What we learned from Bellator 238 as Cyborg made history

Winning a new belt and being congratulated by Bellator president Scott Coker on Saturday make Cris Cyborg a happy champion. Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- The last time Cris Cyborg fought at The Forum, it was Dec. 29, 2018. That night, Amanda Nunes knocked her out to win the UFC women's featherweight title. It was Cyborg's first loss in more than 13 years.

On Saturday, back within the same walls, Cyborg stopped Julia Budd via TKO at 1:14 of the fourth round to win the Bellator women's featherweight title in the main event of Bellator 238. Cyborg, the women's MMA legend, said she remembers the writing on the walls backstage at The Forum, all the photos of the musical artists and sports stars who have performed in the building. She said she actually wasn't upset after losing to Nunes, but that night -- and the arena -- certainly left an impact.

"I was not sad," Cyborg said. "I feel like everything happens for a reason. If I did not lose the belt that day, I would not be here now, champion of Bellator. And here, I'm happy. [In the UFC], I was not happy."

Cyborg started her Bellator run with an impressive win. She's now the only fighter to win titles in the UFC, Bellator, Strikeforce and Invicta FC. It's another accolade to add to Cyborg's lengthy résumé. For more than a decade, she's been one of the best fighters in the world. And Cyborg is on the short list of best women's MMA fighters of all time.

Let's take a closer look at the significance of Cyborg's victory, the gameness of Budd and the rest of a strong Bellator card Saturday night.

Cyborg not far off peak, 11 years after first title win

Cyborg won her first MMA title on Aug. 15, 2009. Her latest high-level MMA title victory just came on Jan. 25, 2020. It's nothing short of remarkable. Cyborg has been at this for 15 years and she's still going strong. Some would argue she's still at her peak. Budd gave her issues at times early in the fight, but Cyborg spoke about her patience in the postfight news conference. She wasn't trying to finish Budd in a matter of seconds, like in so many of Cyborg's past fights. She understands now that the higher the level of competition, the more disciplined she has to be. Cyborg learned that lesson the hard way against Nunes last year.

Then, when Cyborg saw the opening for a flurry in the fourth round, she took it -- and she did not hold back. She looked like a 20-something version of herself late in the fight when she landed a long and devastating combination to finish Budd. We're talking about right crosses, left hooks, shots to the body and kicks to the leg in rapid succession. Cyborg went all Tasmanian Devil on Budd, more than 16 minutes after the fight started. Cyborg has never really needed to show her cardio over the years, because of all those fast knockouts, but it was never an issue in five-round fights, like the one against Holly Holm in 2017.

Cyborg at 34 years old might be just as good as Cyborg at 24. Probably better, considering the evolution in fight IQ. That's a frightening thought. Now it's up to Bellator to promote the heck out of her and find her compelling matchups. That's not always easy, especially in the women's 145-pound division.

Budd a more than worthy opponent

Budd wasn't a household name, and she has never fought in the UFC, which was held against her by some fans. But she was a legitimate opponent for Cyborg in every conceivable way and proved it Saturday by being game throughout. Budd hadn't lost since 2011, and her only career defeats coming into the Cyborg fight were against Amanda Nunes and Ronda Rousey. Budd's sheer size and strength created issues early on for Cyborg, who has long begged promoters to build a division with similar-sized women.

At the postfight news conference, Budd said she knew immediately what she did wrong. She was supposed to push Cyborg up against the cage, stay off the cage herself and pressure the all-time great. Instead, Cyborg initiated that pressure, especially in the third and fourth rounds. Budd was kicking herself afterward. She said she wouldn't mind an immediate rematch, but that seems like a long shot. It wouldn't be out of the question for Cyborg vs. Budd 2 in the future, though. Budd has the ability to string some wins together and come back. No doubt.

Pico in for rebuilding year

Aaron Pico got a much-needed drop in competition level at Bellator 238 and he crushed journeyman Daniel Carey with a wicked left hook knockout in the second round. It would be very tempting to put Pico back up against top featherweight fighters after this win, but not so fast, said Bellator president Scott Coker. The plan for Pico, the promoter said, is to spend all of 2020 trying to build him back up and then throw him back into the deep end beginning in 2021. If all goes well, of course.

This was Pico's real first training camp at JacksonWink MMA in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Coach Greg Jackson told ESPN afterward that he was happy with what Pico showed against Carey -- a little bit of everything. Pico wrestled, he grappled and then he knocked Carey clean out with his boxing. Meshing all those things together is a key for someone who was once the most hyped prospect in MMA history. JacksonWink MMA really believe in Pico, and by all accounts he has the work ethic to succeed in MMA. But after two straight devastating knockouts in 2019, it's probably the right choice for Bellator to put Pico into a rebuilding year in 2020.

Don't doubt Caldwell in tournaments

In 2009, Darrion Caldwell was not supposed to win the NCAA Division I national wrestling tournament. There were wrestlers ranked and seeded higher and coming from better wrestling programs. Caldwell was an upstart from North Carolina State. He ended up beating Hodge Trophy winner and defending champ Brent Metcalf to win the national title, ending the season with a 38-1 record.

After Saturday, it seems like we're in for another incredible Caldwell run. He finished Adam Borics by first-round submission in the Bellator Featherweight World Grand Prix quarterfinals after beating Henry Corrales in the first round back in September. Next up is a semifinal matchup with Bellator's undefeated prized prospect AJ McKee. Sound like a familiar narrative for Caldwell? Caldwell has already been Bellator bantamweight champion twice and now he's one of the favorites to win the 145-pound tourney.

Roller-coaster stretch for Pettis brothers

Last Saturday night at UFC 246, Anthony Pettis was finished by Diego Ferreira. It was the former UFC lightweight champion's second straight defeat and fourth loss in six fights. Pettis, once a Wheaties box cover boy for the UFC, seems to be at a career crossroads.

Seven days later, his younger brother Sergio seems as though he's in for a career resurgence. Sergio stopped Alfred Khashakyan with a guillotine choke in the first round at Bellator 238. That might have been a mercy submission, too. Sergio was absolutely teeing off on Khashakyan in a violent, standout performance. Sergio left the UFC as a free agent and this was his Bellator debut. Coker was already talking about Pettis The Younger fighting for the vacant bantamweight title in the future.

Look, Bellator is not going to provide the level of competition that the UFC did. But that's OK. There are plenty of fun fights for Sergio moving forward, and he can be a highlight on Bellator cards over the next few years. Don't forget, he's still only 26 years old. Imagine Sergio Pettis vs. Kyoji Horiguchi. Who wouldn't want to see that?