July 29, 2017

UFC 214: The Intriguing Career Crossroad For Cris Cyborg

By Raphael Garcia

UFC 214 features three title fights. Of the three, the bout between Cris Cyborg and Tonya Evinger is the bout that many seem to put in the “forgone conclusion” category. Cyborg has dominated women for years and now has the opportunity to place a UFC title around her waist. Even though she’s been in the UFC for almost a year, she has a tumultuous relationship with the largest promotion in the sport that extends for far longer. And getting a win this Saturday night will further complicate matters, as well as potentially have a long term impact on both the promotion and the fighter.

There are a multitude of examples where both Cyborg and the UFC have “attacked” each other through the media. Even after Cyborg became a card-carrying member of the UFC roster, the two entities seemed to struggle to get onto the same page. But in some ways, the UFC’s treatment of Cyborg caused her to morph from a fighter that many seemed to quickly criticize, into a sympathetic character. So much so, that UFC President Dana White admitted to mistakes in dealing with the featherweight powerhouse during a recent interview with John Morgan of MMA Junkie:

“We signed Cyborg. We made a commitment to Cyborg. Not everything is easy. Not everything is as fun as other divisions or whatever. But we made a commitment to this woman and she’s had a rough go here in the UFC. She hasn’t been thrilled with things that have been said, things that have been done. And to be honest with you, we’ve made some mistakes when it comes to Cyborg. The least we could do is get our shit together and get this woman a fight for the title.”

However, that title shot has come in the form of a shapeshifting opponent. First there was Germaine de Randamie. She was pulled from the picture when she refused to fight Cyborg with claims that she’s a steroid user (Cyborg failed a drug test back in 2012 and was exonerated by USADA for another situation in 2017). Then rising star Megan Anderson was called up, just to be forced off of the card for personal issues. Evinger, the Invicta FC featherweight champion and longtime MMA veteran, jumped at the opportunity to take this fight on short notice, even though she’s a wide underdog to her Brazilian opponent.

But what happens once Saturday’s action is over? If Cyborg is victorious and White places the belt around her waist, does that mean the animosity between the two groups will be over? According to multiple reports, Cyborg has two fights left on her UFC contract and a clause that stipulates that the contract expires in October of this year. The UFC has shown a willingness to let some athletes walk away from the company, regardless of whether they’re important pieces to weight classes or not; see Gegard Mousasi. Cyborg is heralded as the leader of women’s MMA, even if that’s a title she doesn’t want. Bellator MMA would love to pluck her away from the WME-IMG-owned fight brand. With a victory at UFC 214, Cyborg could become the biggest free agent that this sport has seen to date.

Whether she’s loved or not, Cris Cyborg holds a special place in the annals of mixed martial arts. Long before Ronda Rousey burst onto the scene, Cyborg was challenging and defeating the status quo. In 2017 she finally has the opportunity to be recognized as a champion in the largest promotion in MMA. And it remains to be seen what effect Cyborg reaching that brass ring could have on the landscape of the sport, beyond just the UFC.

UFC 214: Cormier vs. Jones 2 takes place July 29, 2017 at Honda Center in Anaheim, California.

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