Sometimes fight sports are defined as much by fights that never happened as those that did.
This is true of fights such as Georges St. Pierre vs. Anderson Silva, Randy Couture vs. Fedor Emelianenko and, our subject today, Ronda Rousey vs. Cris Cyborg.
The road to women being allowed to fight in the UFC was long and winding, with women establishing themselves as more than capable of high level MMA competition long before the Octagon door was opened to them.
But it was Ronda Rousey, with her charisma, good looks and brutal fighting style who finally brought the right recipe to the table, getting UFC President Dana White to sit up and take notice.
While Rousey was tearing through the competition in the UFC bantamweight division, becoming a household name and flirting with the idea of becoming a full-blown Hollywood star, Cris Cyborg was destroying featherweights in any promotion that would have her.
Cyborg won gold in Strikeforce and Invicta FC during a 20-fight win streak that saw her score 17 stoppage victories.
Still, seemingly every time Rousey was preparing for a fight or speaking with the media, the subject of Cyborg would come up.
In 2011 it seemed likely a still somewhat green Rousey and the seasoned Cyborg would meet, possibly in Strikeforce where both fought. The question was one of which division they’d compete in, with Cyborg insinuating she couldn’t make 135 pounds and Rousey possibly being undersized at 145 pounds.
Rousey seemed on board with the idea she “wasn’t ready” for Cyborg, but then things took an unfortunate turn.
The heavily muscled Cyborg tested positive for a steroid after her December 2011 win over Hiroko Yamanaka and was stripped of her title, suspended for a year and never competed in Strikeforce again. Cyborg claimed the steroid use was to help her make weight and not to add to her considerable strength.
In the time between the Yamanaka fight and Cyborg’s next bout, Rousey won the Strikeforce bantamweight title, successfully defended it and took part in the first ever women’s fight in the UFC.
Cyborg would return and fight in Invicta FC while Rousey continued quickly dispatching of UFC opponents. The two simply couldn’t avoid each other in conversations with the media. At this point, things began to turn nasty.
“I’ve said before, I don’t care if she’s injecting horse semen into her eyeballs, I’ll fight her, but that’s just my personal decision,” Rousey told Yahoo! Sports in 2014. “But I can’t make a decision for the whole division. I can’t say it’s the right thing. This girl has been on steroids for so long and [has been] injecting herself for so long that she’s not even a woman anymore. She’s an ‘it.’ It’s not good for the women’s division. It’s not good at all.
“If she comes in the UFC and I beat the [expletive] out of her and then I retire and become an action movie star, then the UFC is still going to be stuck with her. The division could die. She could ruin the whole sport. Even though it’s a fight a lot of people want to see, even if I beat the living crap out of her, it won’t be good for the sport because then she’d still be in the UFC.”
UFC President Dana White piled on Cyborg.
“It’s not that she’s beyond redemption,” White said. “She’s a nightmare in every way, shape or form to bring in as a professional athlete in an organization like this. At the end of the day, it’s not worth it in the big picture. It’s easy to sit there and go, ‘Oh, everybody wants to see that’. She’s a 45 pounder, Ronda’s a 35 pounder. She said she couldn’t make the weight. She’s got steroid issues. She’s got a lot of issues. That’s a lot to take on. But who knows? I’m not saying it could never be done.”
Cyborg thought White’s words were less about her and more about protecting Rousey, who she called a “paper champ.”
Rousey, however, was having none of it, saying, “The delay is all about money, not her weight,” Rousey said. “She made 145 pumped full of steroids. She can healthily make 135 without them.”
Cyborg responded to the constant back-and-forth between Rousey, White and herself on Facebook.
“”For the past five years this same Ronda Rousey and Dana White have used the media to bully me, opening the door for other opponents to try the same tactics,” Cyborg wrote. “Instead of talking about my fighting skills, they would rather use the media attention to say like I look like a man, or that I walk like Wanderlei Silva in a dress.”
Then, November 15, 2015 came and with it, Holly Holm’s devastating head kick knockout of Rousey.
The loss halted talk of a fight with Cyborg, who fought twice in the Octagon in 140-pound catchweight fights before Rousey returned and suffered another brutal knockout loss — this time to Amanda Nunes.
With that, the superfight was all but dead. Cyborg went on to win UFC featherweight gold, twice defending the belt before suffering her own knockout loss to Nunes. Rousey went to the world of sports entertainment, becoming a WWE superstar.
In 2017, Cyborg summed up the now-dead talk of a superfight in an interview on the MMA Hour.
“When I wanted to fight her, it was because she was at the top of her game and she had all of the confidence in the world,” Cyborg said. “She had not been KO’d twice in a row, and some people were actually saying she could beat Floyd Mayweather in a fight. I wanted the challenge so bad I almost killed myself trying to make the lowest weight possible just to give this fight to the fans, and she made every excuse for it not to happen.
“Both of us are now at different chapters in our careers, and for me that chapter is finished.”