In what can be looked at as a fight between arguably the two best female fighters of all time at UFC 232 in 2018, Amanda Nunes squashed any remaining skepticism among the sport’s faithful that Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino would be the toughest test of her career. All it took was 52 seconds for “The Lioness” to reign supreme over another alpha.

However, to borrow a page out of the books of Roy Jones Jr. and Israel Adesanya: “Y’all must’ve forgot.” That loss does not define Cyborg’s career and legacy at all. The Brazilian won six of her seven fights with the UFC, and the defeat served as her first loss in 13 years. Yet, Cyborg has risen to the occasion and claimed the women’s featherweight title in all four of the major promotions where she has fought.

It was this reputation that earned her the right to get a title shot in her first fight with Bellator earlier this year at Bellator 248 against the first and only 145-pound champ the promotion has ever known in Julia Budd. While the fourth-round finish came a lot later than fans who have been following her career have been accustomed to, Cyborg had a goal in sight and accomplished the mission with the same devastating striking ability she’s flashed throughout her lengthy career.


Advertisement

Cyborg’s opponent on Thursday isn’t someone you want to sleep on. Arlene Blencowe does not have the same deep resume as Cyborg, but very few people do. Whether it’s her “Angerfist” alias that is letting the cat out of the bag, Blencowe loves to scrap with the best of them. The last time she fought a fighter of Cyborg’s caliber, Blencowe was submitted via armbar by Marloes Coenan in 2015. Every indication leading up to this main-card headliner points to the fight not going to the ground, given Blencowe’s boxing prowess and Cyborg having never won a fight by submission in her 15-year career.

The evening’s co-headliner pits Patricky “Pitbull” Freire against Jaleel Willis in a lightweight contest. Ricky Bandejas is set for a bantamweight fight against Leandro Higo three months after suffering his third professional loss against former UFC fixture Sergio Pettis. The main card opens with a lightweight clash between Saad Awad and Mandel Nallo.

Bellator 249 takes place at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. The main card is scheduled for a 10 p.m. ET broadcast on the CBS Sports Network. The prelims begin at 7:30 p.m. ET and can be seen online on Bellator MMA’s YouTube Channel.

How slim are Arlene Blencowe’s chances of pulling off the upset when she challenges Cyborg for the women’s featherweight championship?

Let’s not let it be a foregone conclusion that Cyborg will be the one to have her hand raised at the end of the night. From the Cleveland Cavaliers coming back from a 3-1 deficit in the 2016 NBA Finals to defeat the Golden State Warriors, to Tim Boetsch’s zombie-esque comeback against Yushin Okami at UFC 144, we have been reminded time and time again that it is not over until it’s over. While it would be an ill-advised decision to stand and trade with Cyborg, Blencowe’s reputation as a counter puncher means she could find a way to win if she can disguise her attacks.

As we’ve seen when Blencowe allowed a full mount against Gabbie Holloway at Bellator 146, the last thing she wants to see in her fight with Cyborg is one that either goes to the ground or ends up in clinches where the impact of punches adds up over time.

If she at the very least wants to accomplish going the full five rounds against the modern-day Sub-Zero in Cyborg like she did in her first title shot against Julia Budd in 2017, Blencowe will need to maintain the tactic of moving her head out of the center line and add a steady diet of kicks to keep her opponent guessing. This might be the toughest fight of the 38-year-old Australian’s career to date, but she’s proven that she deserves to battle it out in the cage against other elite fighters.

Jaleel Willis has assembled a nice four-fight winning streak across several promotions, but now he returns to the Bellator cage for the first time in four years. He draws a stiff test in Patricky “Pitbull” Freire. Can Willis pull off a victory here?

It’s tough to say with absolute certainty that Willis can extend his streak to five against Pitbull, who has spent 23 of his 35 professional bouts in the Bellator cage. If we include his 156-pound catchweight tilt against Dakota Bush, this will be the third fight for Willis at lightweight after he spent a majority of his time at 170 pounds. Willis most recently won the Legacy Fighting Alliance welterweight title via unanimous decision against Vinicius de Jesus in August. Before Pitbull, the only man Willis had faced that has racked up a lot of experience is Ricardo Lamas’ Team Top Notch teammate, the 42-year-old James Warfield-Lane.

Given Patricky and Patricio Pitbull’s 10-year stranglehold reign of the Bellator lightweight and featherweight divisions, it came as a bit of a surprise when it was announced that Michael Chandler was picked up by the UFC instead of one of the two brothers to serve as the alternate for the lightweight title-unification bout between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Justin Gaethje at UFC 254 later this month.

Since he was knocked out by Chandler at Bellator 157 in 2016 in his first crack at the lightweight strap, Patricky has strung together seven consecutive wins and perhaps has a chip on his shoulder to finally attain the champion badge after coming up short as a Rizin Lightweight Grand Prix finalist opposite Tofiq Musayev.

Patricky’s calculated patience and innate fight instincts make him one of the most dangerous fighters in Bellator today. Willis will need to pull off the best performance of his career if he wants to beat Patricky.

Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?

There are five fighters on this card that possess an undefeated record. Among them, the most intriguing one is light heavyweight Christian Edwards. He will be up against a fighter in Hamza Salim that has won three of his last four fights via knockout.


Advertisement

Very few people on this earth can say they have had the opportunity to train with MMA royalty. Edwards can relate to that feeling, though, as the training partner of UFC heavyweight Jon Jones at JacksonWink MMA. Edwards is the beneficiary of the hard work in exhibition rounds against a generational talent like Jones, and this has translated to success in his own MMA career. The Oklahoma native made his professional debut at the age of 20, one year younger than when Jones started in 2008, and won his first two fights in a combined 70 seconds with elbows and punches to stop Justin Vargas and a riveting head kick to knock out Cesar Bennett.

We were able to get a better look at the toolbox of Edwards when he fought Marco Hutch at Bellator 239 earlier in 2020 and won by unanimous decision. Edwards’ technique in his stand-up game is advanced for his age. He utilized knees in the Thai clinch, served up an armbar attempt, and landed oblique kicks to stunt Hutch’s stamina.

It might be extraordinarily early to say Edwards will eventually become a contender, let alone a champion, but the ceiling on this man is very high.

Fight Picks

Fight Pick
Main Card (CBS Sports Network, 10 p.m. ET)
Women’s FW Championship: Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino vs. Arlene Blencowe Justino
LW: Patricky “Pitbull” Freire vs. Jaleel Willis Freire
BW: Ricky Bandejas vs. Leandro Higo Bandejas
LW: Saad Awad vs. Mandel Nallo Awad
Preliminary Card (YouTube, 7:30 p.m. ET)
MW: Curtis Millender vs. Joe Schilling Schilling
WW: Albert Gonzales vs. Kastroit Xhema Gonzales
LHW: Christian Edwards vs. Hamza Salim Edwards
WW: Kyle Crutchmer vs. Kemran Lochinov Lachinov
MW: Joseph Creer vs. Andrew Kapel Kapel
Catchweight (140 pounds): Mike Kimbel vs. Da’mon Blackshear Blackshear
HW: Steve Mowry vs. Shawn Teed Teed
WW: Aviv Gozali vs. Logan Neal Gozali