It certainly came as a surprise to many when the UFC announced its seemingly out-of-the-blue intentions to launch a women's featherweight division earlier tis week, both for the obvious reasons -- mainly, Dana White's insistence just months ago that the promotion would not be adding any new women's divisions due to a lack of available talent -- and one that was perhaps a bit more glaring.
Because after announcing the addition of this totally necessary, totally awesome division to the women's ranks, the UFC then announced that it had already booked the fight that would determine its very first champion. In one corner would be Germaine "The Iron Lady" de Randamie, a Dutch kickboxing champion riding back-to-back stoppage victories (and someone I had previously stated would make a great fit for the weight class, no biggie). In the other, a fierce kickboxer in her own right and the universally regarded top featherweight fighter in the world, #HollyHolm.
I know, Mr. Franco, I too am confused.
All due respect to Ms. Holm, but when you're picturing the perfect candidate to book in your inaugural featherweight title fight, a former bantamweight champion riding a two-fight losing streak probably shouldn't be the first person who comes to mind. No, you'd assume that honor would go to Cris Cyborg, the former #Strikeforce women's featherweight champion, the current #Invicta featherweight champion and, oh yeah, the woman who has notched back-to-back victories in the two, lone 140-pound catchweight bouts to date.
Understandably, Cyborg appears to share in our perplexity at this matchup:
So, how did the most dominant female featherweight of all time miss the boat here? According to Dana White, it's simple: she turned down two title fight opportunities. We need not bother ourselves with the intricacies of why Cyborg turned them down -- which, for what it's worth, had to do with her still being in recovery mode from the weight cut she made back in September that almost killed her -- but just know that she did and therefore deserves to be punished for it.
Now, it's looking like Cyborg's incessant concern for trivial things like her own health may have cost her that perpetually hyped bout with #RondaRousey. In a recent interview, White was all but kicking over Cyborg's sandcastle when teasing the possibility of a Rousey vs. Holm, champion vs. champion rematch should both women win their respective fights at #UFC207 and #UFC208.
"We offered three fights, and [Justino] turned them all down. This is a business. I had two girls who wanted to fight for the 145-pound title. This is the pros. If you play for the Patriots, you don't sit around and say, 'I don't feel like playing this weekend.'
This is a business of opportunity. When opportunity arises, you jump up and take it. If you don't, the bus is gone, and it passes you by. If Holly wins and becomes a champion, and that's the scenario [Rousey regains the title]? I guarantee people will want to see it."
Aside from the fact that White's Patriots analogy seems to neglect (or outright ignore) the reality that members of every NFL team routinely take weeks off to deal with nagging injuries, personal issues, and so forth (I'm pretty sure that's why the terms "questionable", "probable" and "doubtful" exist in sports), it also is one that Cyborg has taken personally for reasons that may or may not relate to the way in which she has been attacked by the president in the past.
But for now, it appears that Cyborg has missed her opportunity at gold (and Rousey) once again. Pulling the scope back a bit, just what exactly does the creation of a women's featherweight division mean for the UFC, and what can we expect from it? Well, for starters?
Fresh Matchups, Both New and Old
Yes, I know that headline is a bit of an oxymoron, but just hear me out.
Without knowing who else the UFC plans to fill out its featherweight roster with, it's tough to fully know what lies in store for us at 145 pounds: will the UFC start with only a small handful of contenders like it did with bantamweight? Will it absorb any of Invicta's division like it did with strawweight? Will a season of The Ultimate Fighter be involved?
I have no idea, but the point is that the addition of a featherweight division should serve as a huge boost to women's MMA in either scenario. Should the UFC decide to only shop in-house for its 145ers, it would have at least a handful of compelling matchups to kick things off.
In addition to bringing up naturally bigger bantamweights like Holm and de Randamie -- a fight which, Cyborg aside, should be an incredibly fun watch -- and maybe someone Cat Zingano, the UFC does still have Cyborg under contract to potentially fight any (or all) three of them. It's not much, but it's still a lot more intriguing than the squash matches Cyborg has been booked in thus far.
If the UFC does end up absorbing some of its Invicta counterparts, then you've not only got a good deal of fresh match-ups and potential title contenders (Megan Anderson, anyone?) to consider, but any number of rematches that casual fans may never have caught under the Invicta banner. It would serve as an introduction to some and a reintroduction to others, which would buy the UFC more than enough time to fill a season of TUF (because we all know that this is an inevitability now) with even more prospective talent.
A Hint of Things to Come
Given how quick the UFC's turnaround from "no women's featherweight division" and "a women's featherweight division NOW!" has been, it wouldn't exactly be presumptuous to start discussing the prospect of the promotion adding a 125 or 105 division in the near future as well. With Joanna Jedrzejczyk already stating her desires to become a multiple-division champion and Miesha Tate throwing her support behind the idea, it's as good a time as any for the UFC to start bolstering up their women's divisions one by one.
There is a wide, wide gap between bantamweight and strawweight, for instance, and if thinning out either division is necessary in order to to stop even a few fighters from making that dreadful weight cut, then I'm all for it (and am sure I could find at least a few fighters who would agree with me).
What would that 125-pound division look like? Well, we have some ideas.
So, while the UFC may have slipped out early with their exclusion of Cyborg from the division she practically defines, let's not act like it condemns the division to illegitimacy right out of the gate.
Women's 145 has a bright future ahead of it, no doubt, and as soon as Cyborg feels ready to make the cut again, I have no doubts that she will be welcomed back into the title picture with open arms. She may not ever rub elbows with Dana White, but she has both the skills and the numbers to prove her worth. From what I know of how the UFC operates, I think the latter means a whole lot more than the former.
UFC 208 Fight Card (as of 12/15/16):
- Holly Holm vs. Germaine de Randamie
- Travis Browne vs. Derrick Lewis
- Glover Teixeira vs. Jared Connonier
- Ian McCall vs. Neil Seery
- Ryan LaFlare vs. Roan Carneiro
- Randy Brown vs. George Sullivan