For almost as long as women have been competing in MMA, Cristiane ‘Cyborg’ Justino as been THE woman to beat.
The Brazilian has been the baddest woman on the planet for well over a decade. When Ronda Rousey was ripping up the opposition at 135lbs in the UFC, Cyborg was battering the contenders at 145lbs in Strikeforce. For a while there was a big debate over who would win if the two ever met, but sadly we never found out.
But while Rousey was eventually found out and knocked out by Holly Holm, then demolished on her comeback by Amanda Nunes, Cyborg’s career seemed to be free of any shock defeats. Then Nunes, already the 135lb champ, stepped up to Cyborg’s division and smoked her in just 51 seconds to take her title and in the process shatter the illusion of indestructibility that had followed Cyborg for almost 14 years.
But while her knockout loss to Nunes was shocking – and definitive – the general consensus is that she remains the second best featherweight fighter on the planet. Under normal circumstances, a rematch with Nunes would be nailed on. But things aren’t as straightforward as that.
— Cris Cyborg Youtube (@criscyborg) July 29, 2019
That may have happened a long time ago, but those statements from Dana White and Joe Rogan have led to uneasy working relationship between Cyborg and the UFC president. And with Cyborg’s contract now up, we’re looking at an uneasy stand-off period between the pair.
The UFC’s contracts include a matching period meaning they have the opportunity to match whatever offer she receives from another organization. But with the relationship between Cyborg and the UFC looking somewhat frail, it remains to be seen whether the UFC will stand in her way if she decides to leave.
Here are her main options, as they stand…
The ideal – and the most likely – landing spot for Cyborg is undoubtedly Bellator, where she already has a great relationship with president Scott Coker. Bellator may not have a fighter as good as Amanda Nunes, but they do arguably have a greater depth of talent at 145lbs than even the UFC.
It’s the natural place for Cyborg to head to next. But can Bellator come up with a deal significant enough to allow the UFC to waive their matching clause?
If you want to see Cyborg in her element, smashing the opposition and becoming a huge superstar, then Rizin is undoubtedly the way to go. She’ll be treated like a superhero over in Japan, where she’ll be matched up with an array of characters, from pro wrestlers to up-and-coming fan-favourite fighters.
She’s more then likely to steamroll the opposition and the fights aren’t going to be as competitive as they would be in Bellator, but it’s a lucrative option that might just suit a fighter approaching the latter years of her career.
Cyborg trains with one of the best boxing coaches in MMA, Jason Parillo, and would be a very interesting addition to the women’s boxing ranks if she ever took the decision to switch sports.
The long-term future for the Brazilian in boxing doesn’t seem as strong as it does in MMA, and the money almost certainly isn’t there, either.
A matchup with one-time sparring partner and all-conquering boxing champ Claressa Shields would make for a really interesting one-off clash, but the interest level beyond that may drop off a cliff.
The Professional Fighters League offers another option for Cyborg, with their $1 million league-format MMA tournaments offering a chance for her to rebuild her image as a featherweight destroyer, while picking up a colossal payday at the end of it.
Cyborg would have to wait until the new season in 2020, but if she dives in, she’d be must-see TV as she takes on the best 145lb fighters the PFL can muster in a bid to reassert her dominance and pocket a cool million into the bargain.
It’s a pretty strong option, particularly if she’s happy to sit things out for six months or so.
Of course, there’s always the chance she could stay exactly where she is and remain with the UFC. A rematch with Nunes would do huge numbers, but beyond that, it’s tough to see the long-term future for Cyborg in the UFC, where legitimate contenders at 145lbs are few and far between.
Plus, of course, there’s the ongoing issue of her relationship with Dana White. Clearly she’s still very hurt by what’s been said in the past, and it’s unlikely the pair will ever fully get along. But with White looking after the UFC’s interest and Cyborg looking after hers, it seems increasingly unlikely that the Brazilian’s long-term future will be with her current promotion.