Cyborg vs. Nunes – The superfight women’s MMA has been waiting for
What is a super fight?
There has never been a sure definition.
To some it’s champion vs. champion. Different weight classes, promotions, or governing bodies coming together to determine whose fighter is the best.
Others argue that it’s only a super fight when both competitors have cleared out their divisions. The unstoppable force vs. the immovable object paradox played out in real-time.
Then there are those happy to throw the promotional buzzword around whenever two prominent superstars come together.
On Saturday night in Inglewood, California — a last-minute venue for an all-time fight — Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino puts her UFC featherweight championship on the line against Brazilian compatriot Amanda Nunes.
The resumes of both women are outstanding. Cyborg has not been defeated since her professional debut over 13 years ago.
Nunes took longer to find her flow, but has consistently fought a greater level of competition and boasts destructive wins over the two biggest names in the history of her division, Miesha Tate and Ronda Rousey.
By any definition, this is a super fight.
After 20 long years, some near misses, and a false pretender or two, it has been a long time coming for women’s MMA.
In Search of a True Women’s Superfight
When Jennifer Howe was crushing opponent after opponent — 12 in a row to be exact — in the early 2000s, there were no superstars to oppose.
Howe defeated Amanda Buckner and Tara Larosa in 2003 when they were 2-0 and 3-0 respectively. Neither’s time on the pound-for-pound list had come yet.
While fights were tough to come by in the United States in the early 2000s, leaving Howe with no equal until it was too late, the Japanese scene was growing at pace.
Homegrown talent began dominating global ranking lists. None more so than Yuka Tsuji and Megumi Fujii, who became the standard bearers for women’s MMA in the 2000s.
Tsuji’s body of work included a 2002 Smackgirl tournament win, five successful Smackgirl lightweight title defences, and a Valkyrie featherweight title. From 2001 to 2009 the Vale Tudo Queen compiled a 22-1 record.
Fujii debuted later than Tsuji, but quickly made a name for herself as one of the best fighters in the world.
An early win over Ana Michelle Tavares, who was the only fighter to defeat Tsuji at that point, earmarked “Mega Megu” as a top talent. A 22-fight win streak solidified her position as the number one.
The undersized Satoko Shinashi, and ever-improving Miku Matsumoto — who sadly retired at the top of her game at only 28-years-old — were right there with them too.
Disappointingly, none of the four ever fought each other in anything more than an exhibition bout, but it was the potential match between Tsuji and Fujii that fans wanted more than any other.
Yet the bout never came to fruition, likely because both fighters were easily promotable without each other.
That has long been a sticking point for putting super fights together. Somebody has to take a loss. It’s not always the fighters that are concerned by that prospect. Promoters aren’t keen for their top stars to take those either.
Scott Coker held no such fear in 2009 when he booked women’s MMA poster girl Gina Carano vs. Cris Cyborg.
The two met for the inaugural Strikeforce featherweight championship at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, California on August 15, 2009. Their fight headlined the event and drew a reported gate of $736k.
It was Cyborg who won a brief but enthralling contest. Carano meanwhile, left the sport never to return.
Then came Ronda Rousey. With her level of 135 pound dominance and a string of unbelievably quick finishes, she bought with her talk of another super fight against the woman who had sent Carano off to Hollywood.
The fight would have been not only the biggest women’s MMA fight of all time, but one of the biggest fights in MMA history, period.
Like their Japanese counterparts Fujii and Tsuji, Rousey and Cyborg were tragically kept apart.
UFC President Dana White will tell you they did everything they could to make the fight a reality. They even signed Cyborg to a Zuffa contract and loaned her out to Invicta while Rousey’s star was burning brighter with each passing day.
Yet the hoops Cyborg was asked to jump through to make the fight happen — primarily an irresponsibly dangerous weight cut — suggest they never really believed the fight would be made. At the very least, they were making sure the deck was as heavily stacked in favour of their marquee star as possible.
There is also no real evidence that Rousey ever wanted the fight. After debuting in Strikeforce at 145 pounds, Rousey quickly left the division, choosing a drastic weight cut and a bantamweight title shot against Miesha Tate instead.
Even once Rousey had run out of competition at 135 pounds, she made no attempt to become a two weight world champion by facing the Brazilian.
Instead we got Bethe Correia, and then, a relative MMA novice and +800 underdog Holly Holm. The latter would be Rousey’s final title defence, losing via TKO in the second round.
By the time Amanda Nunes followed that up with an even more one-sided battering of the now former champion, Rousey decided MMA was no longer for her and embarked on a new career as a pro wrestler.
Unlike Rousey, Nunes has fought for the opportunity to become a two-weight world champion. She would be the first female to do so in UFC history.
Though to suggest that this was all down to competitive mentality would be disingenuous. As the much bigger star, Rousey never needed Cyborg financially. Rousey’s obsessive fanbase had also bought into the UFC narrative so heavily they believed it would be a walkover anyway.
That is not the case for Nunes who sadly is unable to draw a dime on pay-per-view as an A-side, and who has no notable challengers left at bantamweight to carry the financial slack. Number one contender Ketlen Vieira is an anti-commodity at this point.
Yet this still feels less like a business venture, and more like the building of a legacy on both sides. Both fighters are fearless warriors who understand what they can achieve opposing each other.
Two great champions with all-time best credentials. Both have run out of competition in their respective divisions. Both have never faced a better opponent than the one they will face on Saturday night.
The winner will be, without any need for questioning or debate, the greatest of all time.
So again, what is a super fight?
It’s Cris Cyborg vs Amanda Nunes.