There’s a multitude of storylines in the mix heading into Saturday’s UFC 214. An event with three title fights involving names like Jon Jones, Daniel Cormier, Tyron Woodley, and Cris “Cyborg” Justino lends itself to that. As important as exciting fights in the cage are, storylines are the factor that make us care heading into a fight.
That means the “care/don’t care” factor is pretty favorably in the “care” column for this event. And high up on the list of key, significant and relevant fights is Cris Cyborg’s first UFC title opportunity.
After dominating at every stop along the way in her MMA career to date, Cyborg is finally being given a chance at UFC gold. “Given” might actually be the wrong word: love her or hate her, Cris Cyborg earned this shot at a belt by beating everyone put in front of her for over a decade. Yes, there was a failed drug test, yes, there have been controversies outside the cage. Yet in a sport still trying to distance itself from a culture of performance enhancing drug use, Cyborg’s case isn’t so egregious as to completely discount her achievements to date — and her performances in the UFC thus far have been nothing short of dominant.
She crushed Leslie Smith and Lina Lansberg in catchweight bouts in 2016. Had the UFC opted to build a 145lb division around her sooner (something they still haven’t fully committed to), she’d likely already be entrenched as a huge draw. The UFC, in fact, made it about as difficult as possible to get her fighting in the promotion, insisting for far too long that it was bantamweight or bust for the fighter, shooting themselves in the foot in the process.
Of course, there have been missteps in her career. A positive test for anabolic steroid stanozolol was one, and resulted in her 2011 win over Hiroko Yamanaka being changed to a No Contest by the California State Athletic Commission (Cyborg was also fined the paltry sum of $2,500 by the CSAC for the infraction, and suspended for a year). Yes, it’s old news. It doesn’t make it less problematic, mind you.
Interestingly, Cyborg blamed that incident on someone from her camp giving her “something” for weight cutting, an issue that would haunt her right up to last year, when she failed another drug test, this time for diuretic/masking agent spironolactone. It was USADA who flagged the Brazilian featherweight star in the 2016 incident, but she was cleared earlier this year when she provided evidence the drug was provided under a doctor’s care. USADA, in this case, granted her a retroactive therapeutic use exemption.
The drug test failures only carry as much weight as you choose to give them, however. Cris Cyborg did her time for the first, and was exonerated in the second. The MMA world as a whole moves at a quick pace, with a rather short memory; forgive and forget seems to be the way of things.
And it’s not as if UFC gold would eliminate the past — but it will cement her legacy as the most dominant female fighter on the planet, especially if she defends it a few times.
Yes, that title belonged to Ronda Rousey, but the Rousey era is over. And of course that overlooks the progress made by the wonderfully talented Joanna Jedrzejczyk — but you could easily argue that Cyborg has been far more dominant in her wins, despite how good Joanna Champion has proven herself to be.
Really, you wouldn’t think that Cyborg’s legacy was even an issue. In a different MMA world, her legacy would already be assured. Sadly, Strikeforce and Invicta FC, promotions where Justino was a dominant champion, don’t always get the respect they deserve. For many, it’s still the UFC or bust — and for those viewers, UFC 214 will be where Cris Cyborg cements her legacy.
And there is something to be said for winning on the biggest stage out there. To really be remembered as the best in the sport, you’ve got to win not just when but where it counts. When the UFC didn’t have a women’s division, Strikeforce (and Elite XC, and others) were where it was at. Now? This is Cyborg’s moment to shine. With a dominant win, her legacy will be set in stone come Saturday.
More than likely, it will be what it has always been: that Cyborg is the most feared female in all of MMA.