In the final PPV event of 2017, Cris Cyborg defended her featherweight strap in an epic distance contest against “The Preacher’s Daughter” Holly Holm. The fight demonstrated her tactical ability, showed her tremendous gas tank, and reinforced the notion that she hits like a truck. A big truck. With a wolf howling at the moon pained onto the side paneling.
Her victory leaves one question. Where does the most dominant force in WMMA go from here, and who does she face next? Technically that’s two questions hiding in one, but let’s not get off track. With the Ronda Rousey era of women’s combat sports having well and truly been crushed into dust, head-kick connoisseur Holly Holm was seen as the last true threat to Cyborg’s reign of domination. And sticking with that tangent for just a mo, what a reign it’s been. A decade undefeated, a decade of walking upon the skulls of her vanquished foes. What mighty valkyrie will now seize her courage and step into the path of pain and facial swelling in the pursuit of glory?
Option one: Megan Anderson
Two such opponents spring immediately to mind. Let’s begin with Invicta featherweight champ, Megan Anderson. For a start, these two were slated to fight at UFC 214 in July 2017, until Anderson mysteriously withdrew, citing personal reasons. Cyborg, however, has not forgotten, saying she is most interested in a fight with the Australian in her native country, as her next outing.
Anderson is big and rangy; standing at 6’0”, she trumps Cyborg in height and reach by a considerable margin. And unlike many of Cyborg’s recent opponents, she isn’t jumping up a weight class to compete. As Anderson herself said, she’s a “legit featherweight.” And with that extra poundage, she comes readymade with huge punching power. Couple that with the kind of ferocious confidence only found in the young and headstrong, she has all the qualities needed to offer a true challenge.
As we saw in the Holm fight, Cyborg’s bell was rung several times, proving that she is human after all. Mostly. So should Anderson manage to land plum strikes right on the button, how will her opponent’s chin hold up? Added to that, Anderson will be able to avoid the pocket and pick her shots at distance, knowing that Cyborg will need to close the gap to land offense of her own. As the saying goes, a jab a day keeps the monster away.
However, Anderson is a fledgling in the sport, with just ten fights under her belt, and four years pro experience. Despite the non-stop aggression she has shown in the past, she is still at a very early stage in her development, and this potential meeting would represent a giant step up in competition for the young Australian. Too much so? Well not if she won, obviously. It’s a tall order, regardless of her apparent advantages. Will she wilt when faced with Cyborg’s unrelenting pressure and ironclad composure, or will she rise to the occasion and pull off a massive upset?
Option two: Amanda Nunes
The other obvious choice is UFC women’s bantamweight queen and fellow Brazilian, Amanda Nunes. Like Anderson, she’s a champion, and also like Anderson, she’s a big’un. She uses her natural reach to great effect, and has a pair of heavy hands to match, as we saw in the twin demolitions of Miesha Tate and Ronda Rousey. Nunes herself has expressed interest in a potential matchup, now that she’s firmly established atop the 135lbs ladder. And really, who is there left for her to fight, aside from Raquel Pennington who, incidentally, can’t stop injuring herself? Nunes has a chip on her shoulder and she’s hungry for the type of recognition and greatness that former bantamweight title holders once held. A win over Cyborg would certainly give her that, as well as the unique distinction of being the UFC’s first female two division champion.
Cyborg’s reticence for the fight aside, how would Nunes fare, should they come to blows? For a start she has far more fight experience than somebody like Anderson, and she’s come a long way in the past few years thanks mainly to her move to American Top Team. She’s faster, she uses her range to greater effect, and perhaps most significantly, she’s vastly improved her cardio, as evidenced by her five-round nail-biter against Valentina Shevchenko. Add all of that to her natural Brazilian aggression, we could be looking at a fight for the ages. On paper these two are fairly even, and as two fierce alpha-females with the pride of a fighting nation behind them, we know neither will back down unless one of them falls down.
Though there have been many women down the years voicing their interest in the mythical idea of beating Cyborg, few wish to attempt the actual bit in between, and for good reason. If not Anderson or Nunes, we may see a line-up of lesser contenders whose careers would benefit from riding the Cyborg hype train, rather than any serious threats to her crown. Just so many lambs to the slaughter, in other words. Perhaps the next stage in her career might go down the boxing route, as Cyborg herself has hinted. Whatever happens, she’ll likely be keeping her throne warm for a long time to come.