Freelance: Is Cris Justino About to Dominate the UFC?

“Is Cris Justino About to Dominate the UFC?” is the million-dollar question, isn’t it? The Brazilian “Cyborg” (17-1, 1 No Contest overall in MMA,) widely considered to be the greatest women’s featherweight (145-pound) fighter of all time, finally made her debut for the world leader in MMA in May of 2016. She tore through Leslie “The Peacemaker” Smith (9-7-1 overall in MMA, 3-3 in the UFC) and Lina “Elbow Queen” Lansberg (7-2 overall in MMA, 1-1 in the UFC.)

Background: How Did We Get Here?

The UFC then announced that, after those two catchweight fights, they were going to open a women’s featherweight division, Cyborg’s division outside of the UFC.

The first title fight was then booked for UFC 208 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn New York. Prior to the bout, Cyborg was then provisionally suspended by the UFC-partnered U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) after testing positive for a diuretic before later being granted a rare therapeutic use exemption (TUE) after it was revealed that there was an issue with Cyborg’s medical paperwork, in which she disclosed what she was using.

Dutch former kickboxing and muay thai champion “The Iron Lady” Germaine de Randamie (7-3 overall in MMA, 4-1 in the UFC) tooker her place in the featherweight title fight opposite former women’s bantamweight (135-pound) Holly “The Preacher’s Daughter” Holm (now 11-3 overall in MMA, 4-3 in the UFC,) a fight de Randamie won by way of a controversial unanimous decision after she landed punches after the end of two separate rounds.

The Stripping of Germaine de Randamie and the Dark Cloud that Follows Cris Justino

Following the championship win, de Randamie did not call out Cyborg (who was cage-side) but rather said that she essentially wasn’t sure what her future would hold due to a hand injury she had suffered from for a lengthy period of time. To date (as of June 24), she still has not had an operation to fix the injury.

Her management then said that de Randamie would not face Cyborg due to a previous failed drug test in December of 2011 under the now-defunct Strikeforce promotion. She popped for the performance-enhancing drug (PED) stanozolol, an anabolic steroid. Cyborg has expressed regret and passed every test since that time.

The UFC then made the following announcement earlier this week:

“UFC has informed Germaine de Randamie and her management team that she is being removed as the women’s featherweight champion due to her unwillingness to fight the No. 1 ranked contender, Cris ‘Cyborg' Justino. Subsequently, top contender Justino will face newly signed Invicta FC featherweight champion Megan Anderson for the UFC women’s featherweight title in the co-main event of UFC 214: Cormier vs. Jones 2, July 29 in Anaheim, Calif. UFC maintains that any champion is expected to accept fights against the top contenders in their respective weight classes in order to maintain the integrity of the sport.”

De Randamie previously seemed fairly willing to be stripped (the UFC had not yet signed any other fighters to the new division) but after the announcement of the stripping was made, she claimed to have “no idea.”

The general feeling in the MMA community, be it fans, journalists, or Cyborg herself, is that de Randamie avoided the fight with the devastating striker out of fear. De Randamie obviously disagrees. At any rate, the Australian all-female Invicta FC featherweight champion in Anderson (8-2 overall in MMA with six finishes) is Cyborg’s new challenger.

So, will Cris Justino dominate in the UFC? Sort of...but there’s more to it than a fan might think.

Looking Ahead to Cyborg vs. Anderson

Cyborg would have faced Anderson, then the interim champion, eventually under the Invicta FC banner had she not vacated her belt to focus on the UFC.

Although odds for this fight are not yet available, Cyborg is the obvious heavy favorite. Anderson simply does not have the same level of experience and her first three fights went to the judges scorecards. Even though most of her record is comprised of finishes, it still more often than not takes her until the second or third round to put her opponents away.

With Anderson making her UFC debut, FightMetric, LLC figures for her are not yet available. However, Cyborg is two inches shorter at 5’ 8” against her 6’ 0” opponent and is down in reach with Anderson at 74” to Cyborg’s 68.”

As far as the fight itself goes, it will definitely stay on the feet as Cyborg has a 100 percent takedown defense rate (even when she does shoot in to take the fight down to the canvas—less than two takedowns every 15 minutes, she has 75 percent accuracy in that area as well.)

The biggest factor heading into this highly-anticipated showdown is, as it always has been with Cyborg’s fights, the striking aspect. According to FightMetric, Cyborg lands 8.24 significant (fight-altering) strikes per minute with a striking accuracy rate of 51 percent. She defends against 63 percent of the strikes that come her way while only absorbing an average of 1.60 strikes per minute.

The Obvious Answer: These numbers obviously answer the question as to how she will do when it comes to simply performing inside of the octagon (Cyborg has only gone the distance twice in her career and has not been defeated since her professional MMA debut all the way back in May of 2005. 15 of her 17 victories have come by way of throwing leather (an astounding 88 percent!)

Including her “No Contest” (a win that was overturned,) ten of Cyborg’s triumphant efforts have ended inside of the first five minutes. Two of her final three Invicta FC outings ended in 45 and 46 seconds!

Still, Anderson does not mind being the underdog.

“She’s human like everybody else,” Anderson said in a pre-fight interview recently. “I think a lot of people go into that fight fighting Cyborg the name and they’ve already lost before they’ve got into the cage. I don’t give a [expletive] about how many followers she has. I don’t give a [expletive] about how much reach she has. She’s a human being and I have no doubt come July 29 everyone who’s doubting me will find out how human Cris Cyborg can really be.”

Will the Stars Align for Cyborg to Go on a Tear?

However, as far as being a UFC athlete is concerned, Cyborg’s situation is a little more complex than simply proving she can perform well under pressure. There’s some politics involved, as with any professional sports organization. Depending on who you talk to, Cyborg and her management can allegedly be difficult to work with. Although, she never has had a great relationship with UFC President Dana White.

When the possibility of a mega-draw fight with then-undefeated women’s bantamweight champion “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey was still a possibility back in 2014, the two made a number of less-than-flattering comments regarding Cyborg’s physical features (comments that would also rope in her prior banned substance violation.)

These comments along with the facts that Cyborg had struggled on multiple occasions to make 135 pounds (or even 140 pounds for her later catchweight bouts,) and at the time the UFC refused or had no desire to open a women’s 145-pound division is why it took so long for her to make her first appearance in the octagon at all.

A Limited Time-Frame

Two things are happening with the Cyborg-Anderson fight having the belt attached to it: the UFC is both undoing its mess of UFC 208 and enticing Cyborg to stay with the promotion should she best Anderson as she is expected to do. She has multiple fights still left on her current deal but it has been reported that her contract has a clause in it which will allow it to expire in October regardless of how many fights she still has left.

The Anderson fight will take place on July 29 as stated above. Cyborg may get one title defense on the books, maybe two (but that feels like a stretch) unless she re-signs with the UFC. The situation is very similar to how Phil “CM Punk” Brooks left the WWE prior to his failed UFC debut. He reached the top of his profession after swimming through a sea of red tape just like Cyborg is about to do. The question is this:

Just how much more will either side tolerate behind the scenes?

While women’s careers in MMA are often shorter than their male counterparts, with how little damage the 31-year-old has taken over the years, she should still have more than enough gas in the tank to have a great run in the UFC.

The Cris Cyborg Effect

What will also happen is this: Cyborg will dominate just like Rousey at women’s bantamweight before her, not only thanks to her skills, but because the division will probably be under-developed for quite some time to come. However, Cyborg (as was the case with Rousey at 12-2 in MMA overall with all 12 wins by finishes, 6-2 in the UFC) is a once-in-a lifetime athlete regardless.

The result of a situation like that (if Cyborg doesn’t leave the UFC or the sport all together before it happens, unlike Rousey) is the same thing that happened to UFC Hall of Fame member and UFC 1, UFC 2, and UFC 4 tournament winner Royce Gracie when he faced would-be Hall of Fame member Matt Hughes in 2006.

The sport had evolved to figure out his modus operandi of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and incorporate it into their own gameplans to make it just another standard part of how the sport is in the modern era.

A second potential effect of the Cyborg-Anderson fight is that women’s competition in the UFC will be thing over the coming years. The UFC has yet to announce the signings of anyone aside from Anderson to the infant weight class and hadn’t even signed her until now do to the mess that de Randamie left behind (although more signings will undoubtedly happen in the future.)

To give Cyborg any really competition other than names from Invicta FC (which aside from herself, Anderson, current women’s bantamweight queen Amanda “The Lioness” Nunes and maybe a couple of others, those names are just kind of in the middle of the pack in the UFC) women like possible challenger “Alpha” Cat Zingano will need to move up in weight.

This will thin out the women’s bantamweight division in the process.

Additionally, the UFC recently announced the formation of a women’s flyweight (125-pound) division allowing other, smaller female bantamweights to move down in weight and compete on the upcoming 26th season of The Ultimate Fighter reality show on Fox Sports 1, which will give the UFC a new champion before the end of 2017

Is Cris Justino About to Dominate the UFC?: The Conclusion

Although, if things don’t improve rather dramatically and rather quickly behind the scenes, her UFC run may best be compared to Halley's Comet: If you see it, you are witnessing a truly spectacular event, but if you happen to miss it, you may not get another chance to witness that phenomenon again.

Will Cris “Cyborg” Justino re-sign with the UFC after winning the belt? The easy argument could be made that, yes she will do so because she wants to continue being considered the best fighter in her weight division among the most elite group of fighters walking the earth today.

More importantly, she will re-sign and keep dominating after getting the title because the organization needs her to.

With Rousey’s retirement pending and the “Notorious” Conor McGregor (21-3 in MMA overall, 9-1 in the UFC) training for his boxing super-fight against Floyd “Money” Mayweather Jr. (49-0-0) during a down year for the company, they need stars. Cyborg deserves to be more than a passing comet. She deserves invested in (and the promotion is doing that now,) to be that star they can count on.

The Cyborg-Anderson women’s featherweight title fight will serve as the co-main event of UFC 214 at Anaheim, California’s Honda Center on July 29 as mentioned above.

Following the contest, light heavyweight champion Daniel “DC” Cormier (a +210 underdog) will face Jon “Bones” Jones (Bovada’s favorite at -270) for the second time in a heated grudge match.

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