Cristiane ‘Cyborg’ Justino Breaks Down Leslie Smith, Nets Fifth-Round Stoppage at Bellator 259

By: Brian Knapp
May 21, 2021

Five years later, the result was the same. It just took a little longer.

Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino retained the undisputed Bellator MMA women’s featherweight championship, as she stopped a game but overmatched Leslie Smith in the fifth round of their Bellator 259 headliner on Friday at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. Smith (12-9-1, 2-3 Bellator) succumbed to blows 4:51 into Round 5.

Justino (24-2, 3-0 Bellator)—who subdued “The Peacemaker” in 81 seconds at UFC 198 in 2016—fought with measured ferocity in the rematch, leaving few openings for her opponent to exploit. She battered Smith with crushing jabs, powerful punching combinations and a sustained barrage of kicks to her lead leg four four-plus rounds. Eventually, the accumulation of punishment took its toll. “Cyborg” connected with a searing right hand late in the fifth round, pounced on her fallen prey and overwhelmed Smith with a torturous volley of punches and hammerfists, prompting a merciful but warranted stoppage from referee Dan Miragliotta.

In the bantamweight co-main event, Leandro Higo eked out a split decision over former champion Darrion Caldwell to even their head-to-head series at 1-1. All three judges struck 29-28 scorecards: Jacob Montalvo for Caldwell, Dave Tirelli and Marcel Varela for Higo.

Caldwell (15-5, 12-4 Bellator)—who had submitted the Pitbull Brothers rep with a guillotine choke at Bellator 195 in 2018—raced out to a strong start in their rematch. He executed a takedown inside the first 90 seconds, slashed away with elbow-laced ground-and-pound and opened a cut on Higo’s hairline. However, the Sanford MMA standout lost his way over the final 10 minutes. Higo (21-5, 4-3 Bellator) outworked him from the bottom in the second round and spent much of the third as the aggressor. There, he shut down Caldwell’s takedowns, briefly ensnared him in a guillotine choke and ultimately transitioned to his back.

Higo, 32, has recorded three straight victories.

Meanwhile, American Top Team’s Austin Vanderford kept his perfect professional record intact with a unanimous decision over Fabian Edwards in a three-round welterweight showcase. All three cageside judges scored it 30-27 for the undefeated Vanderford (11-0, 5-0 Bellator).

The 28-year-old Edwards (9-2, 5-2 Bellator) tried to manage distance with a considerable reach advantage and a determined sprawl. However, Vanderford was relentless. He pursued takedowns with no regard for his own well-being and slowly chipped away at Edwards’ resolve. Vanderford assumed top position in all three rounds but did not escape unscathed, as his counterpart sliced open multiple cuts on his forehead with elbow strikes from the bottom. Blood drenched both men by the time they reached the final minute of Round 3, though the damage had no bearing on the outcome.

Edwards finds himself on a two-fight losing streak after starting his career 9-0.

Elsewhere, repeated takedowns and an effective counter game carried former Legacy Fighting Alliance champion Jaleel Willis to a unanimous decision over Maycon Mendonca in a three-round welterweight feature. Willis (15-2, 3-0 Bellator) swept the scorecards with 29-28, 29-28 and 30-27 marks from the judges.

Mendonca (11-5, 0-1 Bellator) enjoyed some success with kicks to the lower leg and body, but his high risk-low reward tendencies failed to net the desired results. Willis closed the distance whenever possible, delivered multiple takedowns in the first and second rounds, kept himself at his preferred range and slowly seized control against the Kings MMA representative.

The 29-year-old Willis has won six fights in a row.

Finally, Hannah Guy made a memorable splash in her promotional debut, as she laid claim to a unanimous decision over previously unbeaten American Top Team prospect Valerie Loureda in a three-round women’s flyweight showcase. All three cageside judges scored it for Guy (3-1, 1-0 Bellator): 30-27, 29-28 and 29-28.

Loureda (3-1, 3-1 Bellator) knocked down the Mississippi native with a clean two-punch combination in the first round but too often strayed from her game plan. Guy forced her into repeated grappling exchanges and threatened her with multiple submissions. She did her best work in Round 2, where she trapped Loureda in a topside triangle choke and later transitioned to an armbar. Guy iced the upset in the latter stages of the third round, as she executed a takedown, shifted from half guard to side control and made yet another pass at an armbar.

Guy, 26, has rattled off back-to-back victories.

In other action, Saad Awad (24-13-1, 12-10 Bellator) wiped out Nate Andrews (16-4, 0-1 Bellator) with punches 3:16 into the first round of their featured lightweight prelim; Grant Neal (6-0, 5-0 Bellator) tapped Tyree Fortune (5-1, 2-1 Bellator) with a rear-naked choke 4:20 into the first round of their light heavyweight battle; Aviv Gozali (6-0, 6-0 Bellator) dismissed Sean Felton (5-3-1, 0-1 Bellator) with a heel hook 1:17 into the first round of their lightweight scrap; Danny Sabatello (11-1, 1-0 Bellator) laid claim to a unanimous verdict over Brett Johns (17-3, 0-1 Bellator) in a three-round bantamweight tilt; sweeping the cards with 30-27 scores across the board; Leah McCourt (5-1, 4-0 Bellator) submitted Janay Harding (6-6, 3-3 Bellator) with a triangle choke 2:42 into the second round of their women’s featherweight affair; Alexandr Shabliy (20-3, 1-0 Bellator) took a unanimous decision from Alfie Davis (14-4, 5-1 Bellator) in a three-round lightweight encounter, drawing 30-27 marks from all three judges; Davion Franklin (3-0, 3-0 Bellator) cut down Tyler King(12-10, 1-1 Bellator) with punches 2:02 into the first round of their heavyweight pairing; and Sumiko Inaba (2-0, 2-0 Bellator) put away Kristina Katsikis (1-2, 0-1 Bellator) with punches 3:35 into the third round of their women’s flyweight confrontation.
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