ESPN The Magazine


On the cusp of the biggest fight in the history of women’s MMA, Cris Justino must stare down the question that haunts her career: Is her excellence enough to make you care?
Justino battles Nunes at UFC 232 in Las Vegas on Dec. 29 (10 p.m. ET, $64.99 on PPV HD).

I don’t like to remember these things,” Cris Justino says, slumped over a rustic table in the corner of her kitchen in Huntington Beach, California.

It’s six weeks before UFC 232, and Justino—Cyborg, when she’s in the cage—is worn out. There was the UFC 232 Countdown training footage she had to shoot all morning at her gym. The hand pads. The strength and conditioning. Then the grappling. There was the 45 minutes she spent confined in the CVAC, a pod that looks like a hybrid space shuttle–hyperbaric chamber and promises heady wellness boons, like boosting oxygen-rich blood cells. Mostly it leaves her feeling depleted.

There was the more than nine months of waiting. She hasn’t set foot in an actual Octagon since the first week of March, when she wasted Yana Kunitskaya with hammer fists at UFC 222. Justino has been waiting and training for Amanda Nunes ever since.

And then there are these things, which, really, is just one big thing: Justino’s long, knotty past with the UFC. Four years ago, UFC president Dana White mocked her at a media scrum for being “jacked up on steroids” and looking like “Wanderlei Silva in a dress and heels.” Then he put off adding Justino’s 145-pound featherweight division for years, blaming a dearth of suitable fighters. Then he went ahead and introduced a featherweight title fight in 2017 but didn’t wait for Justino, who wanted time

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