Jorina Baars used beautifully destructive Muay Thai techniques to defeat the pure power of Cris Cyborg to become the first Lion Fight women’s welterweight champion. Many, including commentator Michael Schiavello, were calling this fight possibly the greatest one in women’s combat sports.
Many people like to hate on Cyborg for various reasons. Whether you root for or against her you have to acknowledge her heart and toughness. It is one of the elements that made this fight so special. She got dropped early and lost the first two rounds badly but she still kept coming forward.
When a fight is this great it deserves a closer look. We will examine how Baars used her movement, technique and Muay Thai experience to win the title.
In her fight with Jennifer Colomb at Lion Fight 11, Cyborg got the third round TKO win. In that fight she overwhelmed Colomb with her power and dominated the fight. In this fight with Baars she still had a power edge just not as great as she did against Colomb.
Also, Baars did an excellent job of countering the power with her ring skills and experience. Most of Cyborg’s fight experience has been in a cage. While Baars has fought in a ring for most of her career. During the five rounds Baars used the ring’s attributes, like the ropes, offensively and defensively to her advantage.
Baars also excelled with her use of distance and movement. Throughout the fight she used kicks and jabs to create space or to keep Cyborg at a distance. Then she mixed in knees, punches, elbows and even kicks to punish Cyborg on the way in.
We saw the first example of that in the opening 10 seconds of the fight. Baars opened up with a one, two and a leg kick combo. Cyborg countered with some wild hooks that backed Baars up into the corner. Recklessly, Cyborg rushed in and got caught with a front kick to the face that sent her down to a knee before she quickly bounced back up.
This was also the first example of Baars using the ring. When she backed into the corner she immediately hooked her right arm under the ropes, then crouched down slightly with her back against the post and brought her left leg up quickly catching Cyborg’s face. It was a veteran’s use of the corner to deliver a more powerful and accurate strike. The kick also established that the tall fighter had no trouble getting her leg up to Cyborg’s head quickly.
Throughout the fight Baars was much quicker and lighter on her feet. Cyborg would be more explosively quick but Baars was able to avoid taking a lot of damage through her movement. She not only danced away from trouble with her footwork but her head movement was also sharp all night. It was another area where she utilized the ropes by leaning back on them to avoid Cyborg’s punches.
Instantly the kick changed things as Cyborg was more cautious than usual for her. A typical fight will see her just overwhelm her opponent with her explosive power. Her critics are inaccurate to say she has no technique it just is not as crisp and developed as Baars’.
Many power punches will just hunt for the one big shot. Cyborg was more aggressive and rarely threw a naked strike. Instead she threw multiple-strike combinations. She mixed in leg kicks and knees with her punches but rarely threw a head or body kick in this fight. Given that it was only her third Muay Thai fight it is expected that she will have some gaps in her game compared to someone like Baars – who is a beast.
The way that Baars threw her kicks and knees were at a different level than Cyborg’s. One of the things that made this fight so great was how Cyborg, through her heart, turned this into a competitive fight. You saw why no one has wanted to fight Baars in Muay Thai. Cyborg was the first opponent who had agreed to do so in three years.
One thing we learned in this fight is that Cyborg is a warrior. Many times when a fighter is dominant like Cyborg that first time they get challenged they wilt. The classic tale of the bully who is really a scared wimp inside. Many Cyborg critics like to put her into that category. She proved tonight that she is much more than that as a fighter.
After the knockdown she fought smarter but was still the aggressor in the fight. Cyborg fought smarter and better as the fight progressed. Unlike the bully who avoids the tough fight Cyborg was embracing it and never stopped trying to win the fight.
Though at the 1:41 mark of the first round Baars almost ended the fight with a lightning like head kick that was beautifully deceptive. It dropped Cyborg after catching in the neck and head. As Baars brought her rear leg up Cyborg went to catch it against her body. Only Baars had targeted the head and it landed cleanly with the shin finding the side of the neck. As she careened away from the kick and was going down Baars clipped her with a left hand.
Part of the deception of the kick came from Baars’ fluidity with them. With her length, size and accuracy she does not need a lot of windup to hurt her opponent. This made them hard to read as she threw multiple techniques from the same stance.
We then saw Cyborg moving backwards for one of the few times in her career showing her respect for Baars. They had several exchanges with Baars consistently landing cleaner in them.
The round ended with Baars in the corner kneeing and kicking Cyborg with the same leg. As Cyborg came in Baars threw the knee which caught Cyborg and slowed her momentum. Without bringing the leg down, Baars then extended it pushing Cyborg back creating space for herself and landed a couple of nice punches to end the round.
It was a 10-8 round for Baars with the knockdown. Cyborg was very lucky as it could have been a 10-7 round. The first front kick sent her to one knee and easily could have been ruled as a knockdown. It was a shocking first round for MMA fans who had not seen anything like this against Cyborg. Her only loss came by submission in her first fight since then she has been a wrecking ball destroying her opponents. Baars was beating her up while showcasing superior striking techniques.
To start the second round Baars went with a sweet little left inside leg kick into a right outside leg kick. Then Cyborg came forward and Baars moved backwards landing two leg kicks while moving away. The second one swept Cyborg off of her feet.
The ability to strike effectively while moving backwards is an extremely high level skill. You have to maintain your balance, know where you are in the ring and throw the right strike at the right time. If you try the wrong technique then you create an opening for your opponent. It added more deception to Baars as she would also sometimes suddenly stop and strike using Cyborg’s aggression to generate the power.
In the second round Baars was able to use her movement, striking techniques and length to control the round. It was a better round for Cyborg but Baars was fighting her fight. Even in close range and the clinch Baars was able to battle Cyborg and land some of her own strikes.
In between the second and third rounds Schiavello pointed out that Cyborg was too flat-footed and that was why Baars was picking her apart in this fight. Pat Miletich agreed adding that Baars was much lighter on her feet and Cyborg was loading up her punches looking for big shots.
Cyborg started the third round with the most aggression since eating that front kick in the opening 10 seconds of the fight. She knew that she was down after those first two rounds and she needed to do something to get back in this fight. If she dropped the third round she would need the finish or two big closing rounds to win the fight. Her aggression showed that she was still there to fight.
In the opening minute of the first round Cyborg landed a couple of solid punches as she came in. Then from the clinch landed a few knees and punches before tossing Baars to the ground. It was the best sequence for Cyborg. Baars got up and came forward taking the fight right back to Cyborg.
That was something you do not see in Cyborg fights. Usually after she drills someone they get this wide-eyed look and they start looking for ways out. Baars was looking for a way to pay her back with some strikes of her own. She missed with a front kick but landed a nice clean right hand and again had Cyborg moving backwards.
After a couple of off-speed punches Baars exploded into a spinning back kick that just missed the liver. It landed solidly to the solar plexus area. Cyborg responded with two right hands, the second landed pretty cleanly and missed with a left. She used the left hand to initiate a clinch and touched her face ever so slightly with a knee. Then a left jab and right hand combo as Baars exited.
Cyborg was taking over the round and possibly the fight. Then boom! A step-in knee perfectly place to the jaw of Cyborg sent her reeling into the ropes. She barely touched the ground for a second as she grabbed the top ropes. The ref did not count it as a knockdown. Cyborg was hurt and the knee landed cleanly on the jaw and caused Cyborg to go down.
It stopped Cyborg’s momentum for a moment. She recovered quickly and finished the round out strong but was now down three rounds. It was a better round for Cyborg but the knee changed it. Now she needed the finish.
Cyborg started the fourth with flurry. For the first time in the fight she landed several clean shots and had Baars backing up. After absorbing some blows Baars tied up Cyborg and they ended up on the ground. With her height advantage Baars was able to utilize this technique during the fight. It allowed her to neutralize Cyborg in the inside consistently.
The middle of the round was back and forth maybe a slight edge to Cyborg. During the last 45 seconds of the round Cyborg closed strong. She landed several clean shots including a right hand that had Baars shaking her head as the round ended.
Cyborg also dumped her several times in this sequence. It was her best round and the first one she had won in the fight. If she wanted to win she needed the finish in the final round.
Both fighters came out aggressive to start the final round. Cyborg was able to push her back a little but again Baars used the ropes. Cyborg threw a left hand and Baars went back into the ropes. She again wrapped her right arm around them to help brace herself and brought up the right leg into the onrushing Cyborg knocking her off-balance.
After severeal good exchanges Baars launched another spinning back kick that Cyborg blocked. She was on one leg when the kick landed and the force of it knocked her down. She was not stunned by the blow but the referee gave her standing count and it was scored as a knockdown. It balanced out the one from the third round but it was now two incorrect calls by the ref. Fortunately it did not affect the outcome of the fight.
They spent the rest of the round fighting until the end. Baars never tried to protect her lead but instead was trying to finish the fight and Cyborg threw everything she had trying to win the fight. It was one of the best fights of this year in combat sports.
Both fighters agreed that they want a rematch which will make things easier for Lion Fight. After watching this fight many women are not going to be lining up to fight either of these two warriors. While Baars easily won the fight on the scorecards Cyborg was still in it to the end.
This one was special and it was almost an afterthought that Baars had also won the Lion Fight welterweight title. The defeat of Cyborg seemed so much bigger. Their rematch will be one of the most anticipated in combat sports this year.
On this night Baars proved that her pure Muay Thai techniques were better than Cyborg’s power and aggression. She also showed the toughness, heart and will of champion in winning the first Lion Fight women’s welterweight title.
images via Lion Fight