Will we ever see Rousey vs. 'Cyborg'?
It was a coincidence. Pure coincidence.
But that doesn't make the weekend's juxtaposition unworthy of a little contemplation.
The scenario began to unfold on Saturday afternoon, when Dana White went on ESPN's SportsCenter. Amid no small measure of pomp and circumstance, the UFC president announced that there will indeed be a rematch between the mixed martial arts luminary Anderson Silva and the man who less than a week earlier had coldcocked him back down to earth, Chris Weidman. White has characterized the Dec. 28 middleweight championship bout at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas as "the biggest fight in UFC history."
If that's the case, Ronda Rousey shouldn't feel slighted. You see, the alpha female of the UFC bantamweight division, perhaps the most dominant fighter in all of MMA and one of its most popular figures in the cultural mainstream, already had been scheduled to defend her belt against Miesha Tate on that end-of-the-year card. Rousey-Tate II hadn't been announced explicitly as the main event, but the presumption was that it would be. It's "Rowdy Ronda," after all. Headliners headline.
The rematch of the March 2012 bout that made Rousey a champion -- she submitted Tate via armbar (what else?) to seize the Strikeforce title, which after that promotion shut down became the UFC championship -- still will be Dec. 28 in Vegas. But now, with Weidman-Silva II getting top billing, the women will play second fiddle.
Some would say that what happened later on Saturday thrust Rousey into a secondary position even within the women's game. Some would say she's been there all along.
What happened Saturday night? Cristiane "Cyborg" Justino, that's what happened. The brawny Brazilian, who dominated women's MMA before a positive test for the anabolic steroid stanozolol in 2011 earned her a year-long visit to the penalty box, competed for the second time in the Invicta Fighting Championships and became the all-women promotion's 145-pound champion. Her four-round mauling of Marloes Coenen in Kansas City, Mo., was brutal, thorough, unrelenting and thought-provoking.
The prevailing topic for reflection: Will we ever get to see Ronda vs. Cyborg?
There was a time when I believed the UFC had zero interest in making this fight happen. From a public relations perspective, it's not in the promotion's best interest to put Rousey in the cage with Justino (formerly known as Cris Santos from her now-dissolved marriage to fighter Evangelista Santos). Rousey is the All-American girl, at least in athletic terms: an Olympic medalist with the combination of talent, spunk and looks that is crucial for women hoping to make their mark in our shallow popular culture. Cyborg, on the other hand, is a steroid-tarnished brute who, even before the positive test, was being snickered at as unfeminine. Fair or not, don't expect to see Cris schmoozing with Conan on late-night TV.
Despite the PR hit it would risk, though, I'm now thinking the UFC might be persuaded to go for Rousey vs. Cyborg at some point. Decisions like these start at the top, and Dana White is a fight fan who can't help but be drawn to the best fights. Dana White also is a promoter whose job is to make big-money fights. He's just seen his superfights get flushed down the toilet along with Anderson Silva's eternal win streak. Well, pitting the two most ferocious females on the planet -- the best 145-pound fighter vs. the best 135-pounder -- would recapture some of that lost spendor.
Not yet, though. Patience, patience. Rousey still has Tate, her opposing coach on The Ultimate Fighter, to contend with, and the UFC has a few more contenders lined up behind Miesha. More buildup.
As for Cyborg? Keep an eye on her Invicta opposition. That will be our clue as to whether a clash with Rousey is indeed on the back burner.
To this point, Invicta has had a cordial relationship with the UFC. The nascent promotion's founder and president, Shannon Knapp, used to work for the UFC and always goes out of her way to speak highly of her old employer. Why wouldn't she? Liz Carmouche competed twice for Invicta while under contract to UFC parent company Zuffa, then took on Rousey in the first UFC women's fight. Sarah Kaufman was Ronda's next challenger, and afterward fought on an Invicta card. Will the UFC continue to allow access to its top-level women? Invicta and Cyborg need that, frankly. The fighter Cris clobbered on Saturday night, Marloes Coenen, is a former champion with credibility and some degree of name recognition. But what does Justino do for an encore? Fight Ediane Gomes, whom Rousey beat in 25 seconds? Julia Budd, whom Ronda finished in 39 seconds?
Rousey is the measuring stick for Justino. Cyborg is the measuring stick for Ronda. Neither yardstick offers anything close to a precise unit of measure, though, because these two elite fighters have never met and have no common opponents. The woman Justino beat for the second time over the weekend, Coenen, was choked out by Tate, whom Rousey will be trying to beat again in December. Coenen does own submission wins over Kaufman and Carmouche, both of whom Ronda also has tapped out. Does this tell us anything? Not really. The only precise measurement of Rousey and Justino will come when they collide.
So what's the most imposing factor that could prevent this fight from happening? Tito Ortiz. The longtime UFC light heavyweight champion doubles as manager for Cyborg and thorn in Dana's side. He'll demand too much money. He'll insist on some provision -- the catchweight, the order in which the fighters enter the octagon, the volume of the entrance music, something -- and it'll scuttle the whole thing. Then again, maybe White is so used to dealing with ham-fisted negotiator Ortiz by now that he won't allow a brief spell of being pissed off get in between him and a tall pile of greenbacks.
I'm so convinced the fight will happen someday, in fact, that I want to make one thing clear: I am not among those who loudly proclaim Justino a lock over Rousey. Far from it. Ronda has the technical skill and, from her judo background, the deep understanding of leverage to put a crimp in the style of Cyborg's brutishness. Cris is no Mariusz Pudzianowski -- she's a black belt in Muay Thai and a brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu -- but technique is her fallback. She wins by treating other women like rag dolls. And I don't think she can do that to Rousey. If she can, I want to see it. Boy, do I want to see it.
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