Bellator 238: “Budd vs. Cyborg” takes place this weekend (Sat., Jan. 25, 2020) at The Forum in Inglewood, Calif., streaming exclusively on DAZN. A women’s Featherweight world title match sees “The Jewel” Julia Budd (13-2), undefeated dating back to 2012 in 11 consecutive fights, try to make it 12 in a row at the expense of promotional newcomer Cris Cyborg (21-2, 1 NC) in the main event.
The fact that people refer to her as “Cyborg” speaks for itself. Cristiane Justino is one of the most feared women in mixed martial arts (MMA), having finished almost 71 percent (17 of 24) fights in her professional career by knockout. While accusations of performance enhancement have dogged her career, it’s still an impressive body of work throughout multiple promotions.
Although Budd and Cyborg both had stints in Strikeforce, the two have never crossed paths until this fight. While Cyborg and her fearsome reputation went on to headline events for Invicta and UFC, Budd dusted herself off after a 2-2 pro start and ran up win after win until she was crowned a champion in 2017.
Budd recently chatted with MMAmania.com about defending her crown in a marquee fight she personally believes was inevitable.
“I always knew it was going to happen. It could have happened earlier but we were signed to different organizations. She signed to Invicta and UFC, and I went the Bellator route, so this is a perfect time especially for my career.”
It turns out the reason the timing is perfect is that she was offered this fight before when there was no way she’d had enough experience to face Cyborg.
“The very first fight I ever got offered before I was even in MMA, it was like 2008 or 2009 I can’t remember, I got offered a fight with Cris Cyborg for a Strikeforce card in April. I remember hearing that and going ‘Okay — who’s Cris Cyborg?’ We Googled her name and we saw her and I was like ‘Uh I haven’t even done any grappling yet! I’m still fighting in kickboxing!’”
If the timeline is April 2009, Cyborg would have already been 7-1 with five technical knockout wins by that point. You’d want some MMA experience before an opponent like that.
“We turned down the fight but that means she’s been on my radar and I’ve been watching her for a very long time. I knew that it was always going to come especially (with) me dedicating myself to this sport and becoming the champion. I was hoping that she’d come to Bellator so I could test myself against the best mixed martial artist in the world.”
From that perspective you could say this is a fight a decade in the making, but the clock started ticking for the main event of Bellator 238 about 10 months ago.
“I knew last March when I signed my new contract with Bellator that she had one more fight on her (UFC) contract and that she was coming over. I knew. I was super excited. I didn’t believe that she had to fight anybody else up-and-coming to prove herself in the organization. I wanted the fight right away. It seemed silly that she would be a part of the organization and we wouldn’t fight each other right off the bat. Why wait?”
There aren’t too many people in the world who are eager to take a fight with Cyborg, but for Budd it’s an opportunity to cement her legacy as the world’s best at 145 pounds.
“I’ve prepared for the toughest test of my career. I’ve prepared for the very best Cris Cyborg. I’ve prepared for an absolute war. I’ve prepared for her to be extremely motivated and extremely ready and at her very best. I just stepped my game up because (if) I’m at my very best then I believe I win so that’s where I’m at.”
“The best Cyborg” is an interesting question, though. Some might say Amanda Nunes took a piece of that away that Cyborg can’t get back, but Budd doesn’t believe that’s true at all.
“I kind of haven’t really paid attention to that (talk) because I can’t. You see I feel like people as soon as they start thinking like that, fighters make mistakes, and then you’re in a fight and you’re realizing you were wrong. So I’d rather be expecting the very worst (to happen) and be ready for it than go in there thinking that she’s somehow not the same and then go in there and get off guard. I’m still prepared for the very best (Cyborg).”
Even though the worst way to prepare for the best version of Cyborg would be to stand in a phone booth and trade power strikes, Budd says she’s ready to do that too if needed.
“I’m ready (for it). I’ve done so much getting ready for this. I’m ready for every scenario. I’m ready for every situation. This has been my only focus. I’ve been so focused on this. I haven’t looked past this. This is everything for me and (it’s) my legacy. I’ve taken it really seriously and it’s been so great to have this motivation to be getting ready for this.”
Budd is honored to be headlining the first major Bellator card in what has quickly become an annual tradition for them of starting the year at The Forum in Inglewood.
“Absolutely, and it’s so cool! Like I’ve got hundreds, I’ve got so many people coming down, people are driving down from my hometown to come see me. It’s so cool that it’s just a couple hour flight (from Canada), and that everyone — that I just, I just feel everybody is so excited about this! So just feeding on that energy has been fantastic the last few months.”
From British Columbia to Southern California, they’re all coming hoping to see “The Jewel” shine her brightest. Tune in Saturday night to see if she can add to her legacy.
Complete audio of our interview is embedded above, and complete coverage of Bellator 238: “Budd vs. Cyborg” resides here at MMA Mania all week long.