Continued dominance from UFC champions Anderson Silva and Jon “Bones” Jones has prompted many to call for a bout to prove who is the pound-for-pound king of mixed martial arts. Even UFC president Dana White expressed interest in a Silva-Jones bout after the promotion’s struggles to put together a similar fight between Silva and UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre.
"Superfights" are nothing new to MMA, but they're something that has rarely been seen in recent years, at least not from champions. However, the UFC knows a gold mine when it sees it.
That doesn't seem to ring true across all divisions, however. This is particularly true in the newly created women's division of the UFC.
Despite having similar dominance within their divisions, the UFC does not seem quite as excited to put together a “superfight” between current UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey and former Strikeforce women’s featherweight champion Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos.
Santos, who recently left the promotion before ever making her debut due to ongoing contract disagreements that mostly revolved around her weight, is now signed with Invicta FC.
Some have called out the new division for its lack of depth and perhaps rightfully so. But it certainly doesn't help that the UFC doesn’t appear to be too worried about it. It has its queen, and her name is Ronda Rousey.
So why the discrepancy between the top males and top females?
Why do so many fans, even UFC executives themselves, care about the “superfights” between Silva and Jones or Silva and St-Pierre, but seem to have little interest in a Rousey-Cyborg superfight?
Aside from the obvious money-making opportunity that presents itself with a Silva-Jones fight as opposed to a Rousey-Santos fight, the answer to the above question may actually have to do with the UFC’s confidence in its women’s bantamweight champion.
Or should I say, lack of confidence.
It wasn’t long ago that Rousey was competing at 145 pounds in the Strikeforce featherweight division. Moving down in weight certainly makes her a more dangerous fighter; however, she was also crushing high-level opponents as a featherweight, so it’s not as if she’s incapable of moving back up for a fight with Santos.
The problem is that Santos' power and raw athletic ability make her essentially the prototypical opponent to fight Ronda Rousey. While Rousey has been able to exert her will, particularly in the grappling game, against every opponent she has faced, things would be a lot different against Cyborg.
Rousey is currently the unquestioned top 135-pound female fighter on the planet, but ever since rumors of the potential bout with “Cyborg” surfaced, discussion of the former judo medalist moving back up to her original weight of 145 to meet her foe have been quiet. Instead, the UFC seems to want Santos, one of the most-built female fighters we have ever seen, to shred 10 pounds and become a bantamweight.
Anyone who has seen Cyborg fight would tell you that she is about as ripped as a woman can be at that weight. According to her manager, former UFC champion Tito Ortiz, Cyborg cannot safely make 135.
"I don't think it's going to happen," Ortiz told Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour (h/t Shaun Al-Shatti, MMAFighting.com) earlier this year. "It's hard for women to cut that much weight. For a woman to be three-percent body fat, it's not healthy."
The obvious choice would be for Rousey to move back up to 145 for a fight, in the same way that Anderson Silva would likely be moving up to 205 to fight Jon Jones if that bout ever took place. But the UFC doesn't appear to want to make that happen.
Even if it's the fight that makes sense, even if it ends the debate between the two, even if it's the fight that that every fan of women's MMA wants to say; none of that matters—they want Ronda Rousey to stay at 135 because, quite frankly, it's the easiest way to protect her from ever having to fight Cyborg.
Somehow Ronda and her camp have done a great job of making Ronda look like the champion who fill fight anyone during this whole saga while simultaneously portraying Santos as a roided up freak who can't cut any weight because she is cheating. It's really quite brilliant.
In the end, a Rousey-Santos fight would only do one thing—put a threat on Ronda Rousey. And from a business standpoint, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense for the UFC.
If Rousey lost a fight to Santos, her legitimacy as the best female mixed martial artist in the world would be tarnished significantly. The fanfare would dwindle by massive amounts and it'd be very, very difficult to continue promoting her as a main event on pay-per-view.
There's no question that Cyborg would be a respected champion if she were to win, but she doesn't have the "superstar" characteristics that Rousey does. For the UFC, Ronda Rousey is the perfect blend of a world-class fighter, an incredible trash talker, a pretty face and someone who can put butts in seats.
Santos just doesn't have that combination of traits and it could very well be that, along with the very realistic possibility that she actually beats Rousey, that stops this fight from ever happening.