September 29, 2016

UFC Fight Night 95: With Latest Cyborg Win, Now Is the Time To Introduce A Women's Featherweight Division

By Raphael Garcia

Cris “Cyborg” Justino was in action this past weekend at UFC Fight Night 95, where she dispatched Lina Lansberg in violent fashion to earn her second Octagon win. Yet the story surrounding this fight dealt more with outside the cage issues, as Cyborg nearly fell to another opponent: the 140-pound weight limit.

Much of the media coverage heading into this fight talked about Cyborg’s struggles to get down to the bout’s 140-pound catchweight. The pictures taken before last Friday’s weigh-ins showed a depleted and frail looking Cyborg facing off with Lansberg. The UFC newcomer was in the perfect position to capitalize on Cyborg’s struggles to make the weight, but she instead became the 17th victim on the Brazilian’s ledger. With this fight behind us, the question turns to what is next for the current Invicta FC Featherweight Champion, and that is a decision that the UFC must make in order to leverage this potential star.

One thing is clear: Cyborg has twice struggled to make 140 pounds. The documentary before her bout with Leslie Smith showed Cyborg huddled over in pain attempting to make the weight. This is a serious situation because recent changes regarding weight cutting have made it more difficult for fighters to make massive cuts to smaller weight classes. Even more puzzling s the fact that the UFC continues to push for this weight cut in the hopes of creating a mega-fight with Ronda Rousey in the future.

The rivalry between Rousey and Cyborg dates back to their time together on the Strikeforce roster. The fight never came together there, and for a while it seemed like Cyborg would never join the UFC. Instead, she battled in Invicta and won the title at 145 pounds. Cyborg also flirted with the idea of making the move to bantamweight, a weight class that is now clearly beyond of her grasp. However, the UFC decided to bring her over for UFC 198, and the response was massive, as she’s a star in Brazil. Still, the UFC continues to resist creating the 145-pound weight class for her to reign in.

But why? The organization has already successfully created two women’s weight classes in bantamweight and strawweight. The argument about featherweight’s lack of depth of talent is unpersuasive, as the UFC bantamweight division was created for the sole purpose of presenting Rousey as the mega-star she became. Cyborg may not make it to such a mainstream status, but she’s shown that she has the potential to become fighter that fans enjoy watching. Instead of continually calling on her to make a dangerous weight cut that impedes her performance, shortens her career, and threatens scheduled fights, the UFC needs to pull the trigger on developing a weight class around Cyborg with the goal of facilitating talent development.

Cyborg isn’t the only fighter that would benefit from such a decision. In recent months, Cat Zingano has spoken openly about her issues making the 135-pound weight limit and the massive cuts she makes to get there. A fight between Cyborg and Zingano for the inaugural UFC Women’s Featherweight Championship would immediately create interest. Unfortunately, this fight may never come to fruition due to the way the promotion has decided to push for Cyborg to make 140 or below. 

It’s interesting to watch the UFC and learn about the business decisions that are made within it. One such decision is the UFC’s reluctance to create a 145-pound weight class for its female fighters. One of the first women’s divisions to achieve prominence in North America, featherweight has been home to one of the most dominant fighters the sport has ever seen. But by not allowing Cris Cyborg to compete at her natural weight class, the UFC is not only putting her health at risk, but it is risking its ability to develop more viable female stars. Fans want to see Cyborg at her best, and her last two fights have made it quite clear that 140 pounds just won’t cut it.

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UFC Fight Night 95: Cyborg vs. Lansberg took place on September 24, 2016 at Nilson Nelson Gymnasium in Brasilia, Brazil.


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