On Monday, March 28th, the UFC announced that Cris “Cyborg” Justino (15-1-1) will be making her debut inside the octagon at UFC 198. The event is happening in Brazil, and she will be facing Leslie Smith (8-6-1) at a catchweight of 140lbs.
There are 3 main pieces of information that you need to know about this announcement:
- This is a one-off. Cyborg is fighting at a catchweight and this is not signifying the start of a UFC women’s featherweight division. Shannon Knapp has confirmed that Cyborg will not be vacating her Invicta FC title belt.
- Cyborg has been a Zuffa employee since they acquired Strikeforce in 2011. Even though she has only previously fought in Invicta FC, the UFC holds her contract and is the one that pays her every time she fights. So this is not a new venture for them financially.
- This event is taking place in Cyborg’s hometown of Curitiba, Brazil. This is the reason she’s on the card. There are no other reasons.
Now as far as the matchup, The UFC brass claim that Leslie Smith was the fighter most enthusiastic about taking this fight. They did not list all of the bantamweights that turned it down, but said that the number was in the double digits. Also, that new champ Miesha Tate was not offered the fight at this time.
Leslie Smith has confirmed this saying that this is the biggest non-title women’s fight ever and the biggest opportunity of her career.
Cat Zingano in the meantime is disputing Dana White’s claims that Leslie was the “only” one that wanted the fight.
So past all this drama, what do we have here? We have one of the most traveled, game fighters in MMA stepping up in weight to take on the most dominant female fighter in the history of the sport.
This reads like a squash match and leaves many of us shaking our heads. It’s odd. It’s an odd matchup. I’m not going to sit here and try to sell you some bullshit. It’s weird.
I was a big advocate of Leslie Smith entering the UFC. Her performances inside the octagon so far have been varied. She fell flat in her last minute debut against Kaufman. She looked like a total striking stud against Duke. She was willing to get her ear taken clean off against Jessica Eye. And we saw a brand new, very measured patient performance against Rin Nakai.
I actually saw a bit of backlash against that performance. It wasn’t the same honey-badger-don’t-give-a-shit sprawl and brawl performance we have seen from her in the past. But it was a calculated, decisive win that she needed.
But, the backlash I saw indicated that they thought she was a terrible fighter. This person believed she was never going to be in title contention, and the UFC should just drop her. This is where I got annoyed. You don’t like her performance? Whatever. Everyone’s got opinions. But why does every fighter on the roster have to be in title contention?
Nate Diaz said it best when he recently stated that he believed the title belt was a fairytale. Truer words have never been spoken. I know we all embrace the story lines and sense of righteousness that is perpetuated by ranking systems and shiny championship belts. But its all a myth.
Just like how we all just nod our heads when the UFC says they have the “best athlete’s in the world!” We all know the asterisks that comes with this statement is “the best fighters that are willing to work for you.”
If the McGregor vs Diaz fight didn’t get it across, this matchup proves my whole damn point.
Sometimes you have a fight void of rankings and championships, and you need fighters that are willing to go in there and throw down. Leslie Smith is that fighter, and that’s why they need her on the roster.
And who knows? Maybe she’ll surprise us all and take out Cyborg. Maybe she’ll shoot up the bantamweight rankings. Maybe it’ll put her in title contention by the end of year. But who cares?
This is a huge opportunity for both fighters. Cyborg’s going to be crazy stoked to be fighting in her hometown in the UFC. Leslie is going to be ecstatic and well prepared to test herself against the best in the world.
So, yes. My initial reaction was full of confusion, and it still is to some extent because we don’t really know what happened behind the curtain. But do I think this is a big conspiracy in favor of Cyborg? No. Do I think Leslie Smith is just a sacrificial lamb? Not really. In the words of Nate Diaz, “this fight is a fight.”
I’m on board. It’s weird, but I’m on board.
UFC 198 takes place on May 14, 2016 in Curitiba, Brazil. Cris Cyborg vs Leslie Smith is scheduled for the main card PPV starting at 10pm ET / 7pm PT.