Cris Cyborg defends Bellator featherweight strap with second round submission

From Jeff Wagenheim of ESPN:

It was the same old Cyborg. It was a brand-new Cyborg.

Cris Cyborg put on another dominant performance in a career full of them, and added a new twist by scoring her first submission victory in 26 pro bouts, choking out Arlene Blencowe to successfully defend her Bellator women’s featherweight championship in the main event of Bellator 249 on Thursday at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.

Cyborg battered her challenger in a one-sided round and a half, bloodying Blencowe in the stand-up fighting before taking her to the canvas and locking in a rear-naked choke to get the tapout at 2:36 of Round 2.

“This is a dream come true,” said Cyborg (23-2, 1 NC). “I’m really happy, and excited for the next one.”

Cyborg, who had scored knockouts in 18 of her previous 22 victories, was making her first defense of the 145-pound championship she won from Julia Budd in January in her Bellator debut. That completed a sweep of all major featherweight titles in women’s MMA, as Cyborg previously had reigned in the UFC, Invicta FC and the now-defunct Strikeforce.

A 35-year-old native of Brazil who lives and trains in Southern California, Cyborg has suffered just one defeat in 15 years, a TKO loss in 2018 to two-division UFC champion Amanda Nunes, who is No. 1 in the ESPN women’s pound-for-pound rankings. Cyborg is ranked third.

Blencowe (13-8), a 37-year-old from Australia, is a former two-time world champion in pro boxing. But her boxing never was a factor in this fight. Cyborg hurt her in the first round with leg kicks and fast combinations of punches, and when the champ got the fight to the canvas just two minutes in, she seized a dominant position and nearly ended it then.

Blencowe survived to the bell, but she was damaged goods coming out for the second round. Cyborg swarmed her, took her back to the mat and finished her.

It was Blencowe’s second unsuccessful bid for the Bellator women’s featherweight title. She lost a split decision to Budd in 2017.

Earlier in the evening, the fight card lost its co-main event when Patricky Freire was pulled from his 159-pound catchweight bout with Jaleel Willis because he fell ill. Mike Mazzulli, director of athletic regulation for the Mohegan Tribe, said Freire was removed from the card “because of an illness unrelated to COVID or weight cut.”

Later, the fighter’s brother, Bellator men’s featherweight champ Patricio Freire, wrote on Instagram that he and Patricky’s trainers had called off the fight, saying, “I caught him in his room a bit dizzy right when we were going to leave to the arena.”

He said his brother was seen by two commission doctors, had been medicated and was feeling well “but devastated by the cancellation.”

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