NEW YORK – Current BELLATOR 145-pound titleholder and top-ranked women’s pound-for-pound fighter Cris “Cyborg” and No. 4 ranked featherweight Leslie Smith previewed their BELLATOR MMA on SHOWTIME main event world title fight during a virtual media availability Wednesday. Cyborg vs. Smith 2 headlines a loaded main card from top to bottom Friday, May 21 live on SHOWTIME at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT.
The BELLATOR MMA 259 main card also features former bantamweight champion Darion Caldwell rematchingNo. 6 ranked bantamweight Leandro Higo in a 135-pound contest, a top-five middleweight clash between the undefeated No. 3 ranked middleweight Austin Vanderford and No. 4 ranked middleweight Fabian Edwards, and a welterweight matchup that will see the streaking Jaleel Willis face off against former LFA champion Maycon Mendonca, who will be making his promotional debut. Capping off the main card action will be the undefeated Jackson Wink-product and No. 9 ranked light heavyweight Christian Edwards challenging Mississippi’s Ben Parrish.
Here is what the fighters had to say Wednesday:
Cris Cyborg, BELLATOR Featherweight World Champion
“I respect every opponent that fights with me and I really train for everyone in a different way but hard. Leslie for me, I know we fought before, but I respect her like it’s a new opponent. Nobody is the same as five years ago. I’m a different fighter from five years ago. I’m better now than I was before. I worked really hard and I’m excited to have a fight again.
“I’ve played sports my whole life, and I know sometimes it’s a win and sometimes it’s a loss. The one thing I always have in my mind, I give everything in my camp. I train with everything so when I step in the cage, if I lose the fight I know that I did everything. I always do my best when I step in the cage, if it’s her day there’s nothing I can do.
“If you’ve been watching in my career and watching all my fights and my last two fights, you see that I’ve improved. I feel happy with all my victories. I’m better at everything. Better grappling. Better jiu-jitsu. I’m training hard. And if you watch my fights you can see that.”
Leslie Smith, BELLATOR Featherweight
“I’ve done all of the physical preparation and I’ve done all of the mental preparation. Experience is definitely the very best teacher. I know what I did last time that didn’t work and I know what I need to do this time in order to make it work.
“I’m not Amanda Nunes, I’m Leslie Smith. I’m my own fighter, I’m doing my thing. But I definitely have been learning from everybody [who has fought Cyborg] and we have seen a lot of different tactics that people can utilize inside of the cage against Cyborg.
“I’ve changed so much as a fighter since our first fight. Before, I thought I was invincible. I honestly, truly did. I’d never been dropped. I’ve never even been dropped since then. I didn’t care about defense and that’s a pretty big part of the game. I mean, Floyd Mayweather – people know him as the best ever and his game is mainly based on being defensive. It’s an entire aspect of a fight that I hadn’t focused on before. I have expanded my game and it has made me a much more dynamic fighter and it has given me a much greater understanding of where to take advantage of opportunities and how to create opportunities. I just see a lot more than I ever did before.”
Darrion Caldwell, BELLATOR Bantamweight
“Every rematch that I’ve had, I always believe that I was coming out better than the first fight. I can imagine him coming out and feeling that way but in the same sense, I’m coming out and feeling that way as well. I think you’re going to see a better me come Friday.
“Road to redemption for me looks like me getting my title back and keeping it. It looks like me coming off a setback, righting my wrongs and going through this division. I should have been a king since 2018 when I first won the title. I had a setback and now I’m here to right my wrongs and I’m here to redeem anything that was either taken from me or that I lost.”
Leandro Higo, BELLATOR Bantamweight
“I’m a totally different Leandro Higo from our first fight. Leandro “alter-Higo”. Three years ago I was a completely different fighter and completely different person and now I am a more complete fighter inside the cage and outside the cage. Physically, mentally and as a person and I will display that on Friday night.
“You guys have seen how I’ve evolved in my last two fights. I’m always bringing new skills to a fight like I did against Bandejas. You’re going to see an aggressive Leandro. A guy that’s coming to take his head off and always trying to finish the fight.”
Austin Vanderford, BELLATOR Middleweight
“I think a win here puts me in the mix for a title shot but I’ve said in past interviews that I want to make sure that I go out and earn it. The first part of that is going out and performing on Friday and making a statement.
“When I started this, my aspiration was always just to be a world champion whatever way it took to get there and however soon it took. I’ve had a lot of people around me who have always really believed in me and I believe in myself.”
Fabian Edwards, BELLATOR Middleweight
“Suffering the first loss of my career, I’m pissed. I’m not going to lie. So I’m going to go out there and put pressure on him. I’m going to show my intentions from the get-go. I read a comment somewhere that he’s going to come in and mess my face up. Not a chance that’s going to happen. Reading those comments from him and suffering my first loss lit that fire in my stomach so I’m going to go out there and beat him up bad.
“I think this is the perfect matchup to showcase my skills. My MMA skills. He’s going to be going in there trying to take me down and it’s up to me to defend those takedowns and land some tasty shots on him. I think it’s the perfect matchup if I’m honest.”
Jaleel Willis, BELLATOR Welterweight
“You can expect to see me put all of my hard work that I’ve been doing since my last BELLATOR fight in and pour it all out. I’m thinking this will be a second-round finish.
“BELLATOR putting me on the main card really touches on how much they care about me as a professional and as a fighter. I want to show them how much I care about them as an organization by going out here and putting everything I got on the line. Going out here and showing that out of all the people here, out of everybody on this stacked card, they remember the realest. I want BELLATOR to know that when you put the realest on the card, it’s going down and he’s fighting all the way to the end.”
Christian Edwards, BELLATOR Light Heavyweight
“Keeping my undefeated record means a lot because no secret here, but I love winning. There’s no feeling like it. There’s no high like the feeling of winning a mixed martial arts fight. I can’t even describe it with words. I don’t ever want to experience the feeling of losing. I feel like my mindset and my confidence complements my skillset really well and I see myself being undefeated for a long time, if not my whole career.
“Fans can expect a dominant performance on my behalf. Just violence. There’s obviously certain things that I have to watch out for with him because I know that he’s a game opponent and I know he’s going to come to win. But he’s not ready for what I’m going to throw at him. I’m going to hit him with my most violent and malicious techniques and he’ll fold under the pressure.”
Roberto Villa is the CEO, Founder, Executive Writer, Senior Editor of FightBook MMA. Has a passion for Combat Sports and also a podcast host for Sitting Ringside. He’s also a former MMA fighter and Kickboxer.
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