Whether Cris Cyborg stays in the UFC or signs elsewhere, she clearly deserves better

Cris Cyborg
Image: Cris Cyborg on Instagram

Cris Cyborg emerged from her UFC 240 co-main event bout with Felicia Spencer on Saturday night bloodied but unbroken. A single gash in the middle of her forehead from an elbow strike will leave a scar to tell the story of the night she shoved countless fists in Spencer’s face, and none of it mattered. The rematch with Amanda Nunes isn’t any closer to happening, and her fractured relationship with UFC President Dana White isn’t any closer to mending.

Even diehard skeptics can admit it was demoralizing watching one of the greatest fighters in MMA history reduced to campaigning for a rematch she already deserved before the fight with Spencer. A fighter that spent most of her career with the byline as the baddest woman on the planet wore a custom-made t-shirt advocating for a fight with Nunes, hell-bent on proving she wasn’t ducking a rematch with the reigning two-division champion.

It’s downright depressing a night of contractual posturing might have served as the swan song for the Cyborg and UFC marriage—a union cemented on rocky ground from the moment the two sides exchanged their “I dos.”

Cris Cyborg clearly deserves better.

A single loss in over a 13-year span and the torch is already being passed to Nunes. Not to minimize what has obviously been an astonishing run by Nunes, but it is equally as belittling for anyone to attempt to hasten Cyborg off the throne after only one hiccup in over a decade of dominance.

Was Chris Weidman recognized as the greatest of all time after his first win over Anderson Silva? Was Fabricio Werdum recognized as the greatest of all time after submitting Fedor Emelianenko? Was Henry Cejudo dubbed the greatest of all time after beating Demetrious Johnson?

Maybe Nunes really is the baddest woman on the planet and the best to ever do it, but there are at least 13 years of Cyborg doing it better than anyone else that warrants another opportunity.

The decision to put together one of the biggest rematches in the history of women’s MMA rests solely on the shoulders of White and the UFC. However, mending the bridges with Cyborg might take more than just dollar signs and numbers on a contract. It could take a personal apology from White, a one-and-done contract or a newfound commitment to the women’s featherweight division to ensure Cyborg has an opportunity to compete more than one or two times per year—basically, a few requests that seem slightly less likely than pigs flying.

According to Cyborg, there have been disparaging things said about her physical appearance by White in the past that have yet to be addressed. Those comments have trickled down to even random fans hurling pernicious insults at not only her, but also, her daughter, who Cyborg says has become a target of bullying at school.

“My daughter almost fight in school because of this,” Cyborg said at the UFC 240 post-fight press conference. “She wants to fight when kids say things about me. …They say, ‘Oh, your mom has a penis,’ a lot of [expletive] things. She is studying now in America, and the kids say things to her like before the Amanda Nunes fight, and it’s hard.”

UFC Commentator Joe Rogan, who can be heard making a sexual joke about Cyborg in the video above, apologized back in 2015 in an interview with Bloody Elbow, but it isn’t known if he’s actually had a sit down conversation with the former women’s featherweight champion since those comments.

“I shouldn’t have said it,” said Rogan. “But it’s what you say if you’re hanging around with comedians, you know? It’s what we do. Plus, I had a couple of drinks. It was just a dumb thing to do, and I certainly didn’t mean it with any malice. I honestly didn’t. …I didn’t mean to start any static with [Cyborg] or anything like that, so I hope she accepts my apology. It’s my fault and I take full responsibility.”

Some have been quick to point out that Cyborg should have never joined the UFC if she was offended by the comments being made about her, which is a totally unfair assessment that completely misses the point. Seeking out the best competition in the world in the mecca of MMA promotions is independent of the personal issues Cyborg has with the company. For years, MMA fans around the world pleaded for the UFC to sign Cyborg to a fight deal, and those wishes eventually prompted an agreement between the two sides.

Perhaps they can still do business, while coming together and having a deeper conversation about many of the personal issues that stand in the way of a contract extension.

A one-and-done fight deal is likely off the table from a pure business perspective for the UFC. It wouldn’t be a good look if Cyborg managed to beat Nunes in the rematch and then jumped ship to another promotion. No, the UFC wants claim to the rights of having the baddest woman on the planet on their roster.

However, a stronger effort in building the women’s featherweight division, along with offering Cyborg more fights, is a plausible arguing point to bring to the negotiating table. Outside of scouting for talent, there are many avenues that could be used in bolstering the division, particularly with The Ultimate Fighter and Dana White’s Contender Series at the UFC’s fingertips.

The biggest winner post UFC 240, however, might end up being Bellator President Scott Coker.

A subtle congratulatory tweet tugged at the nostalgic heartstrings with a picture of a younger Coker and Cyborg standing side-by-side. Coker is holding up the first major women’s MMA title, the inaugural Strikeforce women’s featherweight championship, which Cyborg would go on to win by defeating Gina Carano.

He could have used any other picture in the tweet, but he dug out the old money shot from happier days for the former pound-for-pound queen—days when a woman fighting in the UFC was about as likely as the UFC co-promoting with M-1 Global and signing Fedor Emelianenko. The picture just so happened to be shared at the exact time of Cyborg’s pending free agency.

One would assume the UFC still has the inside track on getting a new deal done, especially with an opportunity for Cyborg to avenge her loss to Nunes on the table. Yet, the grass is also looking mighty green and vivacious in Bellator, particularly with the extra attention being paid to the women’s featherweight division. Cyborg’s close personal relationship with Coker should also be taken into consideration.

No one can deny the disappointment that would ripple across the MMA community if fans are denied a rematch between Cyborg and Nunes in the UFC, but there is also no denying the larger and most important fact to come out of this entire ordeal: Sometimes, words cut deeper than elbows.

This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 7/31/2019.