Last Saturday, Ronda Rousey defended her bantamweight championship with a thrilling knockout win over Bethe Correia.
Rousey was celebrated for the win, and rightly so. And she has been celebrated for everything she has done for the sport of mixed martial arts. UFC 190 was a weak card that offered no real drawing power outside of Rousey. And yet UFC President Dana White claimed the pay-per-view is on track to outsell even UFC 189, according to Dave Meltzer of MMA Fighting.
With Correia out of the way, the discussion has once again turned to the fight we all want to see: Rousey vs. Cris "Cyborg" Justino. It's a dream fight that has never felt so close and yet still seems so far away.
To discuss the potential of the fight actually happening, and what weight it should be held at, Bleacher Report lead MMA writers Jonathan Snowden and Jeremy Botter got together to answer the question: Will Rousey vs. Cyborg ever happen?
Jeremy Botter: Well, Jonathan, we just saw another Ronda Rousey fight. And by that, of course, I mean we just saw Rousey go in the Octagon and absolutely maul another competitor who simply wasn't on her level. Bethe Correia was overmatched before they even announced she'd somehow earned a title shot by beating two of Rousey's far-less-talented friends. What happened Saturday night was more of a foregone conclusion than an actual fight.
And now, as it always does, the talk has once again turned to Rousey vs. Cris Cyborg. Much like Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao were constantly asked about facing each other for years, we immediately moved past Correia and jumped straight back into the Cyborg pool.
Rousey and White have both been adamant that the fight will have to take place at 135 pounds, because that's Rousey's weight class and because the UFC doesn't have a featherweight division. And we've been hearing Cyborg is on her way to 135 pounds for quite some time. She hired nutritionist George Lockhart to help her make the cut. And still, Justino looks as big as ever. If she's in the process of attempting to make 135 pounds, well, she's doing a good job of hiding it.
So, I'll ask you this question: Is this fight ever going to take place?
Jonathan Snowden: I've given up figuring out if a fight is going to take place. So many in MMA history never panned out, including a collection of no-brainer, box-office extravaganzas like Fedor Emelianenko vs. Brock Lesnar. The UFC has shown a willingness to leave legendary matchups on the table, mostly for monetary reasons.
That's a shame. But this is a fight, whether or not it ever does happen, that absolutely should be fought. And it should take place at a catchweight or at 145 pounds.
I can hear the inevitable howls in the comments section already, plaintive cries of "the champion shouldn't have to move up" and "steroid cheat." Those arguments have some merit.
Me? I want to see the two best in the world fight, at a weight that doesn't eliminate either from competing at full steam before the bell even rings. Cyborg, whether she employs George Lockhart or Dr. Atkins himself, isn't likely to make 135 pounds. No amount of science is going to make her a functioning bantamweight. She's just too big.
Rousey, on the other hand, has competed at a high level, even at weights exceeding 145 pounds. She has the ability to tussle with bigger, stronger women. So why not do it?
Jeremy: I don't think there's any question Rousey can compete with larger women. As you've noted, she has done so in the past. I also don't think there's any question Justino could make 135 pounds; she just needs to lose muscle mass, which is something she hasn't shown an inclination to do.
But to be honest, I'm on Rousey's side here. Speculation about Justino being on performance-enhancing drugs plagued her for a long time, and then she went and, you know, failed a drug test.
Now, that was four years ago, and that's a long time in MMA years. But I believe that moment, where she was shown to be cheating to gain a competitive advantage? I think that was the moment she pissed away any right to demand Rousey meet her in a different weight class, or even at a catchweight.
But another moment of honesty: I don't believe the UFC and Rousey are insistent on this fight happening at 135 because they believe Cyborg doesn't deserve any kind of edge. I think they're adamant on it happening at 135 because, frankly, they are scared Rousey will lose. Personally, I think Rousey beats Cyborg at 135, 140 or 145.
But we've seen in the past the UFC is willing to make catchweight fights for big money; see Matt Hughes vs. Royce Gracie. In my mind, that was a no-brainer for the UFC, because Hughes was never going to lose to Gracie, no matter the weight. Here? It's a different story.
What do you think? Is this the same as Hughes vs. Gracie? And does Cyborg really deserve to be able to make demands?
Jonathan: I think it's sort of reductive to say, "Well, Cyborg could make 135 pounds if she just lost muscle mass." Where does that line of reasoning end? Could Shaquille O'Neal look like Manute Bol if he wanted to put the work in? Of course not.
Cyborg at 135 pounds isn't really Cyborg anymore. It's the husk of Cyborg, a skeleton with her face attached but not the genuine article. I don't want to see that. I want to see the real deal, the frightening and muscle-bound force of nature who strikes terror into the hearts of any women foolish enough to step into the cage with her.
I think you're right—this isn't Gracie vs. Hughes. In that fight, the UFC didn't have much to lose with Hughes. Before UFC 60, he was a notorious pay-per-view failure, a headliner whose five-figure buys almost caused the Fertittas to sell the promotion outright. The UFC had even given up on using him in the main event. Gracie winning would have arguably created even bigger matchups down the road. It was a win-win scenario.
The opposite is true here. The UFC doesn't want any part of a Cyborg vs. Rousey fight. There is way too much to lose. Rousey is its chosen savior and a loss would be devastating, both to her brand and the company's bottom line.
A lot rides on the UFC 190 PPV results. If the promotion can make big money sending joke opponents like Correia out to accept their whooping, well, why would it ever risk the golden goose against Cyborg?
Botter: It may be reductive to say she can make 135 by just losing muscle mass. It also doesn't make it any less true. And let's be real: That's the only way she's making 135.
You're right in saying the UFC doesn't want to risk its golden goose. And why would it? Rousey is penetrating demographics the UFC never in its wildest dreams believed it would be able to capture. Sure, Rousey vs. Cyborg will be an absolutely massive fight, both at the box office and on pay-per-view. But what happens if Rousey loses to Cyborg? Then it's back to 135, with a loss on her record and the knowledge that she can't beat the one foe everyone really wanted to see her face.
I think the only way this fight happens is if it's the final fight of Rousey's career. If she gets through Miesha Tate and Holly Holm—and you laid out all the reasons why Holm is a difficult opponent—then what's left? More retread rematches with fighters Rousey has already beaten? Who wants that? Though people are currently enjoying watching Ronda smoke ladies in the Octagon, you have to think there will come a time when they don't enjoy it as much as they once did.
Am I correct in this thinking? If this fight happens, will it be the last time we see Rousey in the Octagon, at least for a few years? And if it does happen and Cyborg still can't make 135 after, then what? Do we have a division full of women who fans can't take seriously because of her looming shadow?
Snowden: You'd think if Ronda really wants to be considered the best ever, she'd step up to this challenge. That's what fighters have done for more than 100 years.
From Bob Fitzsimmons leaving the middleweight title behind to challenge the best heavyweights of the 1890s right up to Floyd Mayweather's journey from lightweight to junior middleweight, the best fighters always seek out new challenges wherever they can find them.
This is a hard truth, and one I'm not sure people around Rousey are willing to bring up—no one is going to put Rousey atop of a list of all-time greats on the strength of beating up the Bethe Correias of the world. There's no glory in that win. Beating up Cyborg is the kind of victory the singers will toast for 100 years. It's a fight worthy of Rousey's greatness.
I hope we see it—at any weight.