Bellator 249 breakdown: Will Cris Cyborg’s grappling be the difference vs. Arlene Blencowe?

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MMA Junkie analyst Dan Tom breaks down Bellator’s top bouts. Today, we look at the main event for Bellator 249.

Bellator 249 takes place Thursday at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. The main card airs on CBS Sports Network following prelims on MMA Junkie.

Cris Cyborg

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’8″ Age: 35 Weight: 145 lbs. Reach: 69″
  • Last fight: TKO win over Julia Budd (Jan. 25, 2020)
  • Camp: Cris Cyborg MMA Fitness (California)
  • Stance/striking style: Orthodox/muay Thai
  • Risk management: Fair

Supplemental info:

+ Bellator featherweight champion


+ UFC, Strikeforce and Invicta FC titles


+ Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt


+ 18 KO victories


+ 10 first-round finishes


+ KO power


+ Aggressive pace and pressure


+ Evolved striking


^ Shot selection and technique


+ Strong inside the clinch


+ Solid wrestling and takedown ability


+ Good positional grappler


^ Devastating ground striker

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’5″ Age: 37 Weight: 145 lbs. Reach: 67″
  • Last fight: Decision win over Leslie Smith (Nov. 8, 2019)
  • Camp: Team Te Huna (Australia)
  • Stance/striking style: Orthodox/kickboxing
  • Risk management: Fair

Supplemental info:

+ Boxing background


+ 2x world boxing champ


+ 7 KO victories


+ 1 submission win


+ 5 first-round finishes


+ KO power


+ Good footwork


^ Cuts cage/manages distance well


+ Accurate shot selection


^ Coming forward or off the counter


+ Improved wrestling and clinch fighting


+/- Does well defending 1st layer of takedowns


^ Traditionally struggles on second attempts/chains

The main event of Bellator 249 is a featherweight title fight between two competitors who have a lot of belief in their boxing.

Coming from a boxing base, Arlene Blencowe has been able to gain some solid experience despite getting off to a bit of a late start in MMA. The Australian product may have started her Bellator career as a .500 fighter (initially going 3-3 in the organization), but all those losses came to world championship-level competition, as Blencowe arguably beat then-champion Julia Budd in their second meeting.

Despite not bearing the biggest stature for a featherweight, Blencowe clearly commands her opponent’s respect through her ability to accurately place power shots.

Whether Blencowe is cutting the cage to come forward or looking for opportunities to counter, she keeps an accurate right hand at the ready, as left hooks and body shots aren’t typically too far behind on the follow-up. And when feeling in stride, the 37-year-old fighter now does a much better job at mixing in knees and leg kicks into the equation.

That said, pace and output have been issues for the Australian whenever paired with fighters who potentially carry takedown threats, and I’ll be curious to see her approach against a vaunted powerhouse like Cris Cyborg.

Starting off her run as more of a brawling talent from Brazil, Cyborg has found a place to call home in Southern California, working with a nice mix of high-level striking coaches like Jason Parillo and Rafael Cordeiro (both of whom have former world champs on their rosters and resumes).

Now, displaying a much more measured approach to pressure, the 35-year-old will steadily stalk forward while managing the distance to her preferred terms. Upgrading her overall stance, Cyborg seems to keep her balance much better, seldom getting herself out of position.

Prodding with a jab to enter space, Cyborg needs all but the slightest bite (or sign of blood in the water) to swarm her opposition with offensive waves of hooking punches and body attacks. However, considering the common striking savvy of the opponent at hand, I would not be surprised to see the current champion change fighting phases altogether.

Given the obvious grappling discrepancies on paper, many – including myself – wonder if Cyborg might look to take things to the mat early.

Due to the nature of Cyborg’s game and what it generally forces her opposition to do, wrestling has quietly become one of her stronger skill sets over the past decade. From defensive and get-up fundamentals (especially from the fence) to offensive reversals, the 15-year pro shows all the requisite skills to handle herself within close quarters – particularly inside of the clinch.

From unloading knees in the Thai plum to hitting lateral drops off an over-under, Cyborg commands a diverse ability to manipulate bodies in tight that’s hard to rival in this division. And when able to ground her opponents, the Brazilian’s assault only seems to intensify.

A no-nonsense grappler, Cyborg prioritizes position over submission.

Whether she is attacking or defending submissions, Cyborg does well at killing or creating scrambles on her terms. Typically wasting little time in settling in on top, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt will apply steady doses of forearm or shoulder pressure, securing her target for the strikes that are soon to follow.

When fighting from inside the guard, Cyborg displays intelligent hand-fighting and positional awareness in and out of her opponent’s grasp, making her hard to submit throughout her ground assaults.

Although Blencowe displays no current Brazilian jiu-jitsu ranks or grappling accolades that I’m aware of, the Australian product has made measurable efforts in the wrestling and scrambling department.

Akin to Cyborg, Blencowe has also had to deal with a lot of fighters pressing grappling-heavy gameplans on her, and this seemingly has helped forced her to become a better fighter in the clinch. Displaying a solid first layer of takedown defense (that includes both sprawls in the open and underhooks when against the fence), Blencowe has become much better about protecting her hips and hitting on the way out of separations.

Even when taken down, the seven-year pro shows some solid instincts in regards to scrambling to her base or swimming for single-legs to stand, which will likely serve her well in this fight. That said, it’s hard to deny who will have the overall edge on the floor.

Cris Cyborg

The oddsmakers and public and clearly siding with the sitting champion, listing Cyborg -800 and Blencowe +550 as of this writing.

Although most Cyborg fights can feel like foregone conclusions, I do believe Blencowe has the physicality and skill set to step into upset territory.

Not only does Blencowe demonstrate the durability and chin needed to stand up to the power that will be coming her way, but the former boxer also carries enough pop and counter savvy to possibly surprise Cyborg if she’s not up to snuff in exchanges. And if Blencowe can sting the current champ early and challenge her ego (like we’ve seen before, against Amanda Nunes, for instance), then perhaps the challenger can draw Cyborg into a type of battle that doesn’t behoove her.

However, I find it hard to count on any of those outcomes given how sharp Cyborg still appears to look.

In her last fight, in which she finished Budd to claim the Bellator belt and add to a legacy which already included Strikeforce, Invicta, and UFC titles, Cyborg stung the body like a pro boxer. But for this particular contest, it’s ultimately hard to refute that Cyborg is but a takedown away from changing this fight’s trajectory, as I suspect she eventually forces a stoppage via ground-and-pound in the second round.

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