'Cyborg' finally under Zuffa umbrella, but Ronda Rousey fight is no guarantee

Ryan McKinnell
Dana White: If Ronda Rousey Wins Title, Cyborg Fight Will Happen
Dana White: If Ronda Rousey Wins Title, Cyborg Fight Will Happen

When female MMA powerhouse Cristiane "Cyborg" Justino made $90,000 in her last fight for the Invicta FC promotion back in February, many speculated that her paycheck was footed by the UFC.

It wasn't that the all-ladies promotion couldn't or wouldn't be able to dole out that sort of payday. It was just such a staggering lump sum for a promotion that, otherwise, had only paid out fractions comparatively to its other top stars in prior years.

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It turns out all the speculation was more than warranted, as news broke Wednesday that the feared Brazilian striker is officially a UFC employee.

And she has been for two months.

The news was first reported by Brazilian media outlet Globo and subsequently confirmed on "UFC Tonight."

"We want to let the world know that we want to make this fight," UFC president Dana White told "UFC Tonight" reporter Ariel Helwani. "Ronda wants this fight, everyone wants this fight to happen. But she needs to make 135 outside the UFC."

Justino (13-1-1) signed the deal with Zuffa before her last fight with Invicta in February. White said the plan is for her to fight for Invicta in July at 145 pounds. Then around the end of the year, she will make her first attempt at the bantamweight limit of 135 pounds. If she is successful in making the weight, a date with Rousey is all but assured.

Rousey is a phenom the likes of which MMA has never seen. Her last two fights were finished in a combined 30 seconds. She is an undefeated champ, movie star and a former Olympian. And seemingly ever since her UFC debut in February 2013, the name that has been synonymous with Rousey's rise has been Cyborg.

In August 2009, Cyborg retired Gina Carano in a Strikeforce fight on Showtime after bludgeoning her with a vicious first-round onslaught. Up until that point, Carano was an undefeated superstar with massive crossover appeal. A few months after the Justino beatdown, Carano starred in the Steven Soderberg directed film "Haywire," and her MMA career appeared to be finished.

The performance that Cyborg put on against Carano was about as effective of a statement as a fighter could hope for. Unfortunately, the dethroning of Carano wasn't enough for the UFC to create an entire division around Cyborg, like it did for Rousey. Whether it was Justino's failed drug test for the steroid stanozolol two years after the Carano win, or her inability to connect with the mainstream audience the way Rousey has, there have definitely been undertones of jealousy when Justino speaks about Rousey.

And speak she has. Everyone from Rousey's mother, to her coach, to her Hollywood friends – any and all have become fair game in Justino's quest for a UFC career.

Rousey fights Brazilian Bethe Correia at UFC 190 on August 1 in Brazil. Currently, Correia is the seventh-ranked prospect in the bantamweight division. As of right now, Rousey is a 20-to-1 favorite, and with the way "Rowdy" has looked in her entire UFC career, that may be giving Correia too much credit.

The UFC is short on contenders for Rousey, and that's not going to be remedied anytime soon. The 'official' announcement that Justino has joined the UFC family is paramount, both in the growth of the sport overall, and the growth of women's MMA – which if you are using Rousey's last PPV as an estimate (500,000-plus), is doing just fine.

That said, every division needs a true rivalry – especially when dominance is the name of the game for a wrecking ball like Rousey. "Rowdy" had her first rivalry with fellow bantamweight fan-favorite Miesha Tate. But Tate got two chances and couldn't topple Rousey.

We may not know if Cyborg is competition for Rousey or if Rousey is competition for Cyborg. But now that the money has been put to the proverbial mouth, the whole MMA world can rejoice that it is one step closer to women's MMA's first, true superfight.

Assuming Cyborg can make the weight, of course.

"I don't want to speak about Cris Cyborg anymore," said White. "Let her make the weight. The ball is in her court."


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