World Champion Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos puts San Diego on the map

Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos is considered the best pound for pound female Mixed Martial Artist in the world.

Saturday, December 17, marks the return of Strikeforce to the San Diego Sports Arena, aka the Valley View Casino Center. The venue is known for hosting numerous MMA events to include the UFC, WEC and Strikeforce in April, 2011. Among the world-class fighters competing


are current Strikeforce lightweight Champ Gilbert Melendez of San Francisco, CA, former lightweight Champ K. J. Noons of San Diego, and the current 145-pound female champion Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos of Pacific Beach, San Diego, CA by way of Curitiba, Parana, Brazil.

Cris Cyborg Santos

Now that Santos (10-1), has been living in our midst going on three years, I say it’s high time that San Diego lay claim to this young lady. In the past, San Diego, as far as being a great sports town, has taken a back seat to the other metropolises, eg. LA, New Yawk, Chitown, Philly, Beantown. Anytime they needed a fastball pitcher, a big bat, a middle linebacker, our local professional franchises obliged. The time has come for San Diego to halt that exodus. In Santos’ case, we want immigration not emigration.

Santos is considered the best pound for pound female Mixed Martial Artist in the world. Together with her husband, Evangelista Cyborg Santos, they live in the 92109 zipcode. Both teach and train at The Arena MMA Gym which is just a stone throw from the Valley View Casino Center.

Cris Cyborg has not tasted defeat since her debut on May 17, 2005. On that date while fighting Erica Paes, she lost her balance, fell backwards on her left arm. The mishap  resulted in a dislocated shoulder. At that time Paes grabbed both of Santos’ legs and people were led to believe Paes had won by a knee bar submission. Paes, who was getting the worst of it up till that time, was ecstatic to get the win. She ended up losing her next match and then retired.

Ever since that freakish loss, Santos has been unbeatable and widely feared because of her relentless, aggressive and technical striking style. On December 17 she’ll be facing the highly touted Hiroko Yamanaka (12-1) from Chiba, Japan. As far as like opponents, Yamanaka has a 1-1 record against Hitomi Akano, a fighter that Cyborg soundly defeated.

In anticipation of Saturday’s show, I visited The Arena on Thursday, December 8, in hopes of getting an interview with Cris Cyborg. Upon entering, I was immediately struck by the high degree of energy and interaction between the students. After observing several classes and talking to Jeff Clark, the head trainer, I could understand why the gym attracts so many champions. In complete contrast to your typical cookie-cutter, “fitness” oriented gyms, all their programs are taught by pro or former pro fighters.

“Our focus,” said Clark, “is to provide the best and most realistic training that we can while striving to accomplish our ultimate goal: Create one of the best fight teams in the world.

We’re proud to have Strikeforce come to San Diego. Especially since we have five of our fighters signed with Strikeforce. Even more exciting is the fact we have two of our fighters (Noons and Cyborg) involved in the main event.

Former lightweight champion K. J. Noons poses for a photo with stablemate, Cris Cyborg, at The Arena MMA gym in Point Loma, San Diego, CA.

Noons is one of the most talented athletes in the sport as well as one of the best strikers in the lightweight division. Cris (Cyborg) is just unreal. She has one of the best work ethics I’ve ever seen. Even though she has had a long layoff, she’s been in the gym every day. I feel that in the female 145-pound division, she will make her mark just as Tiger Woods has done in Golf and Lance Armstrong did in cycling. I’m very proud to be a part of both of their training camps here at The Arena and I’m looking forward to watching them perform in front of their home crowd.”

In women’s MMA (Strikeforce and UFC) they currently have just two weight classes, 135 and 145 pounds. Santos at 5’ 8” tall and walking around at 160 pounds, has to train very hard to make the 145 pound weight limit. Because of her domination, the other major challengers in her weight class have been scrambling to cut weight to land in the 135 pound division. The Strikeforce champion has destroyed all her marketable competition and left Strikeforce’s premiere women’s division void of challengers.

Some people thought Ronda Rousey might be a contender especially with the way her mouth was running. After she defeated Julia Budd via arm bar in just 39 seconds at Strikeforce Challengers, the former Olympic Champion said she had plans to cut weight and drop to that safe haven of 135 pounds to fight people like Meisha Tate and Sarah Kaufman.

At this point, Cris Cyborg entered the very large gym to begin her workout. Even though we had met just once, she stopped dead in her tracks and greeted me with a warm, enthusiastic smile. After explaining my hope of doing a quickie interview she agreed without hesitation. The state of the 145 pound weight class has placed Strikeforce on high alert for new prospects. What can we expect from your challenger from Tokyo?

“For Hiroko Yamanaka I’m going to have to be in the best shape of my life.  I’d be a fool if I wasn’t ready for this fight and every fight. She might be bringing something new to the table. The more I progress into this sport, the more I learn how much more there is to learn. And with every fighter, comes a new challenge.”

Who’s been helping you to get ready?

“At The Arena, I benefit from a great many coaches, we have it all under one roof and of course especially from my husband.”

Who do you like to watch to learn from or try to emulate?

“I like to watch Anderson Silva, Fedor, Ernest Hoost, and my husband.”

What does your daily workout look like?

“I up early each morning. Run five miles. The morning workouts last for three hours. Later in the day I come to the gym and workout for another two hours. I no longer lift the heavy weights; it’s more of the lighter weights with higher reps.”

What about your diet? Has that also changed?

“Yes, six meals throughout the day, much smaller meals, mostly pasta and boiled potatoes, again to lose the weight.”

You said you like going to the movies. If you had three choices, Bridesmaids, a romantic comedy, Ides of March, a political drama set in Washington, D.C. or Thor, the latest warrior, epic adventure movie. Which would you like to see?

Bridesmaids, definitely, the comedy,”

Were there any other sports in which you excelled?

“I used to play a lot of handball. From this I benefitted big time with my eye to hand coordination. I started in the Mixed Martial Arts when I was nine but I was always playing handball.”

Do you miss your family in Brazil?

“Very much so, because we’re so close. My husband and I are here because this is where the competition is, our chance to compete at the highest level. When we’re done competing, we’ll most likely return to Brazil and end up with a gym somewhere so we can continue to teach and perhaps settle down on a nice size ranch.”

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