Can Cris Cyborg Put Women’s MMA On Her Back?

    When Max Holloway sustained an injury that would ultimately scrap his bout against Frankie Edgar this weekend at UFC 222, UFC women’s featherweight champion Cris Cyborg stepped in to replace the main event. Having just defeated Holly Holm in late December, Cyborg is wasting no time defending her belt.

    However for this match, the UFC is bringing in a neophyte from MMA feeder organization Invicta FC. Yana Kunitskaya is a former Invicta bantamweight champion that is making her first Octagon experience a tough one. 

    With extensive training in Russian Taekwando and Muay Thai, Kunitskaya could possibly keep Cyborg’s paws off of her due to the constant tag-and-not-get-tagged culture of Taekwondo. However, this is Cyborg, and putting the paws on opponents is what she does. 

    UFC 222: Cyborg vs Kunitskaya – Jimmy Smith Preview

    Jimmy Smith previews (C) Cris Cyborg vs Yana Kunitskaya for the featherweight championship at UFC 222 this Saturday only on Pay-Per-View. Subscribe to get all the latest UFC content: http://bit.ly/2uJRzRR Experience UFC live with UFC FIGHT PASS, the digital subscription service of the UFC.

    Cyborg has never been known for her sales pitch, just her KO power. That in itself should be enough for the undeniably most feared and dangerous MMA fighter in the women’s pound-for-pound ranks. But with Ronda Rousey now totally gone from the MMA stage after her recent signing to WWE, and giant-killer Holly Holm having been beaten by Cyborg, she stands virtually alone in the women’s star pool.

    When Cyborg vs. Holm was chosen as the end of year pay-per-view fight last year from the UFC, it was a monumental moment for women’s MMA. There was once a time when UFC President Dana White said that he couldn’t envision women ever being in the Octagon, and now he has a legacy of fallen stars that he has to replace. 

    Remember Gina Carano? After Cyborg defeated her for the Elite XC promotion live on CBS, she went into a movie career and sports obscurity. 

    UFC 222 Free Fight: Cris Cyborg vs Holly Holm

    Cris Cyborg closed out 2017 with her most impressive victory to date when she took down former bantamweight champion Holly Holm. Don’t miss Cyborg take on Yana Kunitskaya for the featherweight belt in the main event of UFC 222, live on Pay-Per-View.

    Now there is a lot of talent, but none with the same name recognition. MMA typically has had an age turnover problem due to the intense training lifestyle, with very little to no reward for years. You have your Randy Couture’s and Dan Henderson’s that fight as long as possible for fun, but the majority of the women fighters today are just getting the opportunity to get paid and are either aging out or still on the come up. 

    It makes you cherish the rivalry build-up between Miesha Tate and Rousey from Strikeforce all the way to the UFC.

    Arguably, UFC women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes is a marketable star due to her consistent domination. But absent the All-American girl look of Paige Van Zant or Tate, chances are you won’t be on the cover of publications like Rousey was.            

    Recently, former women’s boxing champion Ana “Hurricane” Julaton faced fellow boxing champion Heather “The Heat” Hardy in Bellator MMA. The result was Hardy with a unanimous decision victory. But they set a new precedent when their promoters also inked a boxing match between the two. 

    In the post-Mayweather vs. McGregor world, the goal for all combat athletes is to keep your options open with some switch-hitting in a different sport. Cyborg herself has in fact been training with women’s boxing champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist Claressa Shields.

    Whether Cyborg can or cannot be the catalyst for the continued evolution of the fight fan’s obsession with women’s MMA is still to be seen. However, with a ferocious style made for the ring, her options will be as wide open as the UFC’s.

    Rhett Butler is a Boxing Writer Association of America Journalist, Play-By-Play Commentator, Combat Sports Insider, and Former Mixed Martial Arts and Boxing Promoter. The New York City native honed his skills at various news outlets including but not limited to: TIME Magazine, Money Magazine, CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports, and more. RhettĀ hosts the PRITTY Left Hook podcast, a polarizing combat sports insider's take featuring the world's biggest names.