You would think that if a promotion has one of the most talented and dominant fighters on the planet, it would create an environment for that person to thrive. However, with the UFC and its women’s featherweight champion, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino managed to find herself an opponent at UFC 219 on Saturday, Dec. 30, when she faces Holly Holm for the featherweight title. But the fact that Holm is getting yet another title fight – her second inside of one year, actually – shows that the UFC really has no idea what to do with “Cyborg,” and is proving my theory that it signed her because it is just in desperate need of a box office draw. Since the UFC’s biggest star, lightweight champion Conor McGregor, still shows no signs of returning.
What is another example of the UFC’s apparent desperation to lock Cyborg under contract and keep her from going somewhere else? The UFC literally has no women’s featherweight division. It just doesn’t exist, period. If you don’t believe me, check the official rankings page on the UFC’s website. What do you see? Well, I can tell you what you don’t see – any other featherweight fighters.
Cyborg is a fighter with a world title, but is also a fighter without a division to rule. So she has to take fights with competitors like Holm, who has not won a mixed martial arts bout at 145 pounds. Her lone featherweight fight was a controversial loss to the original featherweight champion, Germaine De Randamie, at UFC 208 earlier this year.
Why is Holm getting another featherweight title fight, then? It’s a good question. A possible answer is that she was the only fighter willing to step into the Octagon with Cyborg. De Randamie was stripped of the featherweight title after ducking – er, refusing to fight – Cyborg. Former Invicta FC featherweight champion Megan Anderson dropped out of a planned fight with Cyborg at UFC 214 in July because of “personal reasons.” Invicta FC bantamweight champion Tonya Evinger then stepped in to face Cyborg and bravely fought for three rounds before succumbing to Cyborg’s power.
So what has Holm been up to during this time? Winning one fight at bantamweight against Bethe Correia, who probably shouldn’t be on the UFC roster. All of Holm’s victories in the UFC came while fighting at 135 pounds and outside of her victories over Correia and Ronda Rousey, she hasn’t exactly looked very impressive. So of course Holm should receive another featherweight title fight. It makes perfect sense, right?
I’m sure that I’m reading too much into this. As we are all probably aware of by now, the UFC currently has no rhyme or reason for handing out title fights. It simply appears that UFC President Dana White gives title fights to the first person who asks for one. If Holm is the only fighter willing to face Cyborg, then Holm is to be commended for that. Fighters should always want to test themselves against the best.
But the question I posed in the title of this writing remains; what happens next with Cyborg? What if she defeats Holm (which I believe she will)? Who does she face next? The options are borderline nonexistent. If Anderson has worked through whatever personal issues she was facing, perhaps she could finally make her UFC debut against Cyborg. But Anderson hasn’t fought in almost a year and only has 10 professional fights. There is little reason to believe Anderson would be anything other than another quick notch on Cyborg’s belt.
The only other option I can think of is that UFC bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes moves up to 145 pounds for a fight with Cyborg. I think now would be the perfect time for that fight, assuming Cyborg is victorious at UFC 219. The talent pool in the women’s bantamweight division is extremely shallow, to say the least. But at least it’s not barren, like the nonexistent division Cyborg finds herself lording over.
Perhaps the best option for the UFC right now is that Holm pulls off another upset on Saturday. That way, the UFC can kick the can down the road for a little while longer and just book a rematch between Holm and Cyborg, which Holm said she would be open to doing. Then if Cyborg regains her title, a rubber match with Holm can be booked and the UFC could perhaps have up to another year to figure out what to do with Cyborg and her empty division.
A fighter the caliber of Cyborg deserves a division that pushes her to be the best. However, the UFC seems to be telling Cyborg “Don’t call us. We’ll call you.”
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