When Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos’ hand was raised following her 16-second knockout of Hiroko Yamanaka in Strikeforce on Dec. 17, 2011, the Brazilian was on top of the world. She was the undisputed women’s 145-pound champion. She ended the Gina Carano era of women’s fighting and replaced it with pure aggression and knockout finishes.
In the days following the title defense, mandatory drug tests showed Santos had tested positive for steroids. The fight with Yamanaka was ruled a no contest and Santos was suspended from competition for a year.
Santos returns to the cage at Invicta FC 5 on April 5 against Fiona Muxlow, who replaces injured original opponent Ediane Gomes, in Cyborg’s first step toward reclaiming previous glory.
“I’m very excited because one year without fighting and still training, it’s very exciting. I want to be in the next big show, the next show in Invicta,” Santos told MMAWeekly.com.
“I think it is the biggest opportunity for me. It fights only the girls, and I feel the girls are welcome.”
Santos turned down an offer by the UFC to fight at 135 pounds. She’s competed at 145 her entire career and to make 135 was just too much weight to cut. The UFC doesn’t have a 145-pound women’s division, so Santos inked a deal with the all-women’s promotion of Invicta FC.
“Since Strikeforce is gone and the UFC only has 135, they’re kind of segregated to only one woman’s division. Invicta gives an opportunity for five weight classes for other women to compete. I think that’s where the highest women compete at is in Invicta,” said Santos’ manager Tito Ortiz. “The depth is really in Invicta. Until the UFC adds another weight class, the depth is in Invicta.”
Muxlow (6-2) is coming off of a loss to former Strikeforce champion Marloes Coenen after having won three consecutive fights, so she is also working on getting back on track. Muxlow, however, hasn’t been on the sidelines for the past year, she fought twice in the final three months of 2012.
With her suspension over, her Invicta FC debut on the horizon, and the UFC ordeal behind her, Santos doesn’t feel any added pressure to perform.
“I don’t think I need to prove anything for nobody because I try to do my best and winning or losing is a consequence. I try to do a nice fight. I try to do the best fight. If you win or lose, it’s a consequence, but I want to put on a big show. When people watch my fights I want it to be exciting,” she said.
Santos says she isn’t changing the way she fights, and her game plan is always the same, look to finish with a knockout.
“I think this fight, I will try for the knockout all the time,” said Santos. “I’m not going to change anything in my plan to fight. My plan is all the time try for the knockout.”
Should Santos defeat Muxlow, she’ll likely face Marloes Coenen next for the Invicta featherweight championship. Santos already holds a win over Coenen, but that was nearly three years ago, and she feels they’re both different fighters now.
“I think all the fights I have motivation because all the fights are a new match. I think if I fight Marloes Coenen again, it has been a long time since we fought. I think she’s better. I’m very excited for the fights.”
Santos is still widely regarded as the top 145-pound female fighter on the planet. For any 145-pound female to be truly recognized as the world champion, they’re going to have to beat Santos.