UFC risking another underwhelming debut with Cyborg

This week was eventful for the UFC, despite the organization not putting on any sort of fight card.

Jon Jones nearly put his opportunity to regain the light heavyweight title he never lost in jeopardy by getting pulled over again by the police for reckless driving (seriously, can Dana White hire this guy a driver already? Or can someone at the Jackson/Winkeljohn gym volunteer to chauffeur Jones around?). The UFC also began announcing fights for its allegedly “huge” UFC 200 card this summer.

I say allegedly because so far, the card is rife with rematches that don’t seem to garner much excitement in many quarters. Conor McGregor is getting an inexplicable rematch with Nate Diaz, and Frankie Edgar and José Aldo are squaring off once again for the interim featherweight title. Even though McGregor is perfectly healthy and capable of defending it, and is fighting on the same card.

Oh, and the UFC finally signed Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino. Before you ask, no, it’s not an April Fools’ joke. The UFC confirmed it earlier this week:

So who did the UFC get as Cyborg’s opponent? When the rumor mill started cranking up that she was finally close to signing with the UFC, names such as Cat Zingano, former women’s bantamweight champion Holly Holm and even current champion Miesha Tate were floated as possibilities. But as you can see above, Leslie Smith was offered up as Cyborg’s first UFC opponent instead.

The same Leslie Smith with a career record of 7-6-1 and who recently struggled to defeat a fighter who probably competed above her weight class in Rin Nakai at the UFC’s card in Brisbane, Australia, last month. Smith is perhaps best known for her fight against Jessica Eye in 2014, when her ear was pulverized by Eye’s fist.

Just to be clear, I’m not disparaging Smith at all for agreeing to fight Cyborg. Smith deserves a ton of credit for taking on a fighter the caliber of Cyborg after just competing a few weeks ago. However, as the current Invicta FC featherweight champion, Cyborg is known for demolishing opponents in relatively short order. She has three straight first-round finishes, with two of those coming in under a minute, and her last fight to go to a decision was eight years ago.

If Smith lasts longer than one round with Cyborg, it will be a miracle, frankly. But therein lies part of the problem for the UFC. Holm’s manager came out and said she turned down a fight with Cyborg, and it was implied that other fighters did the same. But at least one of them denies that claim:

Now, which fighter would you rather see Cyborg face for her UFC debut? Zingano, who already owns a win over the current women’s bantamweight champion Tate and a top contender in Amanda Nunes? Or Smith, whose underwhelming victory over Nakai was only her second in her last five fights?

The UFC has a history of bringing in big names with lots of hype, but with mixed results in their very first fight. Holm made her UFC debut last year against Raquel Pennington, who most everyone thought Holm would make quick work of. But Holm was nervous and tentative throughout that fight and though the judges awarded her the victory, many people (including myself) thought Pennington was the winner.

The UFC also brought Hector Lombard over from Bellator in 2012 to much fanfare, but he lost a lackluster decision to Tim Boetsch in his first fight under the Zuffa banner and hasn’t really recovered. Jake Shields won a controversial decision victory in his UFC debut in 2010, but was still awarded a title shot against then-welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre in his next fight.

Most everyone expects Cyborg to make quick work of Smith en route to a fight against Tate, Holm or maybe Cyborg’s longtime rival, Ronda Rousey. So it’s highly unlikely Cyborg’s first fight will go the way of Holm’s, Lombard’s or Shields’. Cyborg also ran through admittedly not always the best level of competition in Invicta.

So is making Smith the latest sacrificial lamb really the best way to initially gauge how good Cyborg can really be in the UFC?

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Chris Huntemann
Chris Huntemann writes about mixed martial arts in the state of Maryland. He also opines on all things UFC, Bellator, World Series of Fighting and any other MMA topics he cares to bloviate about. You should check out his blog, or his Twitter. Or both. When he's not watching MMA, he's an avid fan of other sports, such as football, baseball and college basketball. He may or may not do other, non-sports-related things as well.

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