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UFC "Actively Exploring" Letting Cris Cyborg in … Finally

If it does, the golden age of WMMA can truly begin.

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Don't look now but two of MMA's greatest mirages have started to materialize into something like realities this week.

On Tuesday we reported that after nearly 20 long years of fruitless hoping and repeated, predictable disappointment, the legalization of mixed martial arts in New York State finally looks like it's going to happen. And as they say at Passover seder, such news would have been enough. But last night MMAFighting's Ariel Helwani raised the stakes on suddenly-possible impossibilities, reporting on UFC Tonight that the UFC is "actively exploring' the possibility of having Cris "Cyborg" Justino, the mythic terror and great white whale of women's MMA, make her long-anticipated move into the UFC. Now all we need is the establishment of day-of weigh-ins, the rebirth of "Shogun" Rua, and the return of GSP and we'll have nothing left to hope for.


The Cyborg announcement comes after a long campaign by the current Invicta featherweight champion to lobby for a spot on the card at UFC 198 on May 14. Though Cyborg has been going back and forth with the UFC for years, squabbling over weight cuts and title shots, the fact that 198 will take place in Cyborg's hometown of Curitiba, Brazil (the first time the UFC has been to that legendary fighting town), meant for Cyborg it was time to put all reservations, qualifications, and lingering bitterness aside and go all out to convince the executives at UFC parent company Zuffa (who also own Invicta and therefore Cyborg's contract) to put aside past differences and let her in.

"This May the UFC will be promoting an event in my hometown of Curitiba, Brazil, a city very rich in fight history," Cyborg wrote recently on her Web site. "It would be an honor to return back to the city I was born in, and to step inside of the Octagon with an opportunity to prove myself as one of the best female fighters in the sport."

The fact that the UFC is even considering Cyborg's request represents a great warming after years of icy pseudo-negotiations and character attacks, and probably also a recognition that for the largest MMA organization to continue to allow the first golden age of women's MMA to unfold without the involvement of arguably the greatest female MMA fighter of all time would be looked back upon as an enormous missed opportunity and an epic shirking of promotional duties. Despite the fact that the UFC doesn't have a 145-pound weight class and that Cyborg has repeatedly refused to drop down to 135 citing her health, the fact that current UFC champion Miesha Tate and former champions Ronda Rousey (Cyborg's own Holy Grail) and Holly Holm have never had to fight Cyborg means their career records have, and will continue to have, giant asterisks next to them.

The same, of course, goes, for Cyborg, who at age 30, must be looking at her career, most of which has been spent murdering women who had no business fighting her in small promotions while watching other women—women talented enough to challenge her—get rich in the world's biggest promotion, and asking herself: What's it all about? In the end, when looking at the substance of your life, it must be ultimately unsatisfying to realize you spent yours as a professional boogeyman, a mythic monster lingering on the edges of the fight world's imagination but never being allowed in to test others or yourself in the cold light of reality.

Maybe Cyborg and the UFC have started to think about their legacies.

So, if you're the UFC, what do you do? What does it mean to "actively explore" the possibility of bringing a great fighter into your organization who has refused to drop enough weight to fight in one of your available weight classes? Cyborg's meaningless reign of terror in Invicta has already proven that, outside of Marloes Coenen (who Cyborg has already beaten twice), there are no women in the 145-pound weight class worth bringing into the UFC, much less attempting to promote as reasonable opponents for Cyborg's first fight in the promotion. Invicta has spent years tying itself in knots trying to convince the world that the women they've been putting up against Cyborg have had a chance, and they've fooled exactly no one.

No, the only thing for the UFC to do—for the sport, for women's MMA, and for the sake of truly capturing and creating a moment—is to forget about the first lesson of fight promotion (that belts sell fights) and create a murky kind of free-for-all at the top of women's MMA. Both Tate and Holm have expressed interest in fighting Cyborg at a catchweight between 135 and 145, so let them do that, and let Cyborg exist in a liminal state all her own, Cyborg-weight, if you will. Sure, she'll never fight for a championship or wear another belt around her waist, but the chance to at long last shake off people's doubts about the validity of your fighters' claims to dominance and clear away all asterisks from all records and to truly cultivate a space where the best women (over 135 pounds) are all truly fighting in this, the first great era of women's MMA, should far outweigh any concerns the UFC has about who holds this title or that. A belt is just a bit of gold around your waist, destined to fade. The chance to create a true renaissance moment, and a chance to fight as part of that renaissance, is something more substantial.