mma / Columns

Cris Cyborg: Division of One

January 2, 2018 | Posted by Evan Zivin
Cris Cyborg Justino UFC UFC 222

It must get very lonely ruling over a kingdom with no one in it.

That’s the world Cris “Cyborg” Justino finds herself in, not only being the UFC Women’s Featherweight Champion, but being the only UFC Women’s Featherweight.

Or at least, she’s the only one who chooses to primarily fight at featherweight, mainly because she’d have to start hacking off limbs to cut to any of the other women’s divisions.

I do give Cyborg a lot of credit, though. I mean, it’s not often that a fighter gets Dana White to change his mind on a topic, namely, the odds of her getting to fight in the UFC at her preferred weight of 145 pounds.

…What’s that? Dana changes his mind about everything all of the time?

Oh. Well, I still respect Cyborg for the path she took to get where she’s at, mainly because she never begged or pleaded for or demanded anything, nor did she compromise her own health and integrity just to get what she wanted.

She could have entered the UFC immediately after Strikeforce folded but she was willing to look for other opportunities because they didn’t have her division or any interest at the time to bring it in.

After briefly considering a drop down to bantamweight, since the UFC told her that would be the only way they’d book her (back when Ronda Rousey was still practicing armbars and not figure four leglocks), she stuck to her guns about staying at 145 once it became clear the drop to 135 would not be in her best interest, even if it meant saying goodbye to a fight with Rousey.

She obviously wasn’t completely unwavering with her desire to stay at 145, as she took the opportunity to fight in the UFC when they said they’d be willing to feature her if she agreed to take catchweight fights at 140 pounds, which she did twice before that became too much and she went back to being 145 or Bust.

And it ultimately worked in her favor. Or it did after UFC decided to book a fight for the 145 title but did it at a time when Cyborg wouldn’t be ready to compete, allowing for Germaine de Randamie to win the championship and then have it taken away when she refused to defend against Cyborg, or show any real interest in competing in the division that she was champion of.

Anybody remember that? That was something that happened, right? I’m pretty sure it was, but I also could have sworn I heard Conor McGregor say he was going to defend his UFC Lightweight Championship too…

Or that CM Punk was going to fight again…

Still, UFC did finally manage to correct course when they booked Cyborg for the vacant championship in July. And she won. Granted, it wasn’t against her originally scheduled opponent, becoming 145 champion by beating the Invicta 135 champion on short notice, but that all feels like ancient history now that Cyborg is finally a UFC champion.

And now she has made a successful defense of her UFC title, defeating Holly Holm, the Rousey Rumbler, on Saturday night at UFC 219.

It was Cyborg’s first Payperview main event and it came on UFC’s New Year’s weekend event against one of the most credible challengers UFC could muster. I mean, Holm came into the fight with as many UFC featherweight fights in her cap as Cyborg did, being on the losing end of the first fight for that belt against de Randamie last February.

Holly also presented one of the toughest matchups Cyborg has experienced in her MMA career, bringing her boxing pedigree to be tested against the strong muay thai that Cyborg has battered many a foe with.

And batter Holly she did, although it was hardly a one-sided beatdown. Or it wasn’t as much of a one-sided beatdown as some of Cris’ past victories.

Holly may have controlled the action as much as Cyborg did, throwing lots of combinations and making use of the clinch to tie Cyborg up. What made the difference, though, was Cyborg’s ability to get out of the way of Holm’s combinations and avoid a lot of damage while landing her own damaging strikes, hurting Holly way more than Holly hurt her.

In the end, Cyborg easily took 4 rounds against Holly (you could say she only won 3 if you’re also the type of person who thought Edson Barboza showed solid takedown defense against Khabib) and cemented herself as the greatest women’s featherweight in the UFC.

Also, the only women’s featherweight in the UFC.

Well, I guess that’s not entirely true. Megan Anderson is technically a UFC fighter, right? She was supposed to fight Cyborg for the title in July but pulled out and there’s been no indication as to when she will be ready to fight.

So, of course, she makes the obvious choice for Cyborg’s next fight, because if it’s not her, then who?

The only other choice that has been discussed so far is Amanda Nunes, the UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion, which tells you all you need to know about Cyborg’s prospects.

That’s not really a surprise, though, is it? Strikeforce struggled to find her competition. Invicta struggled to find her competition. And UFC is struggling to find her competition as well, but at least they’re trying.

And at least Cyborg is still trying to test herself against top competition, which she will continue to do until she ultimately gives up and just goes to Japan to beat up aging pro wrestlers with Gabi Garcia.

The UFC likes having Cyborg as champion since they know that, for as controversial as she may be, she’s still one of the biggest, most popular female talents in MMA, one who has the potential to be a massive draw if she can stay active and if she can continue to put the hurt on her opponents the way she’s done since she crushed Gina Carano all those years ago…

As long as Cyborg keeps winning fights, UFC will keep featuring her on their shows. As long as Cyborg keeps winning fights, they will continue to find women willing to step up against the most dominant force in women’s MMA.

And if they can’t find anyone? Well, then I’m sure Shinobu Kandori is still looking for an opponent…

Evan Zivin has been writing for 411 MMA since May of 2013. Evan loves the sport, and likes to takes a lighthearted look at the world of MMA in his writing…usually.

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Cris Cyborg, UFC, Evan Zivin