Cris Cyborg has finally debuted in the UFC. That much should be celebrated. The path forward; however, gets complicated for Cyborg, the UFC, and women’s MMA in general.
Cyborg has long been hailed as one of the greatest women fighters ever, and her dominance certainly establishes her as a leading figure in the sport. Before Holly Holm’s headkick, a Cyborg-Rousey bout would have been the fight of the century.
The biggest roadblock to that fight happening was Cyborg’s size. She drops down to 145 for her Invicta FC bouts, but she is said to walk around at 170. Cutting to 135 might not have been possible or safe for Cyborg to do, and because Rousey was the MMA queen she was dictating terms and did not want to move up in weight.
Fighting at the 140 catch weight at UFC 198 was probably a trial run of sorts to see if she could get down to 135. Cyborg was terrific, looked healthy (during the fight, weigh-ins not so much) and still retained her striking power and accuracy. After the fight she mentioned she felt a little quicker, which is a terrifying prospect. But she didn’t mention going down to 135 but instead expressed a desire to defend her Invicta FC title and fight at catch weights.
And here’s where things get sticky.
First, the UFC has no 145 lb women’s division. Creating one would not solve any of the problems Cyborg faces with Invicta. She simply has no one of her caliber to fight. Adding a division and signing fighters would just move the issue from one promotion to the other.
In the long run though, adding a division would encourage women to fight at 145, and possibly cultivate more talent. But, potential talent will not help Cyborg legitimize her abilities in the present.
Second, superfights make money and sell tickets, but do not provide sustainable growth to women’s MMA, which Cyborg (and the UFC presumably) want. Holly Holm fueled women’s MMA (and Rousey before her) because her victory was legitimate (she won a belt), and because she is still fighting in that same division as the current/now former champion. Holm’s fight was not a one off.
If Cyborg continues to purse catch weight superfights, like her recent calling out of Rousey, the lack of a UFC title will undermine the long term growth that could happen. But the UFC would be interested in the short game revenue that would be generated.
The best way forward, it would seem, for the UFC and women’s MMA, would be for Cyborg to join the other female Bantamweights.
However, Cyborg seems uninterested in moving to 135, and there are the aforementioned health concerns. She simply wants to continue defending her Invicta strap and pursue superfights.
So what should the UFC do with Cyborg? Should she be persuaded to go down to 135? Be given her own UFC weight class? Or just let the superfights roll?