The world of mixed martial arts operates outside the confines of our regular reality. The laws of the jungle are in full effect, promotion guaranteed not by your perfect corporate hair or unfailing ability to suck up to just the right person, but rather by a unique skill set involving bludgeoning your competition senseless.
Arriving at the top of this particularly Darwinian world is never easy. Playing the game of MMA thrones requires unusual physical ability, the mental fortitude to bring your best each and every time and no small amount of luck.
And once you arrive at the top? Each and every fighter you meet smiles in your face but has a secret plan to knock you out of your hard-earned place at the top of the pecking order. When it happens, it's often a complete surprise.
Think Fedor Emelianenko, dumbfounded and unable to process his shocking loss to Fabricio Werdum in Strikeforce.
Think Georges St-Pierre on his knees, discombobulated from a punch he never saw coming, desperately tapping from Matt Serra's continued onslaught.
And think Cris "Cyborg" Santos falling victim to, well, herself. Cyborg wasn't knocked from her perch at the top of the women's game. She jumped, needle in hand, testing positive for stanozolol metabolites after a December 2011 fight with Hiroko Yamanaka. As a result, she was suspended for a year by the California State Athletic Commission.
"I made a mistake," Santos told the Commission in a written statement. "I do not condone the use of performance enhancing drugs in MMA."
Cyborg returned to the fight game for Invicta Fighting on Friday night, coming back to a wholly unfamiliar environment. When Cyborg had left, she was the undisputed queen of mixed martial arts. Today, Ronday Rousey sits on her throne. What a difference a year can make.
In that time, just 16 short months since Cyborg's suspension and subsequent contract squabbles with the UFC, Rousey has stamped her name on the sport of women's MMA. She beat Miesha Tate for the bantamweight title and defended against Sarah Kaufman and Liz Carmouche, all while slowly inserting herself into the cultural mainstream.
Rousey is now the sport's top dog. Undisputed, undefeated. But Friday night's massacre of Fiona Muxlow reopened the discussion in a major way. Cyborg knocked Muxlow down almost immediately, then spent almost four minutes battering her face into smithereens.
Cyborg reminded the world why she was the most feared figure in women's MMA; reminded the world why the last face of women's MMA, Gina Carano, is now a full-time actress; and reminded the world that she, and not Rousey, is the best in the game.
I have a ton of respect for Ronda Rousey. How can you not? She's never been pushed, every fight a mirror image of the last—Rousey by first-round armbar.
But Ronda Rousey didn't earn her place at the top of the game. She sat down on a throne Santos had abdicated. Now the queen has returned. And there isn't room for two at the tippy top.
There is only one solution—Rousey versus Cyborg for the honor of being the best in the business. The sport demands it. For obvious reasons, Rousey and the UFC are hesitant. They've built a box-office monster and have no desire to see her bludgeoned by a relentless punching machine like Cyborg.
"Ask Dana White if he wants to make the fight," Santos ordered MMA Fighting. "Ask Ronda if she wants the fight. I will fight her. I'm not afraid of anyone. You have to ask them why they don't want to make the fight."
Sure, there are some hurdles in the way. Rousey, who once competed in the Olympics at 154 pounds, now resides in the bantamweight division. Cyborg barely makes it to 145 pounds for her featherweight fights and doesn't feel capable of making the cut all the way down to 135 pounds. For the moment that remains a stumbling block. But it can't be allowed to cheat fans out of this legacy-defining fight.
Time for both to step up and prove who's the better woman. My money is on Cyborg. Who do you have? Let me know in the comments.