Justino comeback still on track
Cris Justino's plan to rebuild her image and sharpen her knives through Invicta FC is proceeding as she expected.
Two fights into a three-bout deal, "Cyborg" is officially atop 145 again, requiring little time to reassert herself as the dominant force at featherweight.
The slaughter of Marloes Coenen on Saturday was a reminder that it'll take something and someone special to stop the destructive 28-year-old Brazilian. The first option on everyone's list, of course, is UFC bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey.
As spectacles go, Cyborg-Rousey is a "superfight" -- easily the most important all-female MMA contest yet. Rousey is a star. She has everything you'd want out of a pay-per-view draw. "Cyborg" serves as the antihero, at least insofar as how people view her. She's perfect to root against, and it seems the stigma of a positive steroid test will linger for as long as she decides to step in a cage and fight for a living.
Justino's plan doesn't seek to remedy any of that. Yet so long as she fights and wins, that's good enough to get her where she wants to be.
And if she fights and wins the way she did this weekend, that could easily convince people that Cyborg, not Rousey, is mixed martial arts' best female fighter.
Invicta FC 6 grades
You're looking at the most violent fighter in MMA. Cris Justino slaughtered Coenen during a relentless display that prompted even the most battle-hardened fighters, Matt Lindland for instance, to plead for mercy for the Dutch queen. That never happened, and Justino was happy to slug away until the finish in the fourth. She has so much power it's difficult to picture the woman who would best her. With an improved takedown game and the ground and pound that could follow, she's only going to get scarier.
A 24-year-old beast. Claudia Gadelha brings together a gymnast's body -- compact, athletic, and strong -- with the vale tudo attitude. Pressure was her most effective ally against Ayaka Hamasaki, especially on the canvas. She's 11-0 for several reasons, and looked supremely dangerous for Invicta champion Carla Esparza.
Rebounding from a heartbreaking title loss to Michelle Waterson, Jessica Penne dominated as she should have against Nicdali Rivera-Calanoc. Penne took a few punches before asserting her ground game. Against a heavier puncher, she might have been in trouble. But it was a whitewash from that point forward, as Penne finished with a constrictor style rear-naked choke. Her postfight attitude wasn't great. Shoving Rivera-Calanoc seemed unnecessary.
Ayaka Hamasaki lost a title shot when Esparza was injured, and struggled underneath Gadelha before conceding a rear-naked choke. The reality is, she didn't show much because she didn't have the chance. The previously unbeaten 31-year-old Japanese strawweight carried a good record into the fight, but the result revealed her limitations against such belligerent competition.
"The Night Queen" Nicdali Rivera-Calanoc showed some life on the feet, but she was outclassed on the floor. Skill had a lot to do with her struggles against Penne. The loss dropped her to 8-7.
Look, her spirit deserves an A+. There were points in the fight I couldn't understand how she as still standing. But physically and technically she was overmatched by the Brazilian. Marloes Coenen will hit her 13-year anniversary as a pro in November. I think it's safe to say we've seen her best days.
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