Invicta FC featherweight champion Cris Cyborg is the best fighter in women’s MMA. She has a contract with the UFC, which had hoped to bring her down gradually to 135 for a superfight with the then seemingly unbeatable Ronda Rousey. Then Rousey lost. Further, in a sport increasingly concerned about the culture of extreme weight cutting, Cyborg’s cuts were exhibit A in the case for it being life threatening.
UFC president Dana White had long maintained that there was insufficient depth at women’s 145 to justify a division. This is not sex related – there is no UFC division for men at 265+ for the same reason.
However, the league had a change of heart, and determined to have an inaugural women’s featherweight championship at UFC 208 on Feb. 11. Cyborg is recovering from her last weight cut, and said she would not be ready until March. Instead of waiting a month and having the best WMMA fighter in the world vs. a notable challenger, there will be Holly Holm vs. Germaine de Randamie. Holm on a two-fight losing streak and de Randamie is outside the top 10, in a lower division.
Cyborg said she thought the decision to not wait a month was personal. However, in an interview with ESPN, White said it was business not personal – Cyborg was offered three fights, and when she declined each of them, they moved on.
“We’re in the fight business. That’s what we do for a living,” said White, according to Brett Okamoto. “We’re out to disrespect Cyborg? She said she couldn’t make 145 pounds in eight weeks. We offered her a second and a third fight. She turned them down. With everything I’ve got going on in my life, the last thing I’m thinking is, ‘Hey, let’s get together and disrespect Cyborg.’”
“We offered three fights, and she turned them all down. This is a business. I had two girls who wanted to fight for the 145-pound title. This is the pros. If you play for the Patriots, you don’t sit around and say, ‘I don’t feel like playing this weekend.’
“We brought her in because she said she could make 135 pounds. When she couldn’t, the weight cut was too hard, we created the 145-pound division … and she still doesn’t want to fight.
“This is a business of opportunity. When opportunity arises, you jump up and take it. If you don’t, the bus is gone, and it passes you by.”
Cyborg expressed satisfaction that the UFC did finally open up featherweight, but there is a further potential setback.
If Ronda Rousey beats current champion Amanda Nunes at UFC 207 on December 30, and the #4 women’s bantamweight contender beats the #11 bantamweight contender for the featherweight championship, then a Rousey vs. Holm rematch would be a natural, as would a Rousey vs. de Randamie fight. In the case of the latter, Rousey would have the chance to become only the fourth UFC fighter, and the first female fighter to win belts in two divisions. ‘Rowdy’ has said she is winding down her career. That would be the ideal moment to walk into the glow of Hollywood lighting equipment for good.
“They could make that fight,” Justino said. “I don’t know. I think so.”
The UFC could and would.
“If Holly wins and becomes a champion, and that’s the scenario [Rousey regains the title]? I guarantee people will want to see it,” said White, accurately.
When the UFC decided to add a women’s strawweight division, they did it right. They got 11 top fighters from Invicta FC, winnowed that through circumstance to eight, then got eight more fighters, and had an awesome tournament across an entire season of TUF.
By contrast, this feels rushed, even frenzied, and ugly. However, when you have to realize a return on a 4,000,000,000 investment in a business that grossed $600,000,000 last year, things become frenzied, apparently.