Monday, November 29, 2021

Who Can Beat Cris Cyborg? A Look at the Odds

Cris Cyborg (20-1-1) is arguably the most dominant female fighter in the history of mixed martial arts. There is not a single female MMA fighter at 145 or below, past or present, who would be a betting favorite over her. With her lone lost in MMA being 13 years ago in her very first fight, the term “unbeatable” seems a term that is tempting and borderline fitting whenever Cyborg makes short work of her overmatched foes. But I am here to tell you that it is not true.

Cyborg is beatable. I conducted a hunt to discover who in women’s MMA can beat Cyborg, not just in the UFC, but in the world. The hunt led me to six names who must be considered but with drastically varying odds. In fact, of the six, I believe only three of these names would be small to moderate underdogs against the featherweight queen. In this article, I will list these six names along with how much of a favorite Cyborg would be against them (Spoiler Alert: Cyborg would be the favorite against all of them). So what are the odds that somebody knocks off the seemingly unstoppable Cris Cyborg? Let’s discuss.

Megan Anderson (8-2)

Megan Anderson
Image Credit: Dave Mandel of

My odds: Cyborg -580

Predicted Bookmaker Opening Line: Cyborg -500

Predicted Bookmaker Closing Line: Cyborg -410

Though not as overmatched as the Tonya Evingers and Yana Kunitsayas of beatdown past, Anderson would come in as a heavy underdog and deservedly so. Cyborg would not be closer to a -1000 favorite as she has been in in the past because Anderson is a true featherweight who is not one to back up and allow Cyborg to bomb on her at will. Anderson is athletic for the division, and has a decent clinch game that, used with a 6’0” frame, could present problems for Cyborg, as it is the clinch that has temporarily stalled Cyborg in her last two fights and has presented some possible game plan strategies for future opponents. However, Anderson’s ground game is suspect, and I believe Cyborg could take it there if she chose to, but I doubt she would need to. Megan Anderson has a tendency to leave her hands down and she has gotten tagged for it by the likes of Charmaine Tweet and Cindy Dandois, which was a fight Anderson would end up losing.

This would most likely be a straight boxing match. Anderson has pretty good movement, but her punches are much, much more eatable than Cyborg’s. The odds are very high that at some point, most likely as early as the first round, Anderson would leave her hands down. And I’ll tell you what: Cyborg is not Charmaine Tweet. If Anderson takes the punches she took against Tweet, she will not eat them and continue walking forward. She is more likely to initiate a clinch which would stall Cyborg for a minute or two before Cyborg eventually breaks free and continues bombing on Anderson until the TKO victory is rendered. I do believe Anderson could land some punches and mount some offense, but she would only be able to handle so much of Cyborg’s return-fire. Cyborg has twice the experience as Anderson, half the losses (with this loss coming in her debut fight), and is still easily in her prime while Anderson is still developing.

I feel Anderson’s fans would bring the final lines closer, in part because of their hope that she can be the one to defeat Cyborg and also because Anderson may look better to them than she actually is due to the lack of depth in the featherweight division and the fact that she won the Invicta featherweight championship. But in reality, her odds are not too much better than the average Cyborg victim.

Julia Budd (11-2)

Image via Bellator‘s YouTube Channel

My odds: Cyborg -430

Predicted Bookmaker Line: Cyborg -355

Predicted Bookmaker Closing Line: Cyborg -420

Julia Budd, the reigning Bellator Women’s Featherweight Champion is on a nine-fight win streak, and the last of her only two losses came to Ronda Rousey seven years ago. Budd is very physically strong, has a strong kickboxing background, and she is able to use her strength for takedowns. She is also very capable of controlling the fight in the clinch. If she were to defeat Cyborg, this would need to be her game plan….to implement a Holm-esque, clinch-heavy game plan. Unlike Holm, I believe Budd could get off more offense in the clinch and ultimately win the fight by decision.

I believe Budd’s biggest attribute is her strength. Unfortunately for her, she is not stronger than Cyborg and not quite enough of a stylistic threat, either. Although Holm was able to control Cyborg in the clinch, she was not able to get off much offense at all in the position and the same could be said for Kunitskaya. So the best path to victory for Budd, the clinch, is one that isn’t necessarily a weakness for Cyborg, but rather a stalling tactic that could make a decision victory possible for Budd. But when not in the clinch, Cyborg is a more dangerous striker and Budd does not have a clear advantage in any position.

But the fact that Cyborg nullifies her biggest asset, her strength, would be a problem for Budd. And the bigger question mark of the fight isn’t how Budd would do in the clinch with Cyborg, but how many of Cyborg’s punches would she be able to withstand? Budd is capable of implementing a technical striking game plan, but I do not see her movement as being good enough to avoid the inevitable Cyborg onslaught. Holly Holm, someone who has never been knocked out in MMA and who, combing boxing, kickboxing, and MMA, has only been knocked out three times in 49 total fights, is the only fighter who has been able to withstand Cyborg’s striking onslaught since 2005. So I have a lot of doubts that Budd would be able to join this exclusive club after being on the wrong end of Cyborg’s power strikes.

Cyborg is more of a finisher than Budd, is stronger than Budd, is a more dangerous striker than Budd, and Budd has no clear stylistic path to victory. For these reasons, Cyborg would still be a favorite in the high-moderate range.

“The Lioness” Amanda Nunes (15-4)

Amanda Nunes
Amanda Nunes

My odds: Cyborg -415

Predicted Bookmaker Line: Cyborg -265

Predicted Bookmaker Closing Line: Cyborg -310

Amanda Nunes should be a sizable underdog in this fight because her chance of winning just amounts to a really, really, really good puncher’s chance. Amanda is definitely capable of tagging Cyborg, especially early in the fight. And if Nunes lands clean, Cyborg can be dropped or TKO’d just like anybody else. However, unlike Miesha Tate, Ronda Rousey, or any of the other fighters Nunes has walked through in the UFC, Cyborg is also a power striker. More importantly, Cyborg is a better striker than Nunes. She has more power than Nunes, and facing a more powerful striker is something Nunes is not accustomed to. Also, a lot of the KO power Nunes generates at 135 would likely not be as present at 145.

On the flip side, when Cyborg lands on a natural 135er, it is even more powerful than when she lands on a 145er. In fact, the ease in which she has walked through 135ers in the UFC supports the notion that her power is too much for 135ers to handle. Nunes has fought at featherweight before; but at this point, bantamweight is clearly her natural weight class. Nunes may be able to have success on the ground, but she depends on her striking, which is an approach that I believe would be problematic for her in this fight.

Furthermore, if Nunes is not able to TKO Cyborg and the fight goes late, Cyborg seems to have better endurance. Cyborg had more activity in the Holly Holm fight in the championship rounds than Nunes did in the Valentina Shevchenko fight, which was supposed to silence critics about Nunes’ cardio. If you throw as few strikes as Nunes did in this fight, I would certainly hope that you wouldn’t be tired. So as far as I’m concerned, her cardio is every bit in question as it has always been.

What we have is a fighter who depends on striking against a fighter who is better and stronger at this skill. And as far as getting it to the ground is concerned, not only would Cyborg’s strength and size advantage be a large barrier for Nunes to overcome, but even if she got it there, Cyborg is likely to use that same strength and size to get back up or her brown-belt jiu-jitsu to defend well enough to survive the round. What would most likely happen is a feel-out process in the first, followed by some scares for Nunes in the second (and/or possibly scares for Cyborg), and perhaps a TKO victory by Cyborg in the third or championship rounds on a much slower, fatigued Nunes who would be fighting at a weight above her natural division. If her cardio is an issue at 135, what would it look like at 145?

Holly Holm (11-4)

Cris Cyborg Holly Holm UFC 219
Image Credit: UFC’s Official YouTube Channel

My odds: Cyborg -250

Predicted Bookmaker Odds: Cyborg -280

Predicted Bookmaker Closing Odds: Cyborg -210

The fact that Cyborg defeated Holm already does not disqualify her from this list. On the contrary, that fight has only increased the odds that Holm would get the nod in the second go-round. But let’s start with why Cyborg would still be the favorite in the fight:

  • Cyborg was generally able to have a successful forward pressure attack despite Holm’s traditional success in stick-and-move fighting.
  • Cyborg has still not lost since her first MMA fight 13 years ago.
  • Cyborg will not just be a bull to Holly’s matador like Ronda Rousey was. She has shown she is able to fight patiently and intelligently seek openings while conserving her energy.
  • Cyborg has already proven she can defeat Holm.

The reason Cyborg would only be a low-to-moderate favorite over Holm is because Holm has already shown she can stop Cyborg’s offense in its tracks by initiating the clinch and using her powerful frame to break Cyborg’s flow. More importantly, she has shown that she can handle Cyborg’s punches when others have not been able to. And most importantly, the fact that Holm only lost the first fight by only one round according to two judges’ scorecards tells us two things: 1) With only a few small changes, Holm could have won that fight; and 2) Even if Cyborg outfights Holm, Holm’s fighting style could lead to a questionable decision in her favor.

The bottom line is, we saw a competitive fight between the two, so it is very probable we would see another one. And as long as Holm can take Cyborg’s shots and halt Cyborg’s momentum with the clinch, she is still as capable of winning the point-striking battle as she is against any other opponent. Holm seems convinced of this herself, which is why she insists that there were lots of things she could have done in the first fight that she trained for but didn’t do for whatever reason and why she is eager to run it back. The bad news for those who believe Holm can get the job done against Cyborg is that she is going to have to earn a rematch, being that she already lost to Cyborg and is 1-4 in her last five. The good news is, being that there are no ranked featherweight contenders, earning the rematch shouldn’t be so difficult.

The logical thing to do from a booking standpoint is Cyborg vs Nunes in July (provided Nunes gets past Pennington) while Holm fights Anderson to determine who challenges Cyborg next. Otherwise, neither Holm nor Anderson will fight again until God knows when. It’s hard to think of who else these women would fight if not Cyborg. To take the logic one step further, this could be the main event of a Fight Night card to help build credence to the notion the featherweight division actually exists apart from Cris Cyborg.

Julianna Pena (8-3)

Julianna Pena
Image Credit: Esther Lin of

My odds: Cyborg -235

Predicted Bookmaker Line: Cyborg -560

Predicted Bookmaker Closing Line: Cyborg -645

This is a name that has not been discussed and probably will not be discussed….but it should be. In fact, Pena herself discussed it in a 2015 interview with Submission radio:

“One thing that I can say is that I’m not afraid of Cris Cyborg and I’ll fight her at 150 pounds, 145 pounds, 125 pounds, whatever pounds you guys want to make, I’ll fight her.”

As you can see, I believe that the bookmakers and public would see this fight very differently than I do. But let me tell you why Cyborg should only be a -235 favorite in this fight. Julianna Pena provides a stylistic challenge to Cyborg that not many other fighters in the UFC do. I believe she can do the one thing that is the most likely path to defeating Cyborg: take her down. I’m here to tell you something, MMA fans, and I know that me promoting Pena against Cyborg like this is me going out on a huge limb….but if Julianna Pena were to face Cris Cyborg, I’ve got news for you: Cyborg is going down. Pena is extremely physical but, more than that, she fights with a determination and will that is very difficult to match. Pair that with her confidence and swagger, and she is not going to enter that cage with fear in her heart. She is not going to roll over for Cyborg. On the contrary, she would be on top of her.

So why then do I still have Cyborg as a -235 favorite if I am so confident Pena would take her down? Because I do not believe she would finish Cyborg and/or keep her down. I also do not believe she would take Cyborg down in all five rounds. Pena’s striking is generally pretty reckless and just a means to get inside. Against Cyborg, that’s not going to fly. She more than likely would get cracked coming in wild like she does, and it will be a power that she has never felt before. And it only takes one time in five rounds for this to happen. Pena is tough and gritty and has never been knocked out (has one TKO on record via doctor stoppage), but I believe her entries would indeed leave her open for Cyborg to rock her. And once Cyborg has you rocked, it’s just a matter of time before it’s curtains.

Now there is a chance that I am wrong, and Pena is able to survive the punches and continue taking Cyborg down, which is why the odds are so competitive in my mind. I also think that Pena would have extremely high value as an underdog because I feel confident in stating that most fans and even experts would not recognize the threat Pena poses to Cyborg. Even today, many fans are writing Pena off because of her loss to Valentina Shevchenko and ignore the fact that she was ahead in the fight before being caught with an armbar out of nowhere that I don’t think anyone at home expected out of Valentina. And if no one expected it at home, Pena was surely unsuspecting as well.

Fans who use this fight as a reason to underestimate Pena overlook the fact that coming into this fight, Pena was undefeated in the UFC with a dominant performance in each outing and was one fight away from a title shot. No, Julianna Pena has the heart, drive, determination, confidence, swagger, and most importantly: grappling to give Cyborg problems that perhaps no one else could.

The only other person that may pose the same threats and may also be a sleeper to beat Cyborg is Sara McMann, but she is not as aggressive with her entries as Pena, and when she is losing a striking battle (which she surely would against Cyborg), she panics and is known to make many mental mistakes.  Pena does not have this problem. It is her mental strength that is part of what makes her such a live underdog in this fight. Because of her mental toughness combined with her physicality, I believe Pena is the best grappler to face Cyborg and is, believe it or not, her biggest threat in the UFC right now in my humble opinion.

Talita Nogueira (7-0)

Talita Nogueira
Image Credit: Bellator MMA

My odds: Cyborg -145

Predicted Bookmaker Line: Cyborg -275

Predicted Bookmaker Closing Line: Cyborg -410

Not only can this woman defeat Cris Cyborg but, in my opinion, it is damn near a pick-em fight. Talita Nogueira is 5’10” with a 70-inch reach and is a 2011 World Jiu-Jitsu Championship winner. The reason she has not been more active is because she has had injury and weight issues; but if she ever makes it to the Octagon or Cyborg decides to go to Bellator, Nogueira is more than capable of defeating her fellow Brazilian.

Nogueira is an undefeated Brazilian with imposing size and strength. What gives Nogueira such a strong chance of defeating Cyborg is her fighting style. Nogueira has a completely different style than Cyborg and, much like Pena, would look to take the fight to the mat. Unlike Pena, however, Nogueira is much more likely to get a submission victory when down there.  Five of her seven wins have come from submission, and each of her victories have come by way of stoppage without Nogueira ever seeing a third round. Nogueira is big, formidable, is not a stationary target, she fights without fear, and she brings a contrasting style to Cyborg, which is what I see as being the crucial piece to dethroning Cyborg. Styles makes fights, and Nogueira could potentially be a nightmare stylistic matchup for Cyborg.

The reason Cyborg would still rightfully be the favorite is because there are still many unknowns about Nogueira, who has yet to face top competition. This obviously is a huge problem when placing money on someone to defeat the baddest woman on the planet. So because Cyborg is more proven and experienced, and we do not know if Nogueira’s standup will be able to avoid or survive a Cyborg onslaught, Cyborg would enter as a favorite. And because Nogueira is so relatively unknown, you can expect the closing lines to widen quite a bit from the opening odds. It is what we don’t know about Noguiera that would have Cyborg as the favorite; but at the same time, it is what we do know about her that would, or at least should, have lines closer than Cyborg has ever seen before. I realize this estimation of Nogueira may be a few fights or even years ahead of its time, but remember this name. From what I know of Noguiera and have seen for myself, she is more than capable of defeating Cyborg.

Here’s the problem: Nogueira still has three fights left on her Bellator contract, so we will either have to wait for this match to become a reality or it sadly may never take place, especially at the rate Nogueira has been fighting. When Nogueira was a free agent in 2014, there was no featherweight division in the UFC, which is why she opted to sign with Bellator, in addition to a more lucrative contract offer. So it appears that it was the ol’ timer that interrupted this dream match from seeing the light of day. Or maybe Nogueira will continue to impress in Bellator as she did in her August debut and eventually arrive in the UFC, by which time the odds could be even slimmer than I project them to be. And perhaps within these next three fights, Nogueira will have answered some of the questions that remain about her prior to her arrival in the Ultimate proving ground, where she could solve the much larger question before us of just who in the world can defeat Cris Cyborg.

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