It’s not often I find myself agreeing with Dana White. But last week, the UFC President and I were in complete sync with each other.
White announced that one fight he was planning to make this year was a champion-versus-champion matchup between UFC featherweight champion Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino and UFC bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes. Given the dearth of viable contenders for Cyborg and Nunes’ titles (and a lack of an entire division for Cyborg), a fight between the two champions actually makes a lot of sense, on the surface.
There is just one problem with this scenario – Cyborg isn’t interested in fighting Nunes.
Cyborg has repeatedly rejected White’s claim that her next fight will be against Nunes and stubbornly sticks to the belief that she should only be fighting other featherweight fighters. On the surface, Cyborg’s attitude is admirable and sensible. She’s the UFC featherweight champion. So why shouldn’t she defend her title against others in her weight class?
Well, for starters – and this has been common knowledge for some time – the UFC appears to have little interest in building a women’s featherweight division. We’re approaching one year since the UFC first introduced a women’s featherweight title and it still shows no signs of adding other female featherweights to its roster. It’s for good reason too, as the talent pool in that division is extremely shallow, to say the least.
If you look at a current set of rankings for women’s featherweight fighters, you will see some familiar names such as Holly Holm, Tonya Evinger, Germaine de Randamie, Megan Anderson and Marloes Coenen. Unfortunately, both Holm and Evinger have already faced Cyborg and lost. De Randamie won the inaugural UFC women’s featherweight title last year, but was stripped of it after refusing to fight Cyborg. Coenen faced Cyborg earlier in her career and lost, and has since retired from active competition.
Anderson hasn’t fought in roughly a year and shot down a report that she was going to face Cyborg at UFC 221 in Australia next month. Beyond that, no one knows when Anderson will return to active competition. Besides her, Cyborg has also floated names such as Cindy Dandois and Pam Sorenson as possible opponents.
Dandois’ UFC career lasted for one fight, as she was released following a loss to Alexis Davis in a bantamweight fight last year. Dandois has since won two straight on the global MMA circuit, including a recent victory with the Rizin Fighting Federation. Sorenson has primarily fought at bantamweight and has competed for various regional promotions and Invicta FC, but has yet to step foot inside the UFC’s Octagon.
I admire Cyborg for wanting to continue to be a pioneer for women’s mixed martial arts and to be the standard bearer for her weight class. But simply put, her weight class is weak. There just aren’t enough talented female featherweight fighters available. If the UFC just started signing available featherweights off the street, it would really just appear that it’s lining up a bunch of tomato cans to feed to Cyborg and enhance her reputation as the most dominant fighter in women’s MMA.
Nunes has won six straight fights and has defended the UFC bantamweight title twice, including a 48-second knockout of former champion Ronda Rousey. Nunes is a dangerous striker with 10 knockouts in her 15 career wins. Even though her last fight against Valentina Shevchenko was a dud, there’s no doubt that Nunes would bring her absolute best effort against a fighter the caliber of Cyborg. A fellow dangerous striker in Cyborg should feel flattered and relish the challenge of facing a fighter the caliber of Nunes.
Cyborg pocketed a cool $500,000 for defending her belt against Holm last month. A battle of champions with Nunes would ensure another solid payday for both fighters, in an industry in MMA where the fighters are still grossly underpaid. Opportunities like this just don’t come around very often, and she would be foolish to turn it down.
Image Credit: MMA Weekly