The UFC’s newly created featherweight division received a major jolt Friday. Cris “Cyborg” Justino vacated her Invicta championship and plans to make a run at the UFC belt held by Germaine de Randamie.
Invicta president Shannon Knapp confirmed the news, first reported by MMA Fighting’s Ariel Helwani on Twitter, to Yahoo Sports.
Cris Cyborg has officially vacated her Invicta 145 title and wants to fight GDR to fight for the UFC belt in July in Anaheim. More to come.
— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) March 25, 2017
“Cris is a tremendous athlete and has been a great champion,” Knapp told Yahoo Sports. “We are sad to see her go, but we wish her much success. She will always have a special place here at Invicta.”
Neither Justino nor UFC president Dana White could be reached for comment on Friday, but Justino’s addition will instantly drive up interest in a division that still doesn’t have rankings and has only held one fight.
De Randamie defeated Holly Holm at UFC 208 in Brooklyn last month to win the title which had been created for Justino.
Justino is a power-punching, physically strong fighter whose presence has loomed over the UFC for years. Fans had been clamoring for her to fight former UFC bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, but Justino said she couldn’t make the weight.
Justino’s dominance was central to White creating the featherweight division, but her weight issues sank White’s hopes of putting her into the first women’s featherweight bout in UFC history.
White said he offered her three fights toward the end of 2016 and that each time, Justino turned the bout down, saying she needed more time to safely reach the 145-pound featherweight limit.
Then, just before Christmas, Justino was notified by USADA of a potential anti-doping violation. Justino, though, said he was taking a medication prescribed for her doctor and retroactively applied for a therapeutic use exemption.
USADA last month granted Justino the TUE and she was cleared of a violation.
Her decision to surrender the Invicta belt and pursue the UFC title is welcome news for White and the UFC, who have been on the lookout for stars. Justino is hugely popular among the MMA fan base who have seen her rack up one-sided knockout after one-sided knockout.
De Randamie said after the victory over Holm that she injured her hand and will require surgery. There is no indication when she’ll be ready to compete again.
The real problem for the UFC will be making matches for her. There aren’t many qualified female featherweights and Justino has dominated the best of the best.
Justino is 17-1 with one no contest and is 2-0 in the UFC after catchweight victories at 140 pounds over Leslie Smith and Lina Lansberg.
Megan Anderson, who had been Invicta’s interim champion, will now become the full champion.