Have you ever bought something just so someone else wouldn’t have it?
Maybe you grew up with a brother or sister and engaged in a constant sibling rivalry. So, when your parents took the two of you to Gamestop and you saw the last copy of Grand Theft Auto IV, you bought it, even if video games with wanton violence weren’t really your thing. You just didn’t want your sibling to have it.
That’s what it feels like with the UFC and its women’s featherweight champion, Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino. It would seem the UFC just has her under contract because the promotion doesn’t want her to compete anywhere else. However, the UFC is in no hurry to give Cyborg the kind of promotional push it gave a certain female bantamweight fighter named Ronda Rousey.
Since Justino began competing for the UFC last year, she has fought in two catchweight bouts, against Leslie Smith and Lina Länsberg, and finally received a featherweight title fight in July against Tonya Evinger, the former Invicta FC bantamweight champion who moved up in weight and was Cyborg’s third scheduled opponent for that fight.
The latest rumor circulating is that Cyborg will defend her belt against Holly Holm at UFC 219 in December. Cyborg has campaigned for this fight for a while now, but Holm was somewhat ambivalent at first, before saying she would fight Cyborg under the right terms. Then, last week, this tweet was sent out from Cyborg’s Twitter account:
My meeting with the @UFC for next week has been canceled. They want to pay me less to fight @HollyHolm than I made to fight Tonya Evinger
So, as of this moment, it doesn’t look like a fight between Cyborg and Holm is close. That’s fine, though. Is there really any desire to see Holm fight for yet another title? She lost her previous two title fights and has only added one win since defeating Ronda Rousey at UFC 193 in 2015.
However, if Cyborg doesn’t fight Holm next, then what exactly is the UFC doing by keeping Cyborg around?
There are no other active female featherweights right now in the UFC. On some levels, it’s not the promotion’s fault. If you look at the list of female featherweight fighters worldwide, there isn’t much depth in the division — and that’s being kind. But if the UFC won’t show any inclination to sign other featherweights for Cyborg to fight, why keep her around? Is the UFC really that petty? Does it really not want Cyborg to have higher paydays that she would likely see from Bellator MMA or the Rizin Fighting Federation in Japan?
If the Holm fight doesn’t come together for Cyborg, the only other possibilities seem to be former Invicta FC featherweight champion Megan Anderson or Germaine de Randamie, who first won the UFC featherweight title by defeating Holm earlier this year before she was stripped of the belt after making it clear she would not fight Cyborg. De Randamie has returned to the 135-pound weight class, though, and doesn’t seem likely to compete at featherweight again. Meanwhile, Anderson hasn’t officially fought in the UFC yet. She was scheduled to face Cyborg at UFC 214 in July for the featherweight title, but she had to withdraw for personal reasons. Even though Anderson has 10 pro fights on her resume, Cyborg would be far and away her toughest competition to date. Many believe Anderson would be just another notch on Cyborg’s belt if the two did face off.
If Cyborg wants to stay in the UFC and help build the women’s featherweight division with herself as the centerpiece, that’s her right. But it has to be a two-way street and the UFC has to do its part. The company’s choice to put the best female fighter on the planet in catchweight bouts and token title fights against natural bantamweights isn’t the most effective way to market and use someone with Cyborg’s skill set and appeal.
There is no reason why the UFC can’t market Cyborg in similar ways to what it did with Rousey. While Rousey’s looks were a tremendous asset, the judoka was also marketed as the world’s most dominant athlete. She was even named as such by Sports Illustrated. Since that aura around Rousey has been shattered, Cyborg should now fill those same shoes, with the UFC’s help.
The UFC should play its role by finding Cyborg some quality competition. Even if the talent pool at women’s featherweight is shallow, there is some potential. Cyborg is doing her part by calling for a fight with Holm. If the UFC isn’t willing to do what’s needed, then it should let Cyborg go to pursue competition and paydays worthy of the best female fighter on the planet.
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