Why Isn't Cris Cyborg the Huge Star She Should Be?

Jeremy Botter@jeremybotterMMA Senior WriterDecember 29, 2017

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 26:  Cris Cyborg of Brazil poses for a portrait during a UFC photo session on December 26, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Cris Cyborg fights Holly Holm on Saturday night, and there's zero hype for it.

You know Cyborg. The most dangerous woman in the world? That's her. Always has been, despite the UFC's best efforts over the years to convince us that it was Ronda Rousey.

Cyborg's marketing lies not in glossy marketing or appearances on Ellen or awkward Hollywood red carpet photo ops. She never had Dana White talking up her sex appeal.

Instead, White said Justino was "jacked up on steroids beyond belief" and that she looks like "Wanderlei Silva in a dress." And then, as if to reinforce his point to the giggling media surrounding him, clomped around on stage in an impersonation that, even for White, was a low point in a career filled with low points.

The thing about all those mindless and offensive comments from White? They had an impact. Today, White is viewed by MMA fans as something of a joke who never speaks the truth in public; if he says something isn't going to happen, you can pretty much count on it happening.

But there was a time, back before fans caught on, that White was a real influencer. And all of those things he said about Justino over the years, all the times he badmouthed her and used her as a crutch to prop up Rousey, all of it had an effect on the way Justino was viewed and continues to be viewed to this day.

Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

So let's talk about the steroid thing. Here are the facts: Justino has tested positive for a banned substance twice in her career, but only one of them actually led to a suspension—her positive test for stanozolol in 2011 that put her on the sidelines for a year.

Yes, she tested positive for an unspecified substance used in weight-cut recovery in late 2016, but she received a retroactive therapeutic use exemption from the United States Anti-Doping Agency, the agency that oversees and manages the UFC's anti-doping program. Her temporary suspension was lifted and she was immediately restored to active competition. The only thing Justino was guilty of was forgetting to do her paperwork.

But news like this has a funny way of going right over our heads. There are still people out there who will claim she's been banned twice for steroids, conveniently leaving out the fact it wasn't actually steroids both times and how the second time ended up being a big nothingburger. Justino has passed thirteen random USADA screenings in 2017. She passed 11 tests in 2016.

But we're in a place where facts don't matter. What matters is the way we feel about people or events. if our gut tells us something, we think it's the truth, often in the face of evidence to the contrary.

Even if Justino hadn't failed a single test, many fans would view her as a cheat just because she looks a certain way. White spent years reinforcing that notion. With his words and actions, he made it acceptable for fans to feel the way they do.

What's really unfortunate about how White and the UFC have shaped public perception of Justino is just how easy she would be to market on performances alone (not to mention the fact she's just about the nicest person you'll meet in MMA).

She made Gina Carano decide that perhaps a career in Hollywood was a better option than stepping into the cage again. Erin Toughill also opted for retirement when faced with the prospect of seeing Justino standing across from her in a fight.

Moments after Germaine de Randamie became the UFC's first featherweight champion, she was asked by Joe Rogan about facing Justino and suddenly remembered a nagging hand injury that needed surgery. De Randamie later opted to vacate the championship and change divisions rather than defend the belt against Justino. 

After spending years insulting Cyborg in order to build her own reputation, Rousey decided Justino needed to undergo an even more drastic weight cut than usual in order to attain the privilege of facing her. Rousey wasn't running away, per se, she was just making the meeting an impossibility.

But who can blame her? This is a woman who strikes fear in the hearts of her opponents. Holly Holm probably isn't scared of Justino, but surely there's a nagging little feeling somewhere in her gut that says Saturday's fight may go quite poorly for her.

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 28:  (L-R) UFC women's featherweight champion Cris Cyborg of Brazil and challenger Holly Holm face off for the media during the UFC 219 Ultimate Media Day inside T-Mobile Arena on December 28, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by
Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Justino is a destructive force of nature. A one-person wrecking ball. The best female fighter in the history of mixed martial arts. She is literally a promoter's dream. But the promoter in question spent years tearing her down, and now they're trying to use her to promote a traditional big year-end show.

If it fails spectacularly, they'll only have one person to blame.

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