For the past several years, Invicta FC featherweight champion Cris “Cyborg” Justino has desperately begged and pleaded for the UFC to arrange a 140-pound catchweight contest with former UFC bantamweight champ Ronda Rousey.
This was long before Conor McGregor became CONOR McGREGOR, so Rousey was unquestionably MMA’s biggest superstar and the UFC’s largest cash cow. However, UFC president Dana White continued to throw up one roadblock after another to shut the fantasy fight down.
First, White willingly let Justino out of the contract the UFC inherited when they acquired Strikeforce, so there was no way they could make the fight happen when Justino wasn’t signed under their banner. White proceeded to focus on calling Justino a steroid abuser even though she had only flunked one drug test in her 11-year MMA career. White then said the chances of him arranging Rousey vs. Cyborg was “slim to none” because she had just hired Tito Ortiz, White’s longtime archenemy, as her manager.
The UFC also helped Rousey connect with MMA dietitian extraordinaire Mike Dolce to customize her meals. Not only did this help Rousey cut weight, but more importantly, it kept the game’s most renowned nutritionist from assisting Justino.
The UFC decided to add another women’s division in 2013, but conveniently it wasn’t featherweight. They went 20 pounds lighter with strawweight, a gazillion pounds away from Justino’s stratosphere.
Finally, White used Justino’s words against her when she said her doctor informed her she “could die” if she shed the 10 pounds White required the buff Brazilian to lose in order to challenge Rousey for her bantamweight title.
Through all the blah-blah-blah, the only legitimate reason White gave for shutting Justino down was that the UFC didn’t offer a women’s featherweight division. So if Justino wanted to fight Rousey, she would have to make bantamweight despite the fact Rousey used to compete at featherweight.
Justino continued to campaign for a 140-pound catchweight bout against Rousey, but White wasn’t biting. As recently as last March, White still wasn’t budging on anything but bantamweight where Rousey would stand the best chance at beating Justino.
“Why would the champ go [to 140 pounds]? It just doesn’t make sense,” White said at the UFC 184 post-fight press conference. “She’s the 135-pound champion here; she’s dominant. The champ doesn’t chase other people. If you want to fight the champ, you go to the champ.”
Three months later, White admitted Rousey vs. Cyborg would set a UFC pay-per-view record with 2 million buys. However, he still wasn’t bending on his nonnegotiable bantamweight or bust stance.
Fans were accusing White of doing everything in his power to protect his golden girl from possibly getting mauled by Justino. This is the same White who has always preached that MMA is better than boxing because they constantly “make the fights the fans want to see.”
Before Holly Holm kicked Rousey’s head off in November to steal her bantamweight belt, it was impossible to discuss Rousey’s next challenger without Justino being the first and most compelling option. White still wasn’t having it – “tell her to make bantamweight,” he repeatedly responded.
Which leads us to Monday, when the UFC announced Justino will finally make her long-awaited UFC debut … against a hapless Leslie Smith … in a 140-pound catchweight contest.
So that’s interesting. And by interesting, I mean, HUH?
Now that Rousey’s aura of invincibility disappeared faster than a fart in the wind, the UFC is suddenly fine with allowing Justino into their octagon for a 140-pound catchweight fight?
Rousey will challenge Miesha Tate later this year to reclaim her UFC bantamweight throne. If she steamrolls Tate for a third time, which everyone is expecting, a rematch with Holm would likely follow. With Rousey’s next two opponents essentially set, it’s no wonder the UFC is all of a sudden happy to have Justino competing at the makeshift 140-pound weight class for them.
Rousey vs. Cyborg, the Mayweather vs. Pacquiao of MMA – it will possibly happen, especially given today’s news, but years too late.