A less informed viewer would be forgiven for thinking all that Cris Cyborg has to do at Bellator 249 in her first title defense is show up. After all, the 22-2 Brazillian is an unbackable 1/9 (-910) favourite at the bookmakers and has lost once since her debut, to arguably one of the greatest fighters ever in Amanda Nunes.
To Arlene Blencowe, all this means is more money in the bank for those who back her at 2/11 (+550).
When she sits down for her media day interviews, the legendary Cyborg is inundated with questions about a potential cross-promotional rematch with Amanda Nunes, a massive money boxing match with Katie Taylor, and almost every topic but her opponent. In the eyes of many, this is merely a stepping stone to bigger and better things.
She doesn’t see it that way.
“Guys, really, I’d like you to ask me about Arlene Blencowe,” Cyborg asks when we ask about a potential bout with two-weight world boxing champion Katie Taylor. “For sure it’s my dream to do a boxing fight, and if I fought Katie Taylor next that would be great, but for now I’m focused on Arlene Blencowe. I’ve got to take it one step at a time.
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“I’ve watched a couple of Arlene’s fights and she’s tough. She likes to strike, she’s a two-time world champion in boxing. But this is Mixed Martial Arts and that’s my game. I think it’s going to be a big fight.”
Blencowe, on the other hand, is relishing the chance to go under the radar ahead of her stiffest test yet. “I’m kind of glad that I’m being overlooked,” the 13-7 Australian laughs. “It’s making the odds so much wider for the people back at home who are putting money on me!
“All the greatest success that I’ve had in my life and in my fight career has come when I was the underdog. Us Aussies are known to be battlers and we thrive as underdogs.”
Despite Bellator’s Featherweight division being, as Cyborg puts it, the best in the world, there aren’t a great deal of worthy challengers lining up to enter the cage with her. The woman has won championships in every major promotion, and is such a dominant presence in not Women’s MMA as a whole. Throw a pandemic into the mix, and it took the movement of many mountains just to get the fighters into Bellator’s Connecticut fight bubble.
“I was very lucky,” Blencowe explains when asked about the difficulties she faced leaving New South Wales to get to Connecticut. She’ll have to quarantine for two weeks when she returns. “We had to apply for travel exemptions and I’m very, very grateful that I was granted them because there are a lot of people who have been denied the opportunity to go to funerals, much bigger things in life.
“Fighting for a world title is a very, very big thing and it’s a big thing in my life, but not being able to travel for a funeral, to me, is more important, so I’m very grateful.
“The fight being allowed to happen this year is awesome because I totally thought 2020 was a write-off. I thought it would be a year of growth and training and then next year when we get back to whatever normal is going to be the title shot would happen but I’m stoked it’s going to take place on Thursday.
“I think I’m going to shock the world on Thursday night.”
Bellator 249 goes down behind-closed-doors in the Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut on Thursday night.
Prelims begin at 4.15 PM Pacific (7.15 PM Eastern, 12.15 AM Friday UK & Ireland) on the Bellator YouTube Channel.
The main card begins at 7.15 PM Pacific (10.15 PM Easter, 3 AM Friday UK & Ireland) on CBS Sports in the US and Sky Sports Mix in the UK & Ireland.