UFC needs to resolve its Cyborg problem

Brazilian-American mixed martial arts superstar, current UFC Women's Featherweight Champion, and Claressa Shields sparring partner, Cris Cyborg, is seen during a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
(AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

After years of publicly demeaning each other, it seemed the worst of times were behind us.

Cris “Cyborg” Justino, having been at odds with the UFC president Dana White, was crowned the promotion’s women’s 145-pound champion at UFC 214 in July. The greatest female fighter on the planet was finally recognized on the grandest of stages, with her career expected to flourish in the days to come.

But now, less than three months removed from her crowning moment, conflicts between the two parties have surfaced once more.

Justino has been eager to face former bantamweight champion Holly Holm in what would be her first title defense at UFC 219 this December. Quite possibly the biggest fight the UFC could book between two active female fighters on its roster, the promotion has agreed to entertain Cyborg’s request and enter negotiations with both parties for this year-ending contest.

But that’s as far as we’ve gotten, with talks hitting a standstill in recent weeks.

Cyborg has maintained her desire to earn somewhere in the vicinity of $500,000 to defend her title — the same dollar amount both Holm and former champion Miesha Tate received in their inaugural bantamweight title defenses in 2016. But the UFC, as the champion has claimed, is intent on paying her less than what she earned in first becoming champion at UFC 214 in July, when Justino earned $200,000 for her third-round TKO over Tonya Evinger.

It’s unclear if Cyborg has become as big a blockbuster star as Holm was shortly after beating Ronda Rousey at UFC 193, or as Tate was after beating Holm at UFC 196, ultimately determining whether she’s truly worth the $500K paycheck each time out. She should, however, be worth more than what she earned at UFC 214. There’s not much arguing against that.

“It’s been pretty aggressive on both sides,” Justino’s manager George Prajin told MMAjunkie recently. “Both sides want it to happen.

“The UFC wants to have a long-term future with her,” he added. “She does as well. She just wants to be paid her value.”

Both sides will inevitably be forced to make a compromise in order to move forward. It is becoming increasingly imperative that they do — for both parties.

It was reported earlier this year that Justino’s deal with the UFC is set to expire this month, regardless of how many fights (one) remain on her contract. That should prompt the promotion to get going — it hopes to keep ties with a potential star for the future. But while Justino may have slightly more negotiating power in that regard, she’d be wise to strike a deal with the UFC as opposed to any other promotion on the planet. As we’ve seen during her runs with Strikeforce, Invicta FC and elsewhere, nobody can give Justino the fame and funds she craves quite like the UFC can.

“In negotiations, emotions run high,” he said. “There’s a lot of flexing on both sides. Everybody wants to get the best deal. We know her value, and the UFC obviously values her, as well. We’re just trying to make sure we come to an agreement on a mutual understanding of that.”

Cyborg’s expiring deal is not the only reason the UFC should be eager to schedule its women’s featherweight champion for this December. She may be the only viable champion capable of headlining that particular card.

Strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk is booked for UFC 217 in November, along with bantamweight champ Cody Garbrandt and middleweight kingpin Michael Bisping. Flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson just competed earlier this month. Featherweight champion Max Holloway is scheduled for UFC 218 in early December. Women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes has made it clear she has no plans of fighting again in 2017. Lightweight champion Conor McGregor may not be ready to compete again in 2017. Welterweight champion Tyron Woodley is currently injured.

Outside of Cyborg, that leaves light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier and heavyweight titleholder Stipe Miocic.

While rumors are currently circulating of a potential title bout between Cormier and top contender Volkan Oezdemir, both the UFC and Cormier would be wise to delay his return, considering what transpired in his most recent contest (a third-round knockout that was ultimately overturned due to Jon Jones’ positive drug test). Though Miocic may actually be a prime candidate for UFC 219, he currently has no viable dance partner outside of No. 7-ranked Alexander Volkov, who appears to be at least two wins away from punching his ticket.

Still, outside of an unexpected superfight between Miocic and Cormier, there isn’t another contest the UFC could possibly book that would outsell a potential blockbuster between Cyborg and Holm. It’s the fight to make — sooner rather than later.

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