Cris Cyborg faces difficult decision as the aging fighter looks to test free agency

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist

Timing is everything in life, and Cris Cyborg’s free agency hasn’t come at the most opportune time.

Oh, have no doubt, she’ll get offers from every major promoter and even from some not-so-major ones. No matter where she ultimately signs, though, the signs point to a less-than-perfect situation.

It’s sad, because she’s one of the greatest fighters in the history of mixed martial arts, male or female, but hasn’t gotten the respect, recognition or support that other female stars, like Gina Carano and Ronda Rousey, in particular, have received.

The pool of potential opponents is small, and the UFC’s women’s featherweight division could all fit at the same dinner table with an open chair or two.

The best, and most lucrative, fight on the horizon for her is a rematch with UFC bantamweight/featherweight champion Amanda Nunes, but there is no other bout out there with any organization that would create anywhere near that kind of buzz.

The PFL’s Kayla Harrison, 29, fights at 155 pounds and is the one physically gifted opponent who has the size to compete with Cyborg. But she’s clearly not ready for Cyborg at this point, and one has to remember that Cyborg just turned 34.

She’s hardly over the hill, but there are those subtle signs out there that she’s no longer the dominant force she once used to be. She dominated Felicia Spencer, but imagine if it was the Cyborg of three or four years ago who hit Spencer with some of those punches.

It’s fair to say Spencer wouldn’t have finished the fight on her feet, as she did on Saturday.

Cris Cyborg prepares to fight Felicia Spencer in their featherweight bout during UFC 240 at Rogers Place on July 27, 2019, in Edmonton, Alberta. (Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Though Cyborg has a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, she’s largely a striker and has relied on overwhelming power to win her fights. She still has plenty of power, but she’s like that fireballing pitcher whose fastball once averaged 98 and topped out at 101 who is now averaging 94 and topping out at 96. It’s still enough to get the job done, for sure, but it’s not far and away in a league of its own anymore.

The UFC has a 90-day exclusive negotiating window with Cyborg, so no other talks will commence with other promoters until late October (theoretically, at least). If she goes to Bellator, they have more featherweights than the UFC, but there is no fight there that is a must-see bout.

Her purse for her bout with Spencer was not released by the commission in Edmonton, but in her four previous bouts, she made $500,000 a bout to fight Nunes, Yana Kunitskaya and Holly Holm, and $200,000 to fight Tonya Evinger. In addition, she earned a piece of the pay-per-view for the Nunes, Kunitskaya and Holm fights.

Bellator’s history has not been to pay that kind of money, and it’s unlikely it would change this time with A) an aging fighter and B) a lack of a marquee opponent to put into the cage against her.

She could sign some sort of contract that allows her to fight in both Bellator and Rizin, allowing her to be more active and potentially add to her earnings.

It’s almost certain that she’ll wind up with the UFC if she goes for the most money. A rematch with Nunes would start it off, and if she won, a rubber match could follow. Those would be lucrative bouts and allow time for other opponents to develop.

But she’s got personal issues with UFC president Dana White, from the time in 2014 when White claimed she looked like “Wanderlei Silva in a dress.” That was far from White’s finest hour, but it was also five years ago.

In a video she made for her YouTube channel, she confronts White after UFC 240 and urges him to quit lying about her not wanting the rematch with Nunes. White responds by saying he wants to make the rematch, but that there may be things that happened between her management and UFC that she’s not aware of.

If she’s so bitter at White that she can’t see herself staying with the UFC, that opens things. Bellator president Scott Coker posted a photo of himself and Cyborg on Twitter after her win over Spencer, congratulating her. That was a not-so-subtle sign of interest.

Her reputation developed under Coker, though there was never another huge fight after her 2009 first-round KO of Carano.

She’ll have a tough choice to make in the coming months. Only she knows what is important to her. She knows better than anyone how much she feels she has left, and how much longer she wants to continue to fight.

She’s competed for more than 14 years and has pushed her body hard, cutting so much weight so regularly.

However it works out, though, it’s probably not going to wind up with her earning riches and landing the gig of her dreams. At 34 and with a shortage of quality featherweights, it’s hardly realistic to expect that.

Because of the wear and tear this sport puts on their bodies, fighters only have a small amount of time to cash in. It seems that if Cyborg’s window hasn’t closed, it’s at least slowly starting to shut.

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