UFC 232: After Nunes Fight, Is There Anything Left in the UFC for Cris Cyborg?

Cris Cyborg
Cris Cyborg Credit: Jason Burgos/Sherdog.com

Having cleaned out a non-existent division, past Amanda Nunes, is there anything left in the UFC that’s worth Cris Cyborg sticking around for?

Currently, no one on the UFC roster save Amanda Nunes wants to fight Women’s Featherweight Champion Cris Cyborg, and Cris fights draw mild interest from casual fans at best. Cyborg’s most recent title defense against Yana Kunitskaya at UFC 222 only managed to draw an estimated 260,000 buys. How could the most entertaining female fighter on the planet find herself in the midst of a mediocre stint in the UFC? Would she be better off elsewhere?

It seemed inevitable that Cris Cyborg was destined for greatness back when she smashed Gina Carano in 2009 at Strikeforce: Carano vs. Cyborg. That night, she won the inaugural Strikeforce Women’s Featherweight Championship. Cyborg’s only misstep was testing positive for stanozolol out of her December 17, 2011 fight with Hiroko Yamanaka, which likely cost her the opportunity to have a smooth transition to the UFC after the Strikeforce/UFC merger.

Cyborg was subsequently stripped of her Strikeforce Women’s Featherweight Championship and her career path was significantly altered. She was never able to capitalize on the Ronda Rousey MMA boom. Even though it looked like at many points Cyborg vs. Rousey was destined to happen, it just never came together.

All Strikeforce Champions and some high-end fighters obtained a UFC contract between the time the Ultimate Fighting Championship (then owned by Zuffa) purchased Strikeforce and the time the two companies merged — but not Cyborg. Dana White said Cyborg failing her drug test in Strikeforce pretty much killed the division, and women’s Featherweight has never quite recovered in terms of popularity.

Cyborg found herself fighting for Invicta Fighting Championships as their featherweight Queen while women’s MMA was at its peak. It was a place where Cyborg could continue to fight and earn money — but it wasn’t UFC money, especially given the lack of PPV points, and her popularity took a hit as a result of fighting there.

A potential Ronda Rousey fight made all the sense in the world for a significant amount of time. If Ronda Rousey could beat Cyborg, she could claim to be the pound-for-pound ‘Baddest Woman on The Planet’ and if Cyborg won, the UFC would have a new star they could market in Rousey’s place. Instead, Cyborg chose to remain at 145 pounds and not make the changes necessary to make the cut to 135.

Though age has probably affected Cyborg, there doesn’t appear to be a woman alive that could give her problems, outside of current Woman’s Bantamweight Champion Amanda Nunes. The two are scheduled to fight later this month at UFC 232 in Las Vegas, but after Cyborg becomes the undisputed #1 pound-for-pound female fighter on the planet — what’s next?

“Every week girls are going to sign with Bellator. Bellator make my division very strong. Going to be big division, my division, in Bellator. This make me sad because I’m in the UFC, but I don’t have all the girls to fight. I can do superfight, but my goal is to make the division grow,” Cris Cyborg told Ariel Helwani on an episode of the MMA Hour.

If the UFC isn’t willing to change the way they promote their joke of a women’s featherweight division, they might as well just cut Cris Cyborg loose. And if you’re wondering just why it’s a joke, I invite you to go head on over to the UFC rankings page located at UFC.com/rankings.

What you’ll find is every division in the UFC and a list of both Champions and a list of possible contenders, except in the case of the women’s featherweight division — where you’ll find a picture of Cris Cyborg, and only Cris Cyborg. There is no real money to be made when there are no storylines to turn casual fans into customers. As a result, there aren’t any fighters to turn into superstars at 145lbs. At least, the UFC hasn’t been able to develop any female stars at 145lbs.

An organization like RIZIN seems tailor-made for a fighter like Cyborg, who won’t have to worry about USADA over in Japan. She also won’t need to cut weight, as least not as much. Just look at Cyborg’s protégé, Gabi Garcia. She could be the female Bob Sapp and I mean that in the most respectful way possible: he’s loved in Japan.

Another possible option is Bellator, and coincidentally their current President Scott Coker was the man at the helm of Strikeforce when Carano vs. Cyborg took place. Cyborg herself has praised the way Bellator has been able to build their women’s featherweight division. Coker routinely signs new fighters to compete in the division, and they often main or co-main event Bellator numbered events on Paramount Network/DAZN. Coker has said on a number of occasions that if Cyborg became a free agent the organization would be happy to speak with her.

The UFC has let top talent go before — look no further than Demetrious Johnson. Cyborg recently confirmed she has one fight left on her UFC deal after the Nunes fight. After that, perhaps it’s time for a change of scenery.