What a long strange trip it's been for Cris Cyborg.
In under two years time, the Brazilian wrecking machine has gone from being the most feared female mixed martial artist on the planet, to teetering on the boundaries of relevance. With women's MMA, a sport the 27-year-old helped build, is currently experiencing its greatest push to date, the current situation Cyborg finds herself in only becomes all the more curious.
Multiple factors have played a hand in the former Strikeforce featherweight champion's fall from prominence. That being said, the road back to the top of the sport is still an open path to travel. But with her request to be released from her UFC contract and signing to compete in the Invicta FC fight promotion against Ediane Gomes in April, it appears navigation on the journey to reclaim her status will ultimately play the most crucial role.
Inside the cage, Cyborg isn't a fighter many women are lining up to tangle with. Unfortunately for the former Chute Boxe fighter, her most difficult battle will likely come on the front lines of MMA media.
Not Buying Tickets to The Ronda Rousey Show
This Saturday night, the doors of the Octagon will open for the first women's MMA bout in the organization's history. The media push to promote the show down between women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey's first title defense against Liz Carmouche has been non-stop and the blitz has put the spotlight on WMMA more than ever before.
While Carmouche is a solid opponent to face Rousey in the historic bout, the Team Hurricane Awesome fighter wasn't the UFC's first choice-- a turn of events the UFC has made public. In fact, had things gone differently during the process of putting together the first women's bout under the UFC banner, the long-awaited show down between Rousey and Cyborg would be the main event at this weekend's UFC 157 in Anaheim.
Cyborg was on the sidelines in 2012, serving a one-year suspension after failing her post-fight drug test following her fight with Hiroko Yamanaka in December of 2011. During her absence, Rousey's stock skyrocketed as she not only claimed the Strikeforce bantamweight title against Miesha Tate, but defended the belt before the year closed out.
"Rowdy's" success only served to build the potential match-up of former Strikeforce champions, as she called out Cyborg at every turn. But the biggest hitch in making the fight a reality came down to the 10-pound weight difference between their respective weight classes.
Cyborg's manager and UFC Hall of Fame fighter Tito Ortiz has addressed the media on multiple occasions to explain his client could not physically make the 135-pound weight limit without risking her personal health. To assist in the process, the UFC offered to pay for the services of nutritional guru Mike Dolce in order to make sure Cyborg's weight cut was done safely, but Ortiz and Co. ultimately decided not to go the way of "The Dolce Diet."
Instead, they chose to keep Cyborg at 145 pounds and go forward with her career fighting as a featherweight. The decision seemed strange since the UFC only has a 135-pound division and has voiced zero intention of bringing on another women's division into the fold any time soon.
The Invicta promotion is certainly making great strides for WMMA, but the immediate path appears to be short on great match-ups for Cyborg. Gomes is a game fighter, but if Cyborg wins that tilt she will square-off with Marloes Coenen, who she stopped via TKO two years back.
It seems to be a simple equation. Rousey is in the UFC as a bantamweight, therefore the one option to fight her would come at that weight in the UFC. Nevertheless, Cyborg and her management team are either banking on an unseen turn of events taking shape or drastically over-stating her value in the current marketplace.
The UFC has Rousey, and with signing four more women onto the roster, it doesn't appear they will need Cyborg any time soon. But the bigger question lingering is will they "ever" need her? And this is perhaps what her management team is banking on. Should the UFC's journey into WMMA stumble out of the blocks, it is possible the Cyborg situation could be revisited in a big way.
Who is Ducking Whom?
There is no doubt Rousey's star power has never been brighter, but let's not forget it wasn't long ago the former Olympic judoka was shaking off a stigma of her own. The 26 year old fought her initial four bouts as a professional as a featherweight, including her first two showings inside the Strikeforce cage. Following her victory over Julia Budd, Rousey decided to drop down to compete for the bantamweight title, making it appear she wanted no part of a bout with Cyborg in the foreseeable future.
At the time of Rousey's arrival to Strikeforce, all of the cards rested on Cyborg's side of the table. Where the California-native was just starting out on her mixed martial arts career, the Brazilian powerhouse was in the midst of a 10-fight win streak and wrecking shop at every turn. 'with a lack of quality challengers lined-up for Cyborg, the idea of Rousey coming back up in weight seemed at least a possibility.
In 2011, Cyborg held the lion's share when it came to the higher profile, but that situation has drastically changed in the current picture. Now Rousey is the biggest name in WMMA and Cyborg is on the outside looking in. Then again, perception shapes reality in the MMA world.
When Rousey was calling out Cyborg in her post-fight speeches during the Brazilian's suspension, it seemed fair play for the most part. Granted, there was a weight class separating them, but the idea of cutting 10 pounds seemed entirely feasible, due in large part to the amount of weight male fighters typically shed to compete.
But with Rousey now in the UFC and the ship apparently sailing in the other direction, Cyborg returning the call out favor while signing with Invicta comes off as stale. Things only become more confusing when UFC President Dana White tells the media in London that he was willing to allow Cyborg to compete under the Invicta banner while still remaining under the UFC contract.
This would only make sense if Cyborg was looking to shed the idea of a potential Rousey fight and simply move on with her career. That would be understandable. Unpopular sure, but something MMA fans could get their minds around. But rather than cut ties with the idea completely, Cyborg's "Ronda will be my b**ch" tee shirt during her Invicta signing announcement says otherwise.
Either Cyborg and Ortiz are working out some unseen master plan and attempt to make a future Rousey show down on their terms, or it is simply a ploy for promotion.
If the Rousey talk is simply for the sake of hype, it would be the equivalent of Usher setting up shop in the Staples Center parking lot as Justin Timberlake is set to blow the roof off the place. While Usher can certainly hold his own on any stage with "JT," hijacking hype for the sake of a push is the wrong move to make in my opinion.
Then again, it is the fight business and all is fair in love and war.
The Road Ahead
The coming year will be crucial for WMMA. With the UFC lining up more women's bouts and Invicta set to put on a handful of shows in 2013, the stage for women to compete in mixed martial arts has never been bigger or brighter. Another strong push will come from Bellator as the surging promotion will feature the best women on their roster in a more prominent role. This will only serve to further the push for WMMA in the months ahead.
Whether or not the paths of Rousey and Cyborg will ever cross remains to be seen. At the current time the potential match-up seems further away than it ever has. Both the UFC and Cyborg's camp have offered their explanation for why things didn't work out and it is clear each party wants something different.
Rousey is open to the fight with Cyborg but as the current champion in the women's bantamweight division, she isn't willing to leave her division to make the bout happen. On the other side of the coin, Cyborg says she wants to fight Rousey, but will only do so if the scrap takes place at 145-pounds or a 140-pound super-fight which Cyborg's camp has suggested.
As for now, their respective careers will go on and MMA fans will have to wait for the next chapter of this story to unfold.