Less than half a year removed from winning the inaugural UFC women’s featherweight championship, Germaine de Randamie was reduced to an answer to a trivia question early Monday. The former bantamweight contender-turned-featherweight champion was officially stripped of her 145-pound title just hours into the June 19 work week, as the UFC is now dead-set on moving on from one of the more disappointing outcomes of 2017.
Replacing de Randamie as champion will be either Cris “Cyborg” Justino or Megan Anderson, as the latter two face off at UFC 214 for the chance to take hold of the vacant throne at 145 pounds.
The decision to move on from de Randamie as titleholder wasn’t in any way surprising. The writing was on the wall for some time now, with the first stroke of ink touching its canvas the moment de Randamie sidestepped questions on fighting Cyborg after winning the belt. Fresh off defeating Holly Holm at UFC 208 in February, de Randamie claimed a hand injury would delay the UFC’s plans of setting up her first title defense opposite the woman many believed to be the rightful titleholder in the first place.
And so we patiently waited to receive more information on the situation, wondering just how long the public would need to wait to receive its next dose of Cyborg. Then came the news that sealed the champion’s fate: de Randamie did not want to fight Justino, citing the Brazilian fighter’s history with performance-enhancing drugs as a primary factor in her decision.
“Germaine and her team have talked, and the position is that she will not fight Cyborg because Cyborg is a known and proven cheater,” de Randamie’s manager Brian Butler told Ariel Helwani of MMA Fighting. “Even after so much scrutiny has been put on Cyborg, she still managed to pop for something and will always be a person of suspicion who is trying to beat the system rather than just conforming to the rules.
“For that reason, Germaine and her team don’t believe that Cyborg should be allowed to compete in the UFC at all. If that is the only fight the UFC wants, then Germaine is willing to wait and see if the UFC will strip her belt before making her next move.”
There’s a reasonable chance this had less to do with de Randamie’s desire to stay away from Justino, and more to do with how much money she’d be making to accept the fight. Either way, the UFC — as it was expected to do all along — sided with the more popular fighter in planning for the future of its 145-pound division.
De Randamie was seen by many as a placeholder for Cyborg’s eventual return to the Octagon. This division, after all, was erected solely to create a home for Justino in the UFC. Dana White admitted as much shortly after she was flagged — but eventually cleared — by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency in December.
Justino will now be free to take what she felt was hers all along, moving into the driver’s seat of a division that has needed far more direction six months into 2017.
The only person standing in her way will of course not be the incumbent champion. Instead, she faces Anderson, a 6-foot Australian fighter who’s made a name for herself under the Invicta FC banner. But while the 27-year-old featherweight may have the attention of those who follow the sport beyond the realms of the UFC, she’ll be seen by virtually everybody else as “Cyborg’s opponent” come July 29. That’s the sort of recognition Justino has come to command after a remarkably dominant career in mixed martial arts.
Unfortunately, injecting Cyborg into the division won’t solve all of the promotion’s problems with its (current) newest division. It’s expediting a fight many thought would take place in a year’s time, leaving the world with one less challenger for Justino to face. If, as the UFC likely expects, Cyborg wins, what’s next?
Holm has returned to the 135-pound ranks since dropping her debut at featherweight, and it’s unlikely de Randamie ever returns to 145 pounds given her short-lived tenure as champion. Cat Zingano may exist in Justino’s future, but that still only brings the division’s roster to three.
Until the company focuses its efforts on creating an environment to surround its dynamic champion, it’ll only ever be one Cyborg-loss away from seeing the weight class against the ropes… again.