Butterflies flutter in Cris Cyborg’s stomach this week.
It’s not that the Bellator MMA featherweight champion is nervous, in her own assessment, ahead of her professional boxing debut Sunday in her hometown of Curitiba, Brazil, where she will face veteran Simone Silva. Excited: That’s more like it.
“It’s different, but it’s still fighting. It’s still a fight,” the 37-year-old GOAT and pioneer of women’s mixed martial arts told The Post this week via Zoom. “I know it’s a different sport. I prepared very [well]. I feel ready.”
For well over a decade, Cyborg has been either No. 1 or 2 in the world at 145 pounds in MMA. And for years, she — like so many successful mixed martial artists — has toyed with the idea of trying her hands at boxing. At last, the stars aligned for her to chase another dream of hers as she competes at 154 pounds.
That difference in weight already has Cyborg feeling much better than is typical for fight week, given she won’t have to cut an extra nine pounds.
“I feel more happy in fight week. It’s kind of weird,” Cyborg said. “Seventeen years, I’ve been cutting weight the week of the fight, and then this week has been a little bit different.”
Cyborg is no stranger to venturing outside of MMA competition. In the past, she competed at world submission grappling competitions such as ADCC and IBJJF, and eight years ago she lost a Muay Thai championship but against renowned kickboxer Jorina Baars.
Naturally, each individual discipline comes with its natural differences from MMA. In Cyborg’s estimation, the biggest difference in preparing for boxing this time has gotta be the shoes.
“But of course, everything is different,” Cyborg elaborates. “And then it’s very [repetitious] too because, every day, you’re training kind of the same thing. It’s not like, ‘OK, this morning, I’m gonna do Muay Thai. Tomorrow: grappling. But I feel happy. I know it’s gonna improve my game for MMA.”
With a 17-22 record, Cyborg’s opponent Silva brings a wealth of experience despite a sub-.500 record. She’s faced world-class boxers like Amanda Serrano, and Cyborg has never been one to take an opponent lightly, regardless of what outsiders might say.
A potential hitch entered the equation in the leadup the fight due to the 39-year-old Silva still being under a 60-day medical suspension by the Texas Combative Sports Program after suffering a knockout loss on Aug. 13. The Fight Music Show 2 (1 p.m. ET, FiteTV) co-main event bout against Cyborg is scheduled for 43 days after the loss to Jessica Camara in Houston.
As a result, the bout will no longer be overseen by the Organização Brasileira de Boxe, which will oversee the rest of the event’s boxing action. However, Cyborg-Silva appears to be going forward as scheduled, and the former UFC, Strikeforce and Invicta champ did not seem concerned Wednesday about the fight’s status.
The bout is scheduled for eight 2-minute rounds, the customary round length in women’s boxing that’s a minute shorter than is typical for men. In MMA, both men and women generally compete in 5-minute rounds. Nevertheless, many years ago, women’s MMA was contested over 3-minute rounds … until Cyborg’s historic championship win over Gina Carano in 2009 established what would later become standard when their bout was scheduled for the longer rounds.
With that in mind, Cyborg is confident the time will come when both men and women box 3-minute rounds.
“I believe the sport’s gonna grow and gonna change the time,” Cyborg said. “The girls can fight three minutes.”
Cyborg prefers not to look past Silva and her milestone matchup this weekend, but plenty of possibilities loom in her future. On the boxing side, chatter of a potential fight with world champion Katie Taylor won’t go away and would only grow louder with an impressive showing Sunday. The MMA great feels “honored” to be in that conversation with Taylor, a champion she respects and considers to be a legend in her sport — takes one to know one.
And with a self-imposed three-year window before capping her professional fighting career, there remains much Cyborg aims to accomplish in her primary sport. She’s currently a free agent, although signs point to her returning to Bellator and continuing a long-standing business relationship with president Scott Coker, who formerly headed Strikeforce during Cyborg’s rise to stardom.
Cyborg says she’s motivated to give her fans the fights they want to see. And at this point, those fans are calling as loudly as they can for her to face unbeaten PFL lightweight champion and two-time Olympic gold medal-winning judoka Kayla Harrison. It’s a bout Harrison has called for just as loudly and, reportedly, nearly came together during Harrison’s free agency period earlier this year before PFL exercised its right to match a Bellator contract offer.
The two women, who alongside Amanda Nunes are considered the world’s best at 145 pounds and up, have traded words on social media for years, but Cyborg deferred this week on the subject of the two facing off, at least while she’s got boxing business to handle.
“Let’s see after this fight,” said Cyborg of potentially facing Harrison. “I don’t like to think about the future.”