The story tonight (July 29) in Anaheim, California, should be all about Cristiane ‘Cyborg’ Justino overcoming years of frustration to take the UFC women’s featherweight title, a title in her natural habitat, and thus kickstarting a reign of terror. But such was the bravery of her opponent, Tonya Evinger, stopped in round three after taking plenty of punishment, it’s hard to credit one without offering some the way of the other.
It was, for Evinger, always likely to be an uphill battle, if not an impossible one. Drafted in at late-notice, following the withdrawal of fellow Invicta FC champion Megan Anderson, there was an air of inevitability about Evinger’s fight with Cyborg. Not quite a sacrificial lamb, she was nevertheless expected to offer some resistance, make Cyborg look good, and then eventually succumb, bloody and disfigured, following a round or two.
In reality, however, Evinger proved tougher and trickier than anyone could have expected or hoped for. Not only did she soak up much of what Cyborg threw at her – punches, head-kicks, vicious combinations of the two – but she also showed an impressive ability to stay elusive, mess her Brazilian opponent around and, at times, stifle her. This savviness allowed Evinger to stay in the fight, survive, go rounds. It also meant she outlasted many of Cyborg’s previous opponents, the majority of whom find the power and the diversity of her attacks too much.
Make no mistake, though, despite Evinger’s pluckiness, there was only ever one winner at UFC 214. It was Cyborg all the way, from the moment she landed her first overhand right or head-kick, and the beatdown didn’t let up for much longer than a few seconds in each of the two-and-a-half rounds the two shared. It went longer than some expected, but it remained the type of fight they had come to expect. It was a fight in which Cyborg, 18-1 (1 NC), bullied an overmatched opponent, lighting her up with whatever she chose to throw, and the stoppage, finally arriving at 1:56 of round three, was the most predictable thing about the whole affair. Evinger, 19-6 (1 NC), having copped a head-kick, crumpled to the floor, more in resignation than anything, and was duly saved from any further pain by the referee.
A perfect call, it signalled the start of Cristiane Cyborg’s featherweight title journey and gave Tonya Evinger, the unlikely star of the night, some much-needed and well-earned respite.