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'Cyborg' has Rousey in her sights

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Ronda Rousey secured a TKO victory against Sara McMann in 66 seconds © Getty Images
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Invicta FC featherweight champion Cristiane Justino has a plan for 2014, which she hopes will lead to UFC bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey by December.

Justino (12-1) recently hired medical consultants to help her start shedding weight in an attempt to make the 135-pound bantamweight limit by midsummer.

The plan calls for Justino, aka 'Cyborg', to defend her 145-pound Invicta title in late April or early May, most likely against Ediane Gomes. Justino would then fight for Invicta's 135-pound title in a quick turnaround, perhaps as early as July.

In previous interviews, the Brazilian fighter hinted she was entering the final fight on the Invicta contract she signed last year. Invicta president Shannon Knapp wouldn't offer details, but said the proposed two title fights wouldn't necessarily require Justino to sign a contract extension.

"I won't confirm or deny where she is on her contract, but I can tell you she would still be contractually under Invicta on her current deal [in that situation]," Knapp told ESPN.

A former Strikeforce champion, Justino publicly stated her intent to drop to 135 pounds last Saturday, hours before Rousey (9-0) was scheduled to defend her title against Sara McMann at UFC 170 in Las Vegas. Rousey won the fight via first-round TKO.

Justino is scheduled to compete in a 145-pound muay Thai bout at Lion Fight 14 on March 28 in Las Vegas. According to her attorney George Prajin, Justino typically weighs approximately 170 pounds between fights and has a hard time even cutting to her current weight class.

The goal is for Justino to gradually drop, under a physician's supervision, over the next few months, which would make her next two cuts to 145 pounds easier. She would then make a practice cut to 135 before fighting for the Invicta bantamweight title this summer.

Earlier this month, Justino's manager, former UFC champion Tito Ortiz, stepped down from his involvement with her. UFC president Dana White has criticised Ortiz's handling of Justino's career in the past.

In February 2013, Ortiz held a news conference during which he said it was "impossible" for Justino to cut to 135 pounds. White has pointed to that admission as a major reason the fight hasn't been made - and might never be made.

"It's not that I'm against Cyborg," White said last weekend. "It's that she has been put in this box. Tito built this box and stuffed her in there and it's really hurt her bad. [Ortiz said], 'If she goes to 135, she will die. A doctor said it.' Who wants her to fight at 135 then? Not me."

On Wednesday, Prajin told ESPN that the news conference White is referring to was "difficult" and admitted Ortiz was "nervous" during it. He disputes the claim, however, that anyone said she would "die" at 135 pounds.

With Ortiz out of the picture, Justino and her representatives are optimistic a deal with the UFC could be reached in time to see her fight Rousey by the end of the year.

Rousey is expected to return to the Octagon before then and will face No.1 contender Cat Zingano, assuming Zingano has recovered from knee surgery. White has stated Rousey will fight three times in 2014.

Rousey, who hasn't fought at featherweight since November 2011, has maintained interest in a fight against Justino, but only at bantamweight. The UFC currently does not promote a female featherweight division.

"I still want that fight, but she seems hell bent on it not happening," Rousey told ESPN last week.

The fantasy fight might find an unlikely advocate in Knapp who, despite her stake in Invicta, says she's willing to be a liaison between Justino and the UFC.

"Ever since Tito stepped down, [Justino] doesn't have a manager so to speak, so she has been completely bombarded with people trying to represent her," Knapp said. "What Cris wants is someone to communicate and negotiate for her who she trusts. She has asked me to be a part of it.

"When I signed Cris, I knew this fight was out there and that she wanted it. As much as I'm a promoter with my own promotion, I want to see that fight. I would never hold an athlete back in that situation. I'll assist in whatever way I can."

This article originally appeared on ESPN.com

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