Do any of us want to be defined by our worst moments? No matter how old we are or what we accomplish in our lives, it’s a safe bet every single one of us do not want the moment(s) that show us at our lowest point to become our legacy or what defines us.
I’m sure Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos would tell you her lowest point came at the end of her tumultuous stint in the UFC. She was knocked out in the first round for the first time in her career at the end of 2018 and as a result, lost the UFC featherweight title to Amanda Nunes. Cyborg never received a rematch and her last fight in the UFC was a nondescript unanimous decision victory over Felicia Spencer, followed by controversy over a doctored video shared by her team that appeared to slander UFC President Dana White over the matter of Cyborg not receiving a rematch with Nunes.
By then, many mixed martial arts fans joined White in washing their hands of Cyborg and no longer proclaiming her the greatest female MMA fighter of all time – a distinction many seem to now place on the shoulders of Nunes.
It’s hard to argue against Nunes being the GOAT of women’s MMA, especially after that epic knockout of Cyborg and the dominance Nunes has fought with over the last four years. But as another old saying goes, Cyborg proved this weekend you can go home again, and her case for being the GOAT in women’s MMA is still very much alive.
Cyborg signed with Bellator MMA last year and made her debut in emphatic fashion at Bellator 238 on Saturday night. She methodically picked apart former Bellator featherweight champion Julia Budd en route to a fourth-round TKO and winning a title in her fourth different organization. That alone is a distinction shared by no other female fighter, and where Cyborg’s case for still being the GOAT in women’s MMA begins.
Ironically, Cyborg’s victory over Budd came in the same building where she was knocked out by Nunes. Cyborg also won title belts in the UFC, Invicta FC and Strikeforce. Even if the latter organization is defunct, and the UFC never made a serious effort to build a women’s featherweight division and basically had Cyborg faced natural bantamweights who moved up in weight, winning title belts in four different organizations in one career is an extraordinary achievement. While Nunes is a double champion in the UFC with also holding its bantamweight title, it is an achievement she has not yet accomplished.
On a macro level, Cyborg’s TKO of Budd was her 19th finish in her 23-fight career, which is also a level of dominance few fighters can boast – male or female. Budd should also not be viewed as some inferior competitor in an alleged second-rate promotion (At this point, any MMA fan who considers Bellator “second rate” is a moron, plain and simple). Bellator is anything but second-rate, and Budd’s two previous career losses came to Nunes and Ronda Rousey.
Budd also counts fighters like Germaine de Randamie and Marloes Coenen as victories on her resume. So let’s not pretend Cyborg smashed some overmatched fighter to win her fourth different title.
I was one of those who proclaimed Nunes the GOAT of women’s MMA after she knocked out Cyborg, and I still believe that. Nunes has cleaned out the UFC women’s bantamweight division, and if White is ever serious about building a women’s featherweight division (which is to say, not serious at all), Nunes will likely clean that division out too.
However, Bellator has an actual women’s featherweight division filled with contenders Cyborg will defend her title against, Including Cat Zingano, Arlene Blencowe and a likely rematch with Budd sometime in the future. Fans can debate all they want about the merits of a women’s featherweight division and how deep it can really be, which is a debate I was part of in the not-too-distant past.
But even though Cyborg will likely never receive a rematch with Nunes, I believe those two are still competing for the title of the greatest female fighter in MMA history.
Photo Credit: Globo Esporte