Lefko on women’s MMA: Cyborg sighting

Cristiane (Cyborg) Santos has dominated most of the fighters she has faced.

The return of Cris (Cyborg) Santos to the cage this Friday in the Invicta Fighting Championships 5 card following a one-year suspension and a layoff of almost 16 months could be the start of something big in the evolving world of women’s mixed martial arts.

Prior to her suspension for testing positive for the anabolic steroid stanozolol (made infamous by Ben Johnson following his win in 100-metre dash in the 1988 Summer Olympics), Santos ruled women’s MMA.

Let’s just say she was the Ronda Rousey before anyone really knew about Rousey and how she would change the face of women’s MMA with her dynamic ability, confidence and marketing savvy.

Ten consecutive victories and two defences of the Strikeforce women’s featherweight championship once made Cyborg the most dominant performer in the women’s division. But her victory in only 16 seconds over Japan’s Hiroko Yamanaka on Dec. 17, 2011 and the subsequent ruling of a no-contest for her positive test proved changed all that.

The Brazilian went from warrior priestess to pariah, providing fact to all the innuendos that she had been juicing, even if she never tested positive.

Then again, you’re only a cheater when you’re caught.

Her ripped physique certainly created the impression that she did more than just invest hours and hours in the weight room to give her a masculine look.

Her public service announcement with a video that talked about the evils of steroid use may have been nothing more than an attempt to have her sentence commuted by the California State Athletic Commission. If this was truly an admission of culpability and guilt it did not come across that cleanly or clearly in the video.

But she has paid the price for her sin.

She fights in the third-last of 13 bouts on the Invicta card headlined by an All-America atomweight title bout between champion Jessica Penne and Michelle Waterson. Santos fights Australian Fiona Muxlow, who took the fight on only two weeks’ notice because of a rib injury to Ediane Gomes. Muxlow has a record of 6-2-0.

The winner will move on to meet the Netherland’s Marloes Coenen for the Invicta featherweight title. Santos defended her Strikeforce featherweight belt against Coenen on a card on Jan. 30, 2010 with a technical knockout due to punches in the third round of their scheduled five-round fight. Coenen dropped a weight class to bantamweight after losing to Santos and won the championship by beating Sarah Kaufman, then defended it against Liz Carmouche. Coenen lost in her second defence of the title against Miesha Tate.

The significance of all of this is that Rousey defeated Carmouche, Kaufman and Tate in her last three fights when dropping down to the bantamweight level and inheriting the title of the best woman fighter in the world while Santos sat on the sidelines. Rousey has now become one of the rising stars of the UFC, which created a belt just for her prior to the final Strikeforce card.

A fight between Rousey and Santos surely has to happen at some point because it just makes sense. Rousey has proven she can headline a card and now the UFC, which once turned its back on women’s MMA because it didn’t have depth, is marketing her because she is bringing in new fans. Rousey will be one of the coaches for The Ultimate Fighter 18 edition, which will feature men and women for the first time. The opposing coach will be the winner of the fight between Tate and Cat Zingano, who is undefeated in seven fights, on April 13 on the TUF Season 17 finale.

A rematch of the historic Rousey/Tate fight would be interesting, if only because of the drama that went into it. Any doubt about Rousey’s ability was put to rest with her patented armbar submission of the accomplished wrestler in less than one full round.

A fight against Zingano would offer a new challenger against a similarly undefeated opponent.

But the fight that Rousey has been publicly seeking is against Cyborg because she was the dominant one before her. The fact Santos has steadfastly resisted Rousey’s overtures — or taunts — is because she claims she cannot drop the 10 pounds to fight at 135. She can fight in her preferred weight class and try to become a featherweight champion, albeit in a new promotion, one that didn’t exist when she last fought. This is another aspect of the growth of women’s MMA because Invicta only has ladies on its roster. It has also become a developmental promotion that the UFC has delved into for talent.

If Cyborg dominates her division the way she did before her suspension it will create the need for a match against Rousey. How that will ever happen when the two are at loggerheads over a disparity of 10 pounds may simply result in a catchweight bout, which would be the easiest solution of all.

Money will eventually talk.

Rousey can stir up controversy as good as any male counterpart, but in her case she has been able to back it up with everything she has done so far. She pushed her profile by refusing to stick to the status quo, which required a fighter to work up the ladder in a steady procession based on merit. Nowadays big fights aren’t necessarily about what is fair but what works best for business.

If Cyborg can be as dominant without testing positive — and surely she has learned her lesson — it could pave the way for a women’s equivalent of a super-fight.

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