The title picture in the UFC’s women’s bantamweight division has been pretty easy to follow thus far. Fighter A works her way up to a shot at Ronda Rousey. Rousey shuts down Fighter A. Then Fighter B gets her shot. Fighter B gets beaten by Rousey. Rinse and repeat.
“Rowdy’s” dominance has been unprecedented. It has made her a star, but it’s also killed the reputation of a few of the extremely tough women who have failed to conquer the champion.
Chief among those fighters is Miesha Tate, who has remained near the top of the division in both her ranking and popularity despite two losses to Rousey. Twice, “Cupcake” has stepped into the cage opposite the champ. And, twice, she’s come out of the bout having been caught in a signature Rousey armbar. However, where other women have either faded into the background or fallen off entirely following a defeat at the hands of the champion, Tate has been maybe the only fighter who has been able to retain the star power and fan support she earned while feuding with Rousey.
Somehow, Tate found a way to continue to be a big deal to fight fans and the UFC while working her way back up the UFC’s ladder. Even though the popularity gap between Tate and the next woman in the division is almost as large as the one between Tate and Rousey, the interest in Tate getting another title opportunity isn’t exactly at a high at the moment. This weekend, the former Strikeforce champion is set to step into the cage with Jessica Eye in a bout with major title implications. But while fight fans may differ on whom they think will be victorious, it seems that most fans would rather watch “Evil” Eye get a shot at Rousey before paying for another Rousey-Tate bout.
Even if Tate were to emerge victorious by a quick knockout or submission, there’s still a pretty good chance that the MMA community would largely reject the thought of her getting a third crack at Rousey. Or, at the least, they’d become apathetic about the situation.
Sure, Tate performed better than most against the champion — she’s the only woman to take Rousey beyond the first round — but Rousey has been so incredibly dominant in the interim that anything remotely impressive done against her in the past has been forgotten. In the minds of many fight fans, and especially the casual ones, Rousey is a monster that takes every opponent out in a matter of seconds. Any of the women that Rousey’s beaten are going to have to do something to turn a ton of heads in order to convince fight fans that they’re worthy of another opportunity, and Tate is no exception.
It’s going to take something big to make people believe in Tate if she’s going to step into the cage with Rousey again, and “Cupcake” has attempted to take a big step toward making that happen recently by saying that she would accept a bout with Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino at a catchweight of 140 pounds.
Every MMA fan knows that Rousey-Cyborg would be the biggest female fight in history and likely do some killer pay-per-view numbers for the UFC. But due to Cyborg’s difficulty cutting down to 135 pounds and Rousey’s refusal to meet a former substance abuser anywhere but at bantamweight, the fight has never really been close to coming together.
Justino has been working hard in order to try to get down to 135 pounds — a weight cut she once said would endanger her life — but until she’s successfully made the cut, there’s little to no chance the UFC is going to go for a bout with Rousey or anyone else. If the UFC were to drop Cyborg into a bunch of catchweight bouts with bantamweight contenders, it would more than likely do nothing but eliminate more opponents for Rousey. And if Justino was never able to make the bantamweight limit, the company would have promoted the fighter for months with no possible endgame.
There are plenty of reasons the UFC shouldn’t allow Cyborg to come into the cage and fight a top contender without even having to attempt to cut to 135 pounds, but a fight against Tate might be interesting enough to force the company to at least consider the possibility. It would hurt to lose Tate as a potential title challenger in the near future, especially if Cyborg takes Tate out with ease and then never makes the weight. Yet, if there’s any women’s MMA fight that the UFC could promote and expect to sell well without Rousey, this is the one.
Cyborg’s trend of tearing through clearly outmatched opponents, like she’s done in her last couple of fights, isn’t doing anything to raise her status anymore. The MMA community knows exactly how good the Brazilian is, and a few more squash matches while she attempts to hit weight her target weight won’t create any more buzz for a potential Rousey fight than what already exists. Fight fans have waited for a while to see Rousey fight Cyborg. Unless Cyborg is doing something meaningful in the meantime, it’s going to be hard for fight fans to keep thinking of her bouts as a big deal.
A bout with Tate would represent Justino’s biggest fight since her Strikeforce clash with Gina Carano over five years ago, and it could help put a little bit of a spotlight on Cyborg. As much as hardcore MMA fans love Invicta FC, most casual fans have only heard of the promotion during UFC broadcasts. That essentially means Justino’s been out of reach for casual fans since her Strikeforce days. To most of these casual fans, she’s basically a mythical figure that diehards swear could bring the fight to Rousey. If Cyborg could get into the cage against Tate and be half as dominant as she usually is, it would be a major win for the UFC. That’s especially true if a Rousey bout is on the horizon, because it would allow the promotion to expose some of the newer fans to the Invicta champ.
As for Tate, a bout with Justino would not only represent the biggest test of her career since fighting Rousey, but it would be an opportunity to force fight fans into believing in her if she were to get another shot at the champ. If she were to beat the unstoppable Cyborg, it would do more for Tate’s career than if she were to win five more non-title fights inside the Octagon. Such an upset would be on par with the likes of Matt Serra over Georges St-Pierre or Fabricio Werdum over Fedor Emelianenko, and there’s no doubt that Tate would end up as the next challenger to Rousey with a lot of hype behind her following a victory. While Tate would love to get another shot at the belt, it goes without saying that she’d probably want that shot to be the biggest scenario (read: payday) possible, and nothing could come closer to creating that scenario than a win over Justino.
This is a fight that is probably a dream scenario for Tate and Justino, but there’s no chance the UFC is going to be able to take the risks involved in order to pull the trigger. The UFC is asking for a ton of headaches if it lets Cyborg step into the cage before she’s able to successfully hit 135 pounds. For one, how would fight fans react if Cyborg won at 140 pounds inside the Octagon and could never quite make the weight cut? Would they expect Rousey to throw her convictions into the wind in order to fight someone she doesn’t believe is deserving of an opportunity? And if Rousey refused, would the incredible reputation she’s created over the last year start to fade as fans claim she’s “dodging” opponents?
These are questions the UFC is going to ask itself if preliminary talks about a fight between these two even start to happen, and those questions are the reason this fight isn’t going to happen. As much fun as it would be to see Justino in a meaningful fight again and to see Tate try to make a little history, it would be completely irresponsible for the UFC to allow Cyborg to compete for the organization where she couldn’t make a single weight class. Furthermore, it’s almost unfair to fans for the UFC to promote Justino inside the Octagon if there’s no certainty that she’ll be fighting to earn a shot at Rousey. As many good reasons as there are to make this fight happen, there are twice as many reasons that suggest that the fight shouldn’t happen. The risks far outweigh the rewards.