In May 2016, Leslie Smith failed to do 90 seconds against the force of nature that is Cris Cybog. Smith is hoping five years of growth on Friday is enough to mark a defining upheaval in the couple’s revenge for the featherweight title from Cyborg in the main event of the Bellator 259.
The first two met at UFC 198 in a 140-pound wrestling bout. The fight was Cyborg’s first in the UFC after a long period of trashy talks between then-champion Invicta FC and UFC president Dana White – with then-UFC bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey . A long-discussed fight with Rousey never came to fruition, but Cyborg clocked a 6-1 record in the Octagon, including a stint as the 145-pound champion.
After an informal end to her UFC career, Cyborg signed with Bellator MMA and immediately defeated Julia Budd to win the promotion featherweight title, becoming the first woman to hold championships in four “major” promotions ( Strikeforce, Invicta, UFC, Bellator).
The problem with domination is that new opponents and legitimate challenges become harder and harder to find.
Enter Smith, who was 3-2-1 at Invicta, 4-3 in the UFC and now sits 2-2 at Bellator, now just above .500 in major promotions, but whose time in those promotions makes him a viable option for a fight with Cyborg.
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After a loss to Arlene Blencowe snapped a three-game winning streak, Smith rebounded with a 2020 decision win over Amanda Bell to secure her title shot. Now it’s up to Smith to prove the validity of his claims about his growth since the 81-second loss to Cyborg the first time around.
“We’ve both changed,” Smith said to Bellator Media Day 259. “We’ve both been doing this for a long time, and I know I have a combat maturity level, a much higher level of combat knowledge. I am more cerebral. I have a better understanding of how to create and exploit opportunities than ever before. did, but I know she has changed a lot too. I think as our styles evolved I think it made the fight a lot more interesting than the first fight. “
Elsewhere on the map, former bantamweight champion Darrion Caldwell is back in action when he takes on Leandro Higo at 135 pounds. Caldwell returns to his most successful division after losing to AJ McKee in the semifinals of the World Featherweight Grand Prix in November. He hasn’t fought at 135 pounds since losing his title to Kyoji Horiguchi in 2018 and 2019. Higo enters the fight on a two-game winning streak.
Additionally, Austin Vanderford is back in a key 185-pound fight when he faces off against Fabian Edwards. Vanderford, husband of UFC veteran Paige VanZant, has made a name for himself in his flourishing career. He’s 10-0 with seven saves so far. He made a decision on Vinicius de Jesus in his only fight of 2020 and so far holds a 4-0 mark with promotion. Edwards, the brother of UFC welterweight contender Leon Edwards, has just suffered the first loss of his professional career. He abandoned a split decision to Costello van Steenis in September. He’s 9-1 with his wins evenly distributed in decisions, submissions and knockouts.
Here is the fight card for Bellator 259 with the latest odds from William Hill Sportsbook.
Bellator 259 card, rating
Cris Cyborg (c) -1200
Leslie Smith +750
Female featherweight title
Darrion Caldwell -310
Leandro Higo +250
|Austin Vanderford -240||Fabian Edwards +200||Average weight|
|Maycon Mendonca -120||Jaleel Willis +100||Welterweight|
|Valerie Loureda -550||Hannah Guy +400||Flyweight for women|
Bellator 259 information display
Dated: May 21 | Start time: 9 p.m. ET
Location: Mohegan Sun Arena – Uncasville, Connecticut
TV channel: Showtime | Flux: Showtime.com or the Showtime app
Cris Cyborg vs. Leslie Smith: Smith is a capable fighter and her 4-1 record since the first loss to Cyborg suggests some growth as she is tied for the best five-fight streak of her career. That said, Cyborg is simply on a different level than every other woman on the Bellator List. The only woman in the world you’d expect to compete with – let alone beat – Cyborg is Amanda Nunes. Cyborg’s power will likely be too great for Smith to cope in a five-round fight. But improvement can take many forms, including Smith doing better than the first time around. Pick: Cris Cyborg via TKO3