Invicta Fighting Championships, after its initial five events, has now crowned champions in three of its five divisions—atomweight, strawweight and flyweight. However, at this point, the year-old promotion has yet to crown champions at the bantamweight and featherweight classes, but one of those will change on Saturday night.

At Invicta FC 6, live from the Ameristar Casino Hotel in Kansas City, Mo., CEO Shannon Knapp and matchmaker Janet Martin will crown their inaugural featherweight champion, and two of the most storied female fighters in the world will go toe-to-toe to headline the main event of the evening.

Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino is the scariest woman on the planet. Fighting since 2005, she has amassed an impressive 11-1-1 record, with most of her wins coming by knockout. The 28-year-old Brazilian won the Strikeforce women’s featherweight title back in August of 2009 and followed that win with three successful title defenses. Then she popped positive for stanozolol, a steroid used in race horses. Her positive test resulted in a one-year suspension and the revocation of her last win, as well as her title.

This effectively put Cyborg on the back burner, and she missed out on the last year of Strikeforce and first year of Invicta. In April, she finally made her comeback with a first-round destruction of Fiona Muxlow at Invicta FC 5. Winning in impressive fashion, she instantly earned a shot at the inaugural featherweight title, and her opponent is a familiar foe.

Marloes Coenen, who trains out of her homeland in the Netherlands, is considered the pioneer of women’s MMA. Dating back to 2000, Coenen has fought professionally 26 times, earning a record of 21-5. She is considered a submission specialist and has a tall frame that aids her limited striking attack. She became the Strikeforce bantamweight champion almost nine months after losing her shot at the featherweight title to none other than Cyborg. Coenen held that title through one successful defense, before ultimately losing it to Miesha Tate.

The first bout between Cyborg and Coenen ended with a ground-and-pound flurry in the third round that earned Cyborg her first successful title defense. Almost exactly three years later, Coenen will have a second chance to beat out the Brazilian for a featherweight title, but one has to wonder if Coenen can overcome Cyborg’s aggressive attack.

Let’s take a deeper look at the match-up. And as a reminder, this is a side-by-side comparison of how the fighters’ skills match up against one another using similar scoring to the unified rules.

Striking: Cyborg – 10, Coenen – 9

Cyborg consistently displays her aggressive, powerful striking from one fight to the next. A Muay Thai black belt under Rafael Cordeiro, the Brazilian is 1-0 as a professional kickboxer, with her sole win coming by knockout at 1:30 of the first round. Her punches are crisp, always in combinations, and pack a ton of power. Cyborg holds 10 of her 12 pro MMA wins by knockout. This is not quite the case for Coenen.

Coenen is an old-school pioneer of women’s MMA. Having fought since 2000, she has the experience and training to hang with most opponents on her feet. She has some great angles to her punches and has a solid chin, as she proved in her last fight with Cyborg. However, despite her time spent training with famed striking camp Golden Glory, most of her wins are by submission.

In their previous match, Cyborg tagged Coenen with a lot of heat, but was unable to achieve a clean knockout. Coenen’s durability was evident in enduring three rounds of getting pounded. Even as the TKO was called, she was still moving and defending, but Cyborg’s relentless assault proved too much for the Dutch fighter.

It’s really no secret. Cyborg’s Muay Thai is not just her personal best skill set, she’s easily the most dangerous striker in women’s MMA. If this was a pure kickboxing match, Coenen wouldn’t make it out of the first round.

Submission Grappling: Cyborg – 9, Coenen – 10

Here’s a great analogy: Cyborg is to Muay Thai, as Coenen is to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. It may sound weird considering Cyborg is the Brazilian, but it is true. The biggest difference between those respective comparisons is that there is not as big a gap between the pair’s  BJJ game as there is in Muay Thai.

Both ladies are BJJ practitioners who have earned bronze medals in the Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships (Cyborg in 2009 and Coenen in 2007). Coenen also holds a Dutch National BJJ championship, and Cyborg has earned two gold medals at the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation World Jiu-Jitsu Championships, with her last win coming as recently as last year at the purple belt level. Both women are decorated BJJ players, but they utilize the craft at much different levels in the MMA ring.

Cyborg has zero wins by submission, and has, in fact, hardly ever tried to really utilize her submission skills. Her submission defense is simple—beat the hell out of her opponents so they can’t get a legitimate submission attempt. Coenen, on the other hand, holds 15 of her 21 wins by submission. She is the proverbial BJJ slickster who is clever in her attack, and her 5-foot-9 frame makes her extremely dangerous when she has guard or rear hooks.

As far as skill sets go, Coenen’s go-to is BJJ, just like Cyborg’s is kickboxing. Coenen displayed really good BJJ in their last match-up and has earned three submissions in her four wins since their last meeting. Coenen definitely takes it in pure submission grappling.

Wrestling: Cyborg – 10, Coenen – 9

Even though Coenen possesses superior BJJ skills, she is not exactly safe on the ground. As MMA has evolved, the importance of a solid wrestling base has become apparent. Wrestling is about body control, power takedowns and positioning. Cyborg excels in this category, as she made apparent against Coenen already.

Cyborg brings her amateur wrestling experience, including a state championship title at the age of 22, into the ring with her every time. Her wrestling skills aren’t exactly at the Olympic level, but her powerful build and mastery of body control allow her to muscle her opponents against the cage, during the takedowns, and in her ground-and-pound attack.

In their last meeting, Cyborg’s wrestling is what got Coenen to the mat several times, and was what Cyborg used to neutralize Coenen’s BJJ attack. Cyborg is a bulldog in the wrestling department, and combining her Muay Thai skills with her powerful wrestling attack is the reason she hasn’t been beaten since 2005.

Craftiness: Cyborg – 9, Coenen – 10

Skill sets are important tools, but how they are used is equally, if not more, important. Cyborg presses forward and is extremely aggressive. She pushes her will onto her opponents with little regard for craftiness or strategy. Coenen’s longtime experience definitely shows in her calculating decisions.

Coenen is good on the ground, because she is creative with her attack. She connects with weird angle strikes, because she thinks about how they will be received. The Dutch fighter is very cerebral. Everything from her transitions on the ground to her strike timing shows that she is the craftier of the two. Cyborg is a bulldog and Coenen is a thinker.

Coenen takes the cake when it comes to a crafty game.

Explosiveness: Cyborg – 10, Coenen – 9

While craftiness may set a fighter like Coenen apart from the pack, explosiveness is Cyborg’s trademark. When Cyborg’s opponents give off even the smallest sense of being beaten, she pounces like a shark in a pool of blood and finishes the job fast. Cyborg’s explosiveness is unmatched in any women’s weight class. She is the baddest of all women fighters, and her explosiveness is why.

Any opponent who gets caught under Cyborg, whether in mount or guard, will inevitably get finished. She already throws punches in bunches, but when she accelerates her attack, she turns into a fully automatic weapon. Coenen knows this, and she just doesn’t compare in that department.

X-factor

The X-factor in this match-up clearly lies in Cyborg’s nickname. The woman is a scary machine of a fighter. She displays no emotion and is not damaged by strikes. In the third round of their previous battle, Cyborg took a crushing straight right from Coenen and didn’t even blink. She just kept advancing like the villain robots from the Terminator movie franchise. The X-factor in every Cyborg fight is Cyborg. She’s intense, has the will of a lion, and never backs down.

Total: Cyborg – 48, Coenen – 47

Verdict: Coenen may be a really talented veteran of MMA, but she does not have the tools it will take to neutralize Cyborg’s attack. Cyborg is too aggressive, both in her striking and her wrestling, and no amount of BJJ will be able to counter that. Royce Gracie proved in the first UFC that BJJ can beat just about any style, but that was when his opponents didn’t know BJJ. Cyborg may not be quite at the level that Coenen is, but she is pretty close. Cyborg knows enough BJJ to keep herself from getting submitted. Chances are her use of this will be limited, since she will most likely pound out Coenen early, becoming the inaugural Invicta featherweight champ and continuing her meteoric rise to the top.

Photo: Cris “Cyborg” Justino (Esther Lin/Invicta FC)

About The Author

Dan Kuhl
Interview Coordinator