Did Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino improve her stock in defeat? | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
It was a sight mixed martial arts fans were not accustomed to seeing.
Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino, usually the biggest, baddest woman in the cage, was, as AXS-TV commentator Pat Miletich so eloquently put it, “getting her ass handed to her” by Jorina Baars in the opening round of their muay Thai clash on Friday in Las Vegas.
Why was it so shocking that “Cyborg” would be on the business end of a beating in a sport where she had just two bout’s experience prior to facing Baars? Consider her recent history.
In her last mixed martial arts bout, “Cyborg” sadistically pummeled the ultra-tenacious Marloes Coenen at Invicta Fighting Championships 6 in July. It was so lopsided that it was painful to watch -- and that was against an opponent who was a former Strikeforce champion and one of the toughest women in the world.
“Cyborg” did not finish Coenen until the fourth round, although it appeared that the Brazilian enjoyed doling out the punishment when she could have earned a stoppage much earlier. The ever-resilient Coenen absorbed heavy punches and was slammed to the mat repeatedly. After a while, Coenen had to be questioning what in the world she was doing fighting such a monster; at least that is what her expression seemed to say. Most anyone who faces Justino in the MMA realm knows the feeling. Heck, “Cyborg” probably deserves at least partial credit for convincing Gina Carano to take up acting fulltime after their August 2009 Strikeforce bout.
That is why it was almost surreal to see the muscular Brazilian dropped twice -- once by a front kick to the face and later by a head kick -- in the opening round of her Lion Fight welterweight title tilt against Baars. Never mind that it was an entirely different sport; “Cyborg” is usually the one delivering the punishment, and many MMA fans who tuned in to watch probably expected more of the same.
It did get better for “Cyborg.” The Chute Boxe product demonstrated plenty of resolve and grit as the five-round fight progressed. She never wavered from her bullying style of pressuring forward with wide power punches. What made this night different was the fact that Baars took the Brazilian’s best shots and responded with a more diverse attack that included jabs and a variety of kicks and knees.
On several occasions, “Cyborg” was able to muscle her opponent to the canvas from the clinch. In MMA, a fearsome barrage of ground-and-pound would almost certainly have ensued. In muay Thai, the two fighters were stood up. Advantage Baars.
“She’d [Cyborg] love for this to be an MMA fight, but hey, she’s doing pretty dang good for her third pro muay Thai fight against the world’s best,” Miletich said.
“Cyborg” went on to lose a unanimous decision, but Miletich’s words still rang true. The first round was the Brazilian’s worst, but she became more competitive in later rounds. With more muay Thai experience, who knows how far “Cyborg” might go?
Those with no prior knowledge of Baars might believe that Justino’s loss diminishes her chances to eventually set up a dream showdown in the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s Octagon with women’s bantamweight titleholder Ronda Rousey. In reality, her ability to hang with an opponent who had 36 more muay Thai fights on her record should only raise her stock.
Justino’s greatest obstacles to a UFC date with Rousey will be her ability to make weight and the Las Vegas-based promotion’s willingness to risk one of its biggest stars potentially ending up like Carano. A loss against a seasoned adversary in another sport should have no bearing on negotiations. After all, who else in the UFC’s women’s bantamweight division would have fared better in the same situation?
Rousey might make headlines for talking about Floyd Mayweather Jr., but you can rest assured that she will not be competing in a sanctioned boxing match anytime soon, if ever. If anything, Justino’s showing against Baars, who is now 36-0-3, should probably give future MMA opponents even more pause when they think about signing on the dotted line to face the reigning Invicta featherweight champion.
“Cyborg” has set a busy itinerary for the remainder of the year. If all goes as planned she will compete twice for Invicta and once more for Lion Fight before fall arrives. She will do all of that while gradually trying to make the cut to bantamweight.
As it stands, Rousey-“Cyborg” is still the biggest fight that can be made in women’s MMA. Pitting Carano against the champion would be more Hollywood spectacle than legitimate prizefight, and former boxing world champion Holly Holm has to agree to terms with the UFC and win a couple fights before she can seriously be considered a title contender. Other worthy challengers such as Cat Zingano and Alexis Davis simply do not spark the interest of the casual fan.
If UFC 170 was any indication, Rousey is not a guaranteed pay-per-view draw on her own, as her bout against under-promoted Olympic silver medalist Sara McMann was rumored to have done less than 350,000 buys. To appeal to the masses, the “Rowdy” one still needs a worthy foil (see Tate, Miesha), the support of a major headliner (Chris Weidman-Anderson Silva 2) on the same card, or both.
Rousey-“Cyborg” would seem to have plenty of drawing power as a standalone headliner. Do not be surprised, however, if the Brazilian’s recent crossover is used against her. The loss to Baars should not be a black mark on Justino’s MMA career. Considering that Baars is 1-3 as a mixed martial artist, it is probably safe to assume she would not have fared nearly as well as “Cyborg” if the roles were reversed.
One day we may look back at the idea of Rousey facing “Cyborg” as the Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao of women’s MMA: Lots of hype, lots of anticipation, lots of bickering, but in the end, nothing comes to fruition.
There are plenty of obstacles to overcome before the biggest fight in female MMA history can be made. Justino’s willingness to risk failure outside of her comfort zone should not be one of them.