What do you think we’ll see next for Cris “Cyborg” Justino in the UFC after her successful debut? Which fights do you think can realistically be put together?
MICHAEL BANE, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
Cyborg did what Cyborg does at UFC 198, going all Terminator-style on poor Leslie “I Wasn’t Out” Smith at UFC 198. The result was what we all expected, but Cyborg’s appearance in the Octagon didn’t really answer many questions about her future in the UFC. Was this a one-off to treat a Brazilian crowd? After weighing in at 139 pounds, will Cyborg drop the rest of the way to 135? Is the UFC exploring a 145 pound division? Will the UFC continue to promote catchweight fights for Cyborg that may be entertaining, but ultimately have little to do with divisional rankings or titles?
While Bellator has been quick to promote absolutely anything, including the trainwreck that was Kimbo Slice vs. Dada 5000, the UFC has been more resistant to do so. That’s not to say they haven’t had their own “fun” bouts to drum up casual interest. As much as we’d like to forget it, UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture had a “fight” with James Toney, a boxer who held numerous titles in his career. But generally speaking, that’s not the direction Zuffa has taken their organization, leaning more toward the sports aspect of sports entertainment, at least insomuch as there’s arguable competitive reasons for putting certain fighters together. Justino called it, and she’s right: Connor McGregor’s bizzaro fight at 170 pounds against Nate Diaz really opened the door for all things that might make money.
I expect that the UFC has their eyes on some “Super Fights” between Cyborg and a few of the top names at women’s bantamweight. A catchweight of 140 pounds is something that a few women might be willing to move up to, and Cyborg’s bout against Smith showed everyone that she can be plenty dangerous and explosive cutting down to that. While some may argue it’s only four more pounds (three for non-championship fights), Cyborg herself said an ideal game plan for her right now involves defending her Invicta Featherweight Title and taking on other catchweight fights. That doesn’t sound like someone who believes they can effectively make it to bantamweight. There’s so many financial reasons to do so that the fact she isn’t saying she will makes me think it’s not a cut she can make in a healthy manner.
One off fights against no-name opponents really aren’t going to do much for the UFC’s bottom line. While I’d rather see Cyborg than not on a card, it’s not like her fight with Leslie Smith had anything to do with my buying or not buying the last PvP. A fight against a name opponent though? That might move the needle a little bit. The UFC took a step here to establish Justino as a dominant force among women fighters. Her emphatic stoppage of Smith was exactly what they wanted. There’s a decent chance they set her up with one more fight against another patsy to build her up in front of views more, or they may not. The whole point is to create a few money making fights that wouldn’t have existed if she were forced to make Bantamweight.
If Holm had not faltered in the fifth round of her last fight, this would have been the perfect time to pit Tate against Cyborg. There’d have bee no need to see her against Rousey or Holm again, but she’s much bigger than just gatekeeper status. Tate vs. Cyborg is recognizable, would sell, and offers a lot of intrigue. At a catchweight, both are fighting at a slight disadvantage from their comfort zone, unlike a fight at either of their respective weight classes. That said, Tate still makes a world of sense at some point, as does Holly Holm and Ronda Rousey. Holm likely won’t be risked just yet, as the lucrative rematch with Rousey is still in play. Rousey’s next fight will probably be for the 135 pound title, as the words “champion” and “title fight” just make things more marketable. Tate, Holm, and Rousey are the money fights the UFC would love to make, and once Mexican standoff of which one won’t lose money fights with a loss to Cyborg sorts itself out, that’s the direction we’ll see Zuffa go. Because of that, Cyborg will likely get another UFC fight against a non-threat, and possibly defend her Invicta title again as well. Either way, there’s some irons in the fire now for big money fights that didn’t exist prior to Cyborg taking her rightful place in the Octagon.
RICH HANSEN, MMATORCH COLUMNIST
It seems apparent that we aren’t going to see her fight at 135 (136, really). And if she’s not going to make the weight, then she shouldn’t be given the likes of Cat Zingano, Holly Holm, Amanda Nunes, or Miesha Tate. Why should a razor thin division be thinned out even further by an outsider who isn’t even able (willing? Unsure) to make the weight in order to take part in said division. They can’t have Cyborg knock out all of the title contenders at 135 when she’s not even part of the division.
Let’s see if you’re paying attention… Which top 135 pounder’s name did I not mention up there? That’s right. The next fight should be a 140 pound fight against Ronda Rousey. In my thought process, Rousey has one, maybe two fights left before she ditches the MMA Trolliverse in order to make millions of dollars a pop in Hollywood. If she’s not going to chase the belt (again, conjecture on my part), then she has no reason other than fear to say no to a fight with Cyborg. I bought the excuse when she held the title (nothing to gain, lots to lose. Why should she chase when she had the name, momentum, and title?), but now that Cyborg’s name value is approaching that of Rousey’s name, now that Cyborg is the hottest thing in the division, not that Rousey doesn’t have the title, there’s no reason for her to avoid Cyborg.
If in fact Rousey’s sole motivation is to retain and defend the title that was once hers, then Cyborg needs to be matched with UFC bantamweights who are credible, large for the division, and not likely to ever be fighting for the title (unless she were to upset Cyborg, natch). Germaine de Randamie leaps to mind first.
The other possibility for Cyborg would be that she returns to Invicta to continue crushing cans, I mean defending her prestigious Invicta Featherweight Championship. And there’s just no good reason that she can’t defend that title on a UFC pay-per-view. The UFC has Invicta squarely under their thumb, I mean they work very well together in a fully symbiotic manner where neither threatens the living beejesus out of the other, so I’m sure a deal could be worked out where the UFC agrees not to crush Invicta, I mean where the UFC provides some form of remuneration to Invicta, in exchange for Invicta allowing the UFC to air said prestigious Featherweight Championship on an upcoming UFC pay-per-view.
FRANK HYDEN, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
I think she tries to make 135 lbs. and if she makes it and wins, she gets the next title shot. A fight I would love to see her in is against Holly Holm. That would be spectacular. If Cyborg were to beat Holm there would be no question that she would deserve a title shot. I also think that this fight could come together. I know there’s other fighters out there lurking but Cyborg is in the mix and should get a high profile fight to stake her claim for a title shot. I also think a fight against Holm would be incredibly exciting.
DAYNE FOX, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
I have nothing against Cyborg as she appears to be a nice enough person. But I can’t help but question her career management decisions. The UFC doesn’t look like it wants to open up a featherweight division for her and I can’t blame them as there aren’t any marketable fighters in the division outside of her. They did set up a catchweight fight for her with Leslie Smith with the reception from that being well received enough that I’d believe that they’d be willing to create more catchweight fights for her until she decides whether or not she can make 135. But no… she stated she wants to go back to Invicta to defend her featherweight belt? Why?
I love the Invicta product and watch all of their shows, but they don’t offer Cyborg the type of exposure that she can receive from the UFC. Besides, she has already cleaned out the division as there is no one who can provide her with a twinge of a challenge. Essentially it feels like she is saying that she doesn’t like money. What they hell Cyborg?!
All reports that I’ve read were that the weight cut to 139 went pretty well for her as she utilized the help of nutritionist George Lockhart. While she certainly looked dehydrated, she didn’t look as bad as she has in some of her previous cuts to 145 lbs, which indicates to me that she could get down to 135 if she really wanted to. It may require giving up a bit of her muscle mass, but the sacrifice would totally be worth it in the end as the competition at 135 is so much healthier than anything 145 has to offer.
I don’t even want to entertain who she might face if she goes back to defend her belt in Invicta as we all know what the result will be already. So I’ll propose another catchweight bout with Germaine de Randamie who was offered the fight against Cyborg before Smith was. De Randamie turned it down so she could fight on the Holland card which is understandable since that is where she is from and she might never get another chance to fight in front of her family in the UFC. Now that has passed, she’ll receive exposure like never before if she lines herself opposite Cyborg. Ashlee Evans-Smith is another one that I think would be willing to face Cyborg as she used to fight at featherweight herself.
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