor relationship with UFC president Dana White, Justino still appears likely to re-up with the world's biggest MMA promotion. A lot of that is contingent upon whether Justino beats Spencer. If she does, a rematch between Justino and Amanda Nunes for the UFC women's featherweight title later this year would be a no-brainer.
Justino's biggest gripe with the UFC -- other than the offhanded remarks made by White over the years -- has been its unwillingness to commit to a women's featherweight division. Justino was brought into the UFC initially in 2016 to fight at 140-pound catchweights, with the hope of moving down to 135 to fight Ronda Rousey. That matchup never materialized because Justino was frankly too big to get that far down in weight.
In 2017, the UFC actually created a women's featherweight title, and then they didn't wait for Justino to fight for it. While Justino was going through issues following a bad weight cut and an issue with the USADA (which was resolved), the UFC had Germaine de Randamie fight Holly Holm for the 145-pound belt. De Randamie won, then refused to defend the belt against Justino because of Justino's past positive drug test for a steroid. The UFC stripped de Randamie and had Justino fight for the vacant 145-pound title against Tonya Evinger. Justino won at UFC 214 in July 2017, but two years later, there still isn't even a top-15 rankings for women's featherweight in the UFC.
Justino lost the title to Nunes via first-round knockout at UFC 232 in December. Nunes is also the women's bantamweight champion and seems more interested in staying at 135 and taking care of business there rather than helping build the 145-pound weight class. The whole situation is a bit of a mess, but it could still right itself with a renewed commitment to Justino and the division. Spencer is a relatively new signee, and the UFC seems to be in the process of bringing in more female featherweights.
ESPN's odds: +175
Justino has a relationship with Bellator president Scott Coker going back more than a decade, to her Strikeforce debut in 2009. She and Coker always got along much better than she and White have, and that's an understatement. For that reason alone, Bellator would be in the running for Justino's service -- and there is little doubt that Bellator would be very interested.
Bellator has done a good job picking up key free agents from the UFC, including current Bellator heavyweight and light heavyweight champion Ryan Bader, former UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida, current Bellator welterweight champion Rory MacDonald and former Bellator middleweight champion Gegard Mousasi. Justino might make the biggest impact of them all. She's a proven ratings draw and would make a difference for Bellator on Paramount Network and DAZN.
Other than a rematch with Nunes, perhaps the biggest possible fight out there for Justino would be against Julia Budd. The Bellator featherweight champion has won seven in a row and her only career losses came against Ronda Rousey and Amanda Nunes, both in 2011. Bellator also has a functioning women's featherweight division, which can't be said for many of the other competitors here. Justino has even said that publicly.
ESPN's odds: +400
ONE has two good things going for it in negotiations: money and a compelling matchup. ONE has been aggressive in free agency since last year, scooping up the likes of former UFC lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez and Sage Northcutt from the UFC, and brokering a trade to acquire Demetrious Johnson, the greatest flyweight fighter ever. ONE wants to run a show in the United States next year and is reportedly working on a show in Brazil. Justino would be a good fit -- and possible headlining act -- in either scenario.
And that one compelling matchup? That would be recently signed Jorina Baars, the kickboxing great who owns a Muay Thai victory over Justino in 2014. At the time, it was Justino's first combat sports loss going back to 2005. Of course, Justino is a mixed martial artist, not a Thai boxer, but it wouldn't be surprising if she was interested in getting that fight back, whether it's in a cage or ring. Baars even mentioned when she signed that she'd be interested in a Justino rematch. Another thing to add: ONE signing Baars about a month before the final fight on Justino's contract is likely not a coincidence. If Justino did head over to the Asian promotion, she wouldn't have many potential opponents, but Baars would be a big one.
Professional Fighters League
ESPN's odds: +500
Since we're talking about intriguing fights for Justino, the PFL has one of the biggest: a matchup with former two-time Olympic judo champion Kayla Harrison. That's a fight Harrison has talked about and one Justino would surely be interested in. The one problem is that it couldn't be done right away. That's not the PFL's style.
The PFL has a season-and-playoffs structure. It could put Harrison and Justino together in the same division -- either at lightweight, Harrison's current home, or at featherweight -- and then hope they both make it to the finals or face off in the postseason. There is a risk in that, though.
Harrison is still new to MMA, with only five pro fights compared to Justino's 23. Harrison will be in the PFL's lightweight playoffs in October and seems to be on a collision course with Sarah Kaufman. If Kaufman (or someone else) beats Harrison, a Justino vs. Harrison fight would not be nearly as marketable. The possibility of winning $1 million at the end of a season could be attractive to Justino, but she has sizable fight purses already and likely would require a good amount upfront. Another attractive aspect of PFL: a guaranteed, consistent stream of fights and, like the UFC, exposure on ESPN. It would not be an out-of-the-question destination, and the PFL surely will be interested.
- Cyborg UFC240 ESPN+ (@criscyborg) January 17, 2019
*when* I win. https://t.co/wB3NO7iMj9
- Kayla Harrison (@Judo_Kayla) January 17, 2019
ESPN's odds: +650
Justino has long stated her desire to get into boxing. She has a close relationship with women's boxing champion Claressa Shields, and Justino has even walked Shields out to the ring on several occasions. A number of times, Justino has had social media exchanges with current boxers. The possibility is out there, but it's unclear how much boxing promoters would be willing to pony up for her services.
Women's boxing isn't as big a business as women's MMA. Maybe Justino could go a long way toward changing that, but right now it'd be more practical and lucrative for her to sign with an MMA promotion. It wouldn't be at all shocking if Bare Knuckle FC made a run at her, too -- perhaps offering more than a traditional boxing promoter. But unless Justino signs a deal in MMA that would also allow her to box, her getting into the ring with the big gloves remains an underdog.
ESPN's odds: +1000
Justino also has expressed interest in pro wrestling on social media often over the past year. She frequently replies to wrestlers and shares fan-made graphics made of her squaring off with potential wrestling rivals. Justino was ringside for Double or Nothing, the first pay-per-view card run by upstart All Elite Wrestling (AEW) in May, and sources have said there has been at least some dialogue between Justino's team and AEW, but nothing significant quite yet. She also made a meet-and-greet appearance at the AEW-adjacent Starrcast convention the same weekend of Double or Nothing in Las Vegas.
- Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) January 28, 2019
While it would not be new or shocking for a former UFC champion to show up in wrestling in some form -- Brock Lesnar and Rousey are both on the WWE roster -- Cyborg has little pro wrestling training and likely stands to have much more interest with more lucrative deals in other combat sports mediums. It is certainly possible she could land somewhere that would let her cross over into pro wrestling, though, the same way Cain Velasquez will do next month when he debuts in Mexican lucha libre.