Don’t Sweat The Technique: Cris Cyborg vs Holly Holm – Part 2

At UFC 219 we have the biggest matchup in women’s mixed martial arts this year and no worse than the 4th biggest fight in the history of women’s mixed martial arts when discussing the caliber, accomplishment, physical and technical tools of the fighters.

This Saturday night we have a match between, former UFC Featherweight title challenger, multiple time boxing champion and former Ultimate Fighting Championship Bantamweight champion Holly Holm. On the other side of the octagon will be former Strikeforce, Invicta and current UFC Featherweight champion, Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino.

In Part 1 I laid out the eight things that have assisted, limited and defined Holly in her wildly uneven, though successful, run as a world championship boxer and world class mixed martial arts fighter.

Today I am going to address five talking points about the other half of this fight Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino, discussing the positives, negatives and intangibles that will define one of the biggest fights in women’s mixed martial arts history.

5) “Cyborg” is one of the best all-round fighters in women’s mixed martial arts, unlike fighters who lean exclusively on athleticism (Julianna Pena, Elizabeth Phillips), fighters who build their game exclusively around one skillset/range (Ronda Rousey, Sara McMann). Justino is much more like her male compatriots in that she has a wide array of skills and has enough depth of skill in each area to challenge or meet challenges regardless of where the fight takes place. Justino has supplemented her skills and developed versatility in them by training with a variety of camps (Kings, Team Punishment, and RVCA), coaches (Parillo, Cordeiro, Ortiz) and sparring partners (Gabi Garcia, Leslie Smith, Clarissa Shields, Mia St. John).

On top of that Cyborg has made it a point to stay competitive not just in mixed martial arts, but also in other combat sports (Muay Thai, Competitive Grappling & Wrestling); Justino has won world championships in the IBJJF purple belt division (2x), bronze medalist ADCC, and two time amateur wrestling champion in Brazil (Snr Freestyle State Champion & Snr Freestyle Brazil Cup International Champion). Most recently Justino faced undefeated and pound for pound female fighter Jorina Baars in Muay Thai. When it comes to women’s mixed martial arts, very few fighters have the level of instruction, sparring and competition (in numerous combat sports) that Justino has. Which also explains why so few fighters show the diversity, depth and nuance of skill, strategy and IQ in mixed martial arts that Cyborg does.

4) Justino is the most dangerous fight for Holm, unlike other fighters who may have a better balance of skills or maybe have a better depth of skill in a specific range of mixed martial arts. Justino actually is comparable, and most would say superior, to Holm in regards to physical tools. The advantages in strength, size, mobility, speed and explosiveness that allow Holly to limit the price she pays for fundamental flaws in her stance, lines of delivery in her boxing, or her ability to set up her offense. The physical gifts that allow her to navigate those shortcomings will essentially be neutralized, meaning that Holly can and will be punished for every technical gaffe or strategic misstep.

3) Cyborg is an aggressive counter puncher, what this means is she comes forward staying in range to land her strikes, cut the cage and pressure. The physical presence of Justino creates the sense of a threat which makes her opponent feel they need to throw strikes to relieve the pressure being applied, this allows the aggressor to land their own offense based on the openings created by their opponent’s attempt to create space by throwing strikes. The benefit of this approach is twofold, first it is mentally draining. When a fighter doesn’t have a safe zone or an easy way to get away from the threat posed, their mind is in a constant state of distress.

The second front this approach attacks people on is the physical one, as fighters are forced to move attack and defend at a higher pace and with more intensity than normal which will create lapses defensively and offensively that are a direct result of exhaustion. “Cyborg” has shown this versus Charmaine Tweet and Daria Imbragimova. For a more famous example of this you can always refer to the Media/Sporting event Mayweather vs McGregor.

2) Stylistically this is a difficult fight for Justino, unlike most fighters who get their wins by exchanging, pressuring their opponents whether it is to grapple or to strike. Holm on the other hand is a mobile, long athletic fighter, with good footwork, and an outfighting counter striker; meaning that Cyborg is going to have to find Holly, she won’t be there to be clinched, be trapped, be pressured or be hit as easily or consistently as the majority of her opponents. Due to her extensive boxing competition experience, footwork and mobility Cyborg will have a difficult time cutting the cage off, more importantly she will be more meticulous in applying said pressure due to Holm’s counterpunching identity and advanced footwork, which will allow her to set traps and create counter opportunities for her punches and kicks.

“Cyborg” likes to pressure opponents into mistakes, and while Holly makes a lot of them, most of them are made when she leads. When Holm is backing up, circling, setting the range and countering an aggressive opponent is when she is almost untouchable. Don’t believe me; ask Bethe Correia and Ronda Rousey.

1) Cyborg’s biggest strength isn’t her physicality or her power or her athleticism it is her technical skill/cage IQ. Her ability to transition between skills and correctly use skill for the circumstance she finds herself in. Unlike Holly, Justino is more than capable of producing consistent, controlled pressure, this is in large part due to her balanced stance and excellent mechanics.

Justino comes in behind an active and disruptive jab, her jab has multiple purposes. It serves as a line of defense and an offensive tool, on the rare occasion when an opponent can slip or parry it Cyborg’s jab becomes a setup for the rest of her arsenal as her opponents response to the jab creates lanes for straight punches, crosses and hooks. All of which are generated in the form of three to four punch organic combinations, that allow her to attack both the head and body. In most cases that spells the end for the majority of fighters, but in the rare instance that a fighter can survive the initial assault and has the savviness to angle or circle out, Justino can rely on her kicks. She uses them to control her opponent’s movement, take away alternate escape routes and force them backwards; which allows her to trap them and open up with her hands, or initiate a clinch where she alternates between double collar tie up and frames while unleashing a torrent of knees, punches and elbows on her hapless victim. She then can choose to continue to run them through the meat grinder which is her clinch or she can use inside/outside trips or throws where she can gain top position and finish the fight with her particular brand of ground and pound.

Unlike many fighters whose success is tied to a unique style or physical gift, “Cyborg” advantage is often the only one that really matters at the elite level, at that level the attributes tend to balance out; the one thing that never becomes less effective is the one thing most fighters don’t focus on, skill.

Cyborg is on the cusp of greatness, finally getting a chance to perform on the big stage versus the kind of opponent that can take her from mixed martial arts superstar, to legitimate crossover superstar. The only thing standing between her and her dream is Holly Holm.

As stated earlier, Holm is the most accomplished and physically gifted opponent Cyborg has faced. Stylistically she is a nightmare matchup due to the combination of skills, experience and physical gifts; unfortunately for Holm the only place she presents problems is stylistically.

Cyborg is the better athlete and all round the more technical fighter, which means that while Holm presents problems, Cyborg presents danger. I will take the dangerous fighter over the problematic fighter, as I fully expect Cyborg to win in spectacular fashion cementing herself as the best WMMA fighter of all time and completing her 12 year journey to superstardom.