March 29, 2016

What Does Cyborg Fighting at UFC 198 Mean For the Women’s Bantamweight Division?

By Adam Martin

The UFC made it official on Monday morning, as UFC President Dana White revealed on his Twitter account that Invicta FC featherweight champion Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino will finally make her promotional debut against Leslie Smith in a 140-pound catchweight bout at UFC 198 this May in Brazil. Justino had been signed by the UFC awhile back, but the UFC had been paying her to fight in Invicta FC instead of in the Octagon. Now, though, the UFC is ready to cash in on its investment, as one of the most dominant female fighters in the sport finally fights on the big stage of a UFC pay-per-view.

Surprisingly, the fight is at a 140-pound catchweight and not in the bantamweight division. We all know Cyborg has had trouble cutting down to 135 lbs, but she hasn’t even fought at 140 lbs yet either. So she is taking a risk by cutting an extra five pounds from featherweight, and the UFC is taking a risk as well, as there is no guarantee she makes the weight. Provided she can make the weight, however, she should have no problem dispatching Smith, who is a natural flyweight fighting at bantamweight in the UFC because of the lack of a 125-pound weight class. Instead of getting a big bantamweight to fight Cyborg, the UFC picked one of the smallest, so this fight is likely to be a blowout.

More than anything, this bout will serve as an introduction for Cyborg to UFC fans, many of whom have never seen her fight in Invicta, EliteXC, or Strikeforce. It’s what the UFC often does when it brings in a fighter from another organization. Only in this case, the fight is at a catchweight, which is extremely rare. Considering that UFC bosses have for years said Cyborg would have to fight at 135 lbs if she wanted to fight in the UFC, it makes one wonder why they have changed their tune now and let her fight at 140 lbs. Sure, the fight is in Brazil in her hometown of Curitiba, but still, why did the UFC brass finally soften their stance on her fighting in an actual division now and not before?

Should Cyborg beat Smith, and it’s likely she does so via first-round TKO, then what’s next? Does she continue to fight lesser opponents at 140-pound catchweights, or does the UFC make her cut down to bantamweight? Or does the promotion create a brand new featherweight division just for Cyborg?

Let’s look at the three scenarios. If the UFC has Cyborg compete in catchweight bouts, what’s the point of it? Sure, she would be in some fun fights, but none of them would lead to a title fight. If she can make 135 lbs, sure, fights against Miesha Tate, Holly Holm, and Ronda Rousey could all be huge, but will it even be sustainable for her to fight at bantamweight more than once? And if a featherweight division is created just for Cyborg, how could it be any better than the Invicta featherweight division, where Cyborg was destroying everyone she fought?

It's exciting to finally see Cyborg in the Octagon, but if she’s not fighting in the bantamweight division, then what’s the point? Fans want to see her fight the best of the best, like Rousey. If she’s just going to keep fighting overmatched opponents like Smith, even if it’s at a catchweight, then there is no point. Hopefully this questions is answered sooner than later, but knowing the UFC, we’ll probably be waiting a long time to find out the answer. Until then, enjoy Cyborg beating up women who don’t belong in the cage with her.


UFC 198: Werdum vs. Miocic takes place on May 14, 2016 at Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Parana, Brazil.

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