When Interim Featherweight Champ Cris Cyborg and former bantamweight champ Holly Holm were announced as the main event at UFC 219 this weekend, the UFC community sat back and in a unified, exacerbated breath, said, “finally!”
In its short lifespan, the featherweight division has been somewhat chaotic.
Holm had a shot at the division’s inaugural title back in February but lost a controversial decision to Germaine de Randamie. During the bout, Randamie struck Holm twice after the bell, an action that usually warrants the deduction of a point. However, the deduction was never given and Randamie ended up with the decision.
The root of the issue lies in the negotiation between the UFC and the New York State Athletic Commision. The NYSAC was allowed to use one of their “guys” during the championship bout instead of UFC legends Big John McCarthy or Herb Dean. The lack of experience and knowledge on the part of Tom Anderson (NYSAC) was evident when neither a warning during the first late hit or a point deduction after the second late hit was given.
The late hits were egregious and wobbled Holm to the point that it affected her performance in the later rounds. Fans around the world called for an immediate rematch as Holm filed for an appeal of the decision and Anderson’s failure to announce a deduction. The appeal was denied and since late February, neither the UFC nor Holm has made much of a fuss on the matter.
After the dust settled, Dana White announced that the next featherweight title showdown would lay in the hands of Cyborg. Randamie immediately refused to defend her title, and the featherweight dumpster fire was once again set ablaze.
Randamie’s refusal to fight Cyborg revolved around her poignant use of banned substances, having served a 1 year suspension in 2011 and failing another out-of-sport drug test administered by USADA in January of this year. The failure in January carried no suspension because Cyborg was able to provide documentation of legitimate medical treatment.
The issue remains that the stench of cheating has followed Cyborg for some time. Randamie’s camp has held the defiant position that, “she will not fight ‘Cyborg’ because ‘Cyborg’ is a known and proven cheater.” Brian Butler, Randamie’s manager, made the potent statement to MMA-junkie’s Mike Bohn back in May.
Randamie was replaced by Invicta Bantamweight champ, Tonya Evinger and the rather forgettable fight ended in a third round TKO. The fight did little to help or hurt Cyborg but it provided fans the confirmation that the overall health of the division is poor and top heavy.
For a decade, we’ve watched Cyborg loom in the shadows as the sport grew and evolved. For a decade, we’ve heard how she is the world’s most dangerous female fighter. For a decade, we’ve waited for her to show up in UFC. Banned substances. Issues cutting weight. Injuries. The list of reasons for her delayed appearance is a mile long.
Note how I didn’t say excuses. Some of the factors are legitimate while others are the repercussion of her own actions. Saturday night, the world will get its first glimpse into what Cyborg’s power truly holds. She puts herself on the sports’ largest stage shared with Holm, a world champion boxer, kickboxer and arguably one of the greatest female athletes in combat sports. Holm is a fighter who can become the first woman to win titles in multiple divisions in UFC history.
Let me remind you of the power Holly Holm possesses.
— UFC (@ufc) December 20, 2017
(Main photo credit:David McIntyre/USA TODAY Sports)