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Tonya Evinger says she’s expected Cyborg, UFC fight for years

The truth is, Tonya Evinger has known she was going to fight Cris “Cyborg” Justino for years.

She didn’t know exactly when it was going to happen — only that it was inevitable. And that it would most likely be her entry into the UFC.

“I didn’t know when the UFC would sign me, but I knew it would be to fight Cyborg,” Evinger told ESPN on Wednesday. “I just knew it, man. Literally, my coaches and I have been talking about this for years.”

The UFC proved Evinger right this week, when it announced she’d face Justino for its vacant 145-pound title at UFC 214 on July 29. Evinger replaces Megan Anderson, who pulled off the card for personal reasons.

Evinger, 36, has waited a long time to make her UFC debut. An original pioneer in women’s MMA, with more than 10 years of pro experience, Evinger has fought exclusively in the all-female promotion Invicta FC since 2013. She currently holds the promotion’s 135-pound title.

For whatever reason, however, the UFC has passed on Evinger’s services until now. The closest she ever came to signing with the promotion was four years ago, when she tried out for the UFC’s reality series, The Ultimate Fighter.

She ended up losing an elimination bout and, despite a perfect 7-0 record in Invicta, has never come close to the UFC since.

“I kind of gave up on the UFC,” Evinger said. “I got to a point where I said, ‘You know what? I’m not going to beg for anything. I’m not going to stress myself out and sit here angry because I’m not where I think I should be.’

“I just needed to look at things through a different window. I realized I was where I needed to be. I was fighting for one of the best promotions in the world against tough opponents. I was doing everything I wanted to do, it just wasn’t in the UFC.”

Although the UFC was reluctant to sign her, Evinger still always knew the Justino fight would come up eventually. There are simply not many women willing to face Justino, a natural featherweight with 15 career wins via knockout.

Evinger, who fights out of Houston, was always one of the few willing to say yes — as long as the compensation was right. She always figured it might take the UFC’s deep pockets to make the fight a reality. And, once again, she was dead on.

“This fight came up a couple times when we were both in Invicta, but my thing was I needed to be paid for it. I didn’t want to be making a small amount of money, while the UFC paid her a ton for the fight.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going into this with no stress, no worries, no emotions. That’s not the case. I have the same feelings before every fight. I’m scared every single fight, just like all of these fighters are. But that’s the reason I fight. It brings out the best in me.”

After waiting years to debut in the UFC — and giving up on the idea of actually joining the promotion in her own weight class, as a bantamweight contender — Evinger has finally signed a multi-fight deal with the UFC.

It took accepting a short-notice fight against the most dominant female of all time to get it done — but of course, Evinger always knew it would.

“I’m the grinder, man,” Evinger said. “I’m going to grind this fight out for a win. I’m going to drag her to the deep end and push the pace as much as she pushes the pace. At the end of the day, I’m a competitor. I’m not going in there intimidated.”

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