Bellator 259: Cris Cyborg beats Leslie Smith to retain title

Bellator women’s featherweight champion Cris Cyborg continued her dominance of the 145lb division with a fifth-round TKO victory against American Leslie Smith.

The bout at Bellator 259 was a rematch of their contest at UFC 198 five years ago, when Cyborg finished Smith via TKO in 81 seconds in front of a raucous crowd in Curitiba, Brazil.

In their rematch behind closed doors in Bellator’s ‘Fightsphere’ at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, 35-year-old Cyborg fought to a much more patient gameplan as she dominated all five rounds before finishing the fight with strikes with only nine seconds remaining to retain her title.

Brazilian Cyborg said: “I really respect her; she’s a real fighter.

“I worked really hard and I knew with her we could do a great match, because she keeps going. She’s tough.”

Cyborg said she wants to face top contender and former UFC bantamweight title challenger Cat Zingano in her next title defence.

“I’ve been 16 years doing this. I’ve got four titles in my career. And before you can be a GOAT, you have to stop running from the Cat,” she grinned.

“So I’d like to see Cat Zingano fight me for the next match.”

Cyborg extended her remarkable record of winning championship gold in every major promotion she has fought for when she finished Julia Budd to capture the featherweight title on her Bellator debut in January 2020.

Cyborg defended her belt by claiming her first career submission victory against Arlene Blencowe at Bellator 249 in October to cement her status at the top of the promotion’s 145lb division.

Cyborg’s second victory over Smith gave her two back-to-back title defences, and improved her career record to 24 wins and two losses.

McCourt seals come-from-behind win

Earlier on Friday, Northern Ireland’s Leah McCourt overcame adversity to score a dramatic come-from-behind win over New Zealand’s Janay Harding.

After a strong opening round, number seven-ranked featherweight McCourt looked to be in big trouble in round two as sixth-ranked Harding found a home for her strikes and forced the action to the canvas.

But, with Harding looking to connect with big shots, McCourt connected with a big up-kick from her back, then locked up a triangle choke to force the tap and secure a remarkable victory.

McCourt said she is ready to take on whomever Bellator lines up next, with the former IMMAF world and European amateur champion likely to face top-ranked opposition in her next outing.

“Anybody. I don’t care,” she said. “I just love fighting and I love improving.

“All the girls in this division are top girls, so every fight’s a great challenge.”

McCourt leads way for Britons

McCourt’s win was the sole high point on an otherwise disappointing night for British fighters.

Middleweight Fabian Edwards fell to back-to-back defeats when he lost to fellow 185lb contender Austin Vanderford on the main card.

Englishman Edwards headed into the bout looking to bounce back from his first career defeat – a split-decision loss to Dutch contender Costello van Steenis last year.

But Vanderford used his wrestling experience to take Edwards off his feet and dominate proceedings on the mat to earn a unanimous decision with scores of 30-27 across the board.

On the preliminary card, Brett Johns’ Bellator debut ended in defeat to fellow newcomer Danny Sabatello.

Former Dana White’s Contender Series prospect Sabatello dominated Welsh ex-UFC bantamweight Johns, using his collegiate wrestling background to good effect to take the fight to the mat early in all three rounds, then smother him for a clear, if unspectacular, victory.

In the opening bout of the night, London lightweight Alfie Davis suffered his first defeat inside the Bellator cage as he was outpointed by Russian debutant Alexander Shabliy.

Shabliy kept Davis on the back foot throughout the bout, and left a nasty cut just under Davis’ left eye with a perfectly timed left hook as he ran out a unanimous decision winner with scores of 30-27 on all three scorecards.

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