mma / News

Why Ronda Rousey vs. Cyborg Justino Never Happened

September 25, 2017 | Posted by Dan Plunkett
Ronda Rousey

The light is all but out in Ronda Rousey’s career. She came, she saw, she conquered, she became the most famous MMA star on the planet, and then she fell into a hole.

Rousey was never long for the sport. By the time she first tasted success on a major level in 2011, the general feeling was that she would succeed in MMA until Hollywood drew her out of the sport for good money with less physical risk. It was the Carano Path, although Rousey would stick with the sport longer than Gina Carano – the first big female MMA star – had because Rousey broke a barrier that greatly increased earning potential in women’s MMA, her star grew tremendously with each fight, and no doubt she held a stronger competitive drive than Carano.

Two devastating losses cut Rousey down from her high horse and may have ended her fighting days. Although she has not made any official announcements and remains in the USADA drug test pool, most believe Rousey has fought her last fight.

Following Rousey’s quick loss to Amanda Nunes last December, there has been little significant talk of Rousey fighting again. Everything was quiet on the Rousey front until her trainer, Edmond Tarverdyan, spoke on The MMA Hour last week.

Tarverdyan, who estimated there is still a “50/50” chance Rousey will fight again, mentioned that he hopes she fights again and the opponent he has always wanted her to face is current UFC women’s featherweight champion Cris “Cyborg.”

It’s still a bit surprising that Rousey and Cyborg never competed. That they didn’t fight is one of the greatest matchmaking blunders in UFC history. In the first year of Rousey’s career, it felt like the two were on a collision course. Just a few years later, it seemed there was too much money at stake not to put the fight together. Then it all slipped away.

Ronda Rousey began her career dominating at featherweight. After seven finishes (including three amateur wins) in less than one minute, Rousey decided to move down to bantamweight to challenge for Miesha Tate’s championship. Even then, less than a year into Rousey’s career, a Rousey vs. Cyborg bout was very much on the MMA radar. Rousey framed the move down as a marketing decision in part. She correctly felt that capturing a title at bantamweight, defending that title, and then moving back up to challenge Cyborg would squeeze the most money out of the clash. Strikeforce, then still operating under the Zuffa umbrella and promoting both Rousey and Cyborg, agreed with Rousey’s approach and had the same end goal: Rousey vs. Cyborg.

In December 2011, three months before Rousey would take the bantamweight title from Tate, Cyborg failed a drug test for stanozolol, a steroid. This was a key turn of events because it suddenly altered the weight parameters of the bout. Rousey would no longer agree to move up in weight to fight someone she considered a cheater. Cyborg would have to drop ten pounds to meet Rousey on her terms. That proved much more difficult than many expected.

At the end of 2012, Strikeforce folded (stirring in its grave one last time for an event in January 2013). Rousey moved to the UFC and was named their bantamweight champion.

UFC targeted Rousey vs. Cyborg as the first women’s fight in UFC history in the main event of UFC 157. By this time, Rousey had become a fairly big star (although she didn’t draw at record levels in Strikeforce), and a fight with Cyborg under the UFC banner promised to be much bigger compared to Strikeforce.

UFC negotiated with Cyborg, and there was a point where “UFC 157: Rousey vs. Cyborg” appeared on UFC’s website. However, there were two obstacles: money and a short time frame to make weight. The fight didn’t happen.

Cyborg signed with Invicta FC one week before Rousey set new women’s combat sports records in her UFC debut. She and Rousey continued to dominate opposition in separate organizations, keeping a fight between the two a major talking point.

In May 2015, UFC signed Cyborg. The thinking behind the signing was twofold. First, UFC wanted to prevent Bellator from signing her. Second, they wanted to have her locked under contract, work with her to get her weight down, and then get to a fight with Rousey.

As Cyborg was signing with the UFC, Rousey’s popularity and drawing power was exploding. She was easily the most famous MMA fighter in the world, and as a pay-per-view attraction, she was keeping pace with fellow rising star Conor McGegor.

By the end of the summer of 2015, Rousey vs. Cyborg looked like the biggest fight in UFC history. UFC President Dana White’s 2.5 million-buy prediction was an exaggeration, but crossing the two million mark wasn’t out of the question.

However, the fight came down to the 135-pound weight requirement that Rousey invoked following Cyborg’s 2011 drug test failure, and which UFC steadfastly upheld in all talks of the fight. In 2016, Cyborg moved down to 140-pounds for a pair of fights as a test before trying to get down to 135. Both cuts drained her badly, and there were nearly very serious consequences resulting from the second weight cut. Cris Cyborg would not and count not make 135.

Rousey lost her next fight. That hardly eliminated the Cyborg bout from consideration, but Rousey had to regain her title before entering those discussions again. Then she lost again.

UFC, Rousey, and Cyborg lost out on many millions of dollars and a fight with real historic weight.

The odds that Rousey will come back and fight Cyborg are slim to none. It would still be a tremendously big fight – one of the biggest UFC can make – but it wouldn’t have the same impact it would have had two years ago.

Further, the idea that Rousey should return and proceed directly to a match with Cyborg is almost criminal. After her last two performances, Rousey would be wise to take a tune up fight. It wouldn’t only be good for her to feel like a dominating force again; it would be a wise marketing decision.

But no matter the approach, the result is already written on the wall. This is no longer the Rousey bowling over everyone in sight and considered one of the top two female fighters ever. We’ve already seen something similar twice, and they weren’t particularly comfortable to watch.

Dan Plunkett has covered MMA for 411Mania since 2008. You can reach him by email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Dan_Plunkett.