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Analysis: Can Holly Holm prove Cris Cyborg human at UFC 219?

Women’s featherweight title fight tops annual local year-end event

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Brazilian-American mixed martial arts superstar, current UFC Women’s Featherweight Champion, and Claressa Shields sparring partner, Cris Cyborg, poses before Shields weighs in, Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017, in Detroit.

Sometimes lost in all the attention on doping controversies and spats with Dana White is one indisputable truth when it comes to Cris Cyborg: She’s the most dominant fighter alive.

The 32-year-old UFC women’s featherweight champion is one of the only fighters in the world capable of making fans question the validity of the adage that everyone is beatable in mixed martial arts.

Cyborg hasn’t lost in nearly 13 years, dating back to her professional debut.

Hasn’t even come close, knocking out 17 of 19 opponents — though one was overturned to a no contest after she failed a drug test — and winning every round in the other two fights. Hasn’t even been considered at risk and gone into a fight favored at less than 10-to-1 since 2009, when she defeated Gina Carano in a Strikeforce bout credited with bringing women’s mixed martial arts its first widespread notoriety.

That changes tonight at T-Mobile Arena in the main event of UFC 219, which is expected to commence around 9:30 p.m. to cap a pay-per-view card that begins at 7. Queen-slayer Holly Holm, who ended Ronda Rousey’s hold on women’s mixed martial arts two years ago, challenges Cyborg for the 145-pound division title.

In Holm, Cyborg finds the most notable opponent of her career, if not the toughest. Holm is currently only a 3-to-1 underdog to Cyborg, who comes back at a comparatively low price of minus-400 (risking $4 to win $1).

“I think it’ll be a different fight,” Cyborg said. “Maybe Holly will give me the opportunity to show a little bit more of Cyborg.”

Cyborg is in the abnormal, and unenviable, position of needing a worthy foil to advance her standing in the sport. Criticisms might be the only thing that outnumber knockouts in her career.

She’s brought a portion of it on herself, though the vast majority of condemnations she’s faced — especially a troubling trend of often misogynistic remarks on her appearance — are completely unfair. And they’re mostly rooted in the way she’s savagely dispatched opponent after opponent.

“She’s been undefeated for over a decade for a reason,” Holm said on UFC’s “Embedded” series. “It’s not like there’s really been these close fights she’s had. She goes in and she usually takes care of business.”

Cyborg is known for her aggression, and in most of her fights, it’s taken only an advance or two to end her opponent’s night. Holm could conceivably use Cyborg’s attack mentality against her.

A former boxing champion, the 36-year-old Holm is one of the most adept counter-punchers in all of the UFC. Against Cyborg, she could use a similar wait-and-strike blueprint to the one she utilized in knocking Rousey unconscious with a second-round head kick two years ago.

Many would consider a win over Cyborg, which would give Holm a second title in a different weight class, even more momentous than the Rousey victory. Holm hinted she agreed.

“In my life right now, yes, this is going to be the biggest accomplishment I could have,” Holm said. “But nothing could take away from the journey I had and the experience I had in my fight with Ronda.”

Rousey was always among the biggest Cyborg antagonizers, as the two often felt headed towards an eventual fight against each other three or four years ago. Cyborg said a sense that the fight was never going to happen was confirmed on the night of UFC 193, when Holm finished Rousey.

She then set her sights on Holm, feeling she had taken the place of the opponent with the potential of the biggest reward.

That the UFC booked the fight for her fourth bout, and first title defense, in the octagon is just one sign of things coming around for Cyborg. Her relationship with the UFC appears stabilized, having recently signed a multi-fight extension with the organization.

Cyborg’s biggest boost at UFC 219 would likely come if she found a true rival in Holm, and prevailed in memorable fight. That’s not to say there would be anything wrong with Cyborg slaughtering Holm like she has so many others in the past.

There should be no shame in greatness.

“I challenge myself to get in and learn each fight,” Cyborg said.

“When I go inside the cage, I never think, ‘Oh, I’m 10 years undefeated.’ I never think I’m the champion.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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