Even in the UFC, Cyborg Remains the Defiant Champion of a Nonexistent Weight-Class
So, what’s a girl to do when, after years of waiting and hoping and praying, she finally gets what she desires most in this world? Does she thrill and revel in the thing she’s coveted for so long and pledge her allegiance to it forever? Does she sing its praises from the hilltops and luxuriate blithely in her newfound joy? Does she give up her autonomy in the intoxication of her joy? Or is there some lingering disappointment that bubbles up from some dark, perpetually dissatisfied place deep inside her that says, “Not even this is enough,” and does she steel herself against that disappointment by declaring loyalty only to her own interior compass?
Who better to answer this question than Cris Cyborg, who made her long-awaited, long-wished-for debut in the UFC last weekend? After all, such long-desired success, as joyous as it may have been, must come with a tinge of bitterness for Cyborg, who’s spent more time these last few years defending her reputation and trying to convince people of her place in the WMMA pantheon than she has defending her Invicta featherweight belt. For all that time she had to sit and watch as her nemesis Ronda Rousey became the biggest thing the sport of MMA has ever seen and hope that one day the UFC would put aside their reservations about her and give her a chance. Last weekend’s victory over Leslie Smith wasn’t just a fight, it was the culmination of a long slog through professional disappointment, promotional sleight-of-hand, unfair fights, even slander and character assassination.
So it’s not entirely surprising that the Brazilian’s response would be as, shall we say, qualified as it has been. Rather than joyously declare her wish to remain in the UFC and do whatever UFC executives ask of her (a common response among fighters new to the promotion), Cyborg has instead insisted over and over again that her place doesn’t reside in a particular promotion, be it the UFC or Invicta, but in a particular anatomical, possibly psychological, and even existential state. 145 pounds, Cyborg has made clear, is her home, not any promotion. It’s been a rather remarkable declaration of independence these last few days from Cyborg, an insistence, in a sport driven by the desires of promoters not fighters, on her pre-eminence within her own mind.
Take yesterday’s report from UFC Tonight that Cyborg was being targeted for another catchweight fight on July 30, this time against Dutch kickboxer Germaine de Randamie. Most fighters would view the possibility of such a quick turnaround in the UFC (especially a fighter like Cyborg, who spent so long trying to get into the UFC) as the blessing of blessings: proof of approval by UFC executives and a quick second payday.
But not Cyborg. She denied the rumors almost immediately and assured fans that her next fight would be a return to Invicta, where she is the queen of the weight-class she feels most herself in.
"My next fight will be at my weight, 145lbs. Title defense at Invicta FC," Cyborg tweeted. "Catchweight only with Ronda Rousey or Miesha Tate. … I’m the 145-pound champion. The UFC doesn’t have my division, okay. … I will be defending my belt in my next fight.”
After all those years of struggling to achieve the approval of the UFC, slogging her way through unworthy opponents for small money and suffering the criticism of fans and pundits who doubted her legitimacy as a fighter as long as she wasn’t fighting in the promotion that wouldn’t let her in, Cyborg appears to have arrived at something like enlightenment: true self-awareness. She is a 145-pound fighter and the champion of the 145-pound division. The fact that the UFC is not home to that division has apparently come to mean nothing to Cyborg.
Notice in the tweet above that she spurns the idea of fighting at 135 at all, no matter if the fight would be for the bantamweight belt against Miesha Tate or for bragging rights (once and for all) at the top of the WMMA mountain against Ronda Rousey. If the UFC wants her to fight either of those women, the women most of us most want to see her fight, then those women will have to come to her as much as she will have to come to them. Cyborg is apparently done distorting herself to prove her legitimacy. She’s at last come to the realization that her identity and her place in the world are wrapped up in the realities of her body.
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