LAS VEGAS — Cris Cyborg dominated overmatched opponents for so many years, it became hard to tell how she would respond to a competitive fight.
She responded incredibly well to one on Saturday.
Cyborg (19-1) recorded her first defense of the UFC’s featherweight championship on Saturday, defeating former bantamweight titleholder Holly Holm via unanimous decision at UFC 219 inside T-Mobile Arena.
The judges scored the bout 49-46, 48-47 and 48-47.
The five-round fight was the longest of Cyborg’s modern career. Before Saturday, all but two of her wins came via knockout — nine of which ended in the opening round.
“She was an amazing fighter,” Cyborg said of Holm. “Thank you, God, for the opportunity.”
A former world-champion boxer, Holm (11-4) spent as little time as possible in boxing range. She preferred to either clinch Cyborg along the fence or keep her at a kickboxing length. Whenever Holm was caught in that middle ground, she reached for the clinch.
Cyborg pursued Holm throughout the fight but did so cautiously. She walked Holm down with footwork and countered her flurries with hard right hands.
By the third round, Holm’s left eye was badly swollen, possibly compromising her vision. In the fourth, the Las Vegas crowd seemed to sense Holm fading and began chanting her name.
Cyborg, 32, was simply too physical. The Brazilian champion cuts weight to make the 145-pound limit, whereas Holm is most comfortable fighting at 135.
She also showed heart anytime Holm threatened. Holm bloodied Cyborg’s nose and lip in the first two rounds, but it did little to stop her pressure.
According to Fightmetric, Cyborg outlanded Holm in total strikes 116-65.
The bout took place on the one-year anniversary of Ronda Rousey’s last fight, which seemed fitting. Holm made her name in MMA off Rousey when she knocked her out with a vicious head kick in 2015. Cyborg chased a potential Rousey fight for years, but she was never rewarded.
The question will now inevitably become whom Cyborg fights next. She has expressed interest in former Invicta FC champion Megan Anderson (8-2). The two were scheduled to fight at UFC 214 earlier this year, but Anderson withdrew because of personal issues.
“I want to fight somebody at 145, maybe Megan Anderson. Maybe we can fight in Australia,” Cyborg said, referring to Anderson’s native country. “I have a lot of fans there.”