Ok, I’ll admit that title was my first foray into the art of click bait. Though in fairness that is essentially what happened. To all but the hardcore MMA fans, the Name Germaine de Randamie (GDR) likely means very little, if anything at all. For the unaware GDR was the inaugural UFC Women’s Featherweight Champion who’s stranglehold on the division lasted for an unprecedented 4 months. As you read that sentence you were probably expecting her to have held the belt for longer that just a few months, and now you may be telling yourself that the adjectives I chose were inaccurate and chosen expressly for humor. That is not the case. Though short title reigns are not terribly uncommon in the UFC (the current record for consecutive heavyweight title defenses is two), GDR’s reign was unprecedented in every sense of the word, and though it was brief, she absolutely had a stranglehold on the UFC’s newest division.
On February 11, 2017, GDR faced former UFC Bantamweight Champion, Holly Holm (aka the woman who took Ronda Rousey’s soul) in the first Women’s Featherweight fight in the history of the UFC. At the conclusion of five rounds, the judges rendered a decision of 48-47 awarding GDR the belt. However this bout was not without controversy; at the end of the second and third rounds, GDR continued to throw punches at Holm after the horn had sounded. One of these punches ostensibly rocked Holm and likely affected her performance in the championship rounds. As unsportsmanlike as that may seem, the real controversy stemmed from the referee who refused to penalize GDR beyond a verbal warning, an action that drew criticism from UFC President Dana White. If the referee had deducted a point (I believe he should have), the fight would have been a draw and I’d have no reason to write this article. But it happened. And here we are.
So, GDR won a belt controversially, so what? It happens. While true, things get more complicated with the addition of Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino. Cyborg has long been considered the most dominant female MMA fighter in history by dedicated followers of the sport. Cyborg has only one loss in her MMA debut and has knocked out all but two of her next 18 opponents. There are two main reasons why this dominance has not translated into mainstream success: primarily because her name is not Ronda Rousey, and secondarily because until this year the UFC never had a Women’s Featherweight division. Both of Cyborg’s fights in the UFC were at a catchweight of 140 pounds. But that’s all changed now. The UFC introduced a 145-pound division and Cyborg will have the opportunity to acquire 12 pounds of UFC gold on July 29, but her opponent won’t be GDR.
Why won’t she be facing GDR? It’s pretty simple, GDR straight up refused to fight her. The issue for GDR and her camp is that Cyborg has been caught with banned substances in her system twice. Once for the anabolic steroid stanozolol and once for a banned diuretic, though the US Anti Doping Agency ultimately granted her a Therapeutic Use Exemption for the diuretic (a highly questionable action to many).
GDR’s manager felt so strongly about this that he was actually quoted as saying:
[Because Cyborg is a proven cheater], Germaine and her team don't believe that Cyborg should be allowed to compete in the UFC at all. If that is the only fight the UFC wants, then Germaine is willing to wait and see if the UFC will strip her belt before making her next move.
Well guess what? Sometimes when you play with fire, you get burnt. This is what makes her reign so unprecedented. Though briefly, she halted all progress in the division because of her refusal to fight the consensus #1 contender. For this reason, the UFC stripped her of her title, something they’ve never done to such a young champion. The UFC justified their actions with the following statement, “UFC maintains that any champion is expected to accept fights against the top contenders in their respective weight classes in order to maintain the integrity of the sport.” If you read my last article about the Mayweather/McGregor fight (if you didn’t, do yourself a favor: http://prettygoodsports.com/index.php?id=250), you may recall me saying that I never hold back in criticizing the UFC brass. Well, this would be one of those times.
First off, I have no problem with them stripping GDR’s title. If my boss told me to do something and I refused, I would face disciplinary action as well. What I take exception to is that the UFC is claiming that they did it to “maintain the integrity of the sport.” This is the same organization that let a former male 145-pound champion fight the same opponent twice at 170 before allowing him to fight for the 155-pound belt before finally stripping him. It took the UFC nearly a year to strip that fighter, so what did GDR do wrong? Simply put, her name isn’t Conor McGregor. Conor held up the featherweight division for almost a year chasing freakshow fights, and now he’s holding up the lightweight division (arguably the deepest division in the UFC) to fight Floyd Mayweather. So why does Conor get away with it? Because his last 4 fights each sold over 1.2 million PPVs, and he’s about to make Dana White a metric shit ton of money fighting Mayweather.
It’s not surprising that the company superstar gets a little more leash, but then we have the case of Middleweight Champion Michael “The Count” Bisping. Bisping is a true journeyman (UFC debut was in 2006) and absolutely deserves the middleweight belt after knocking out Luke Rockhold on two weeks notice. The 185-pound division has an absolute murderer’s row sitting at the top, but none have faced Bisping. In Bisping’s lone title defense he squared off in a rematch against Dan Henderson who had gone 3-6 in his last 9 fights. The UFC’s rationale was that the two had a memorable clash at UFC 100 (their most successful PPV to date) and it was the fight the fans wanted to see. What happened next was even more incredulous; the UFC announced the long awaited return of former Welterweight Champion Georges St. Pierre (GSP) but he would not be returning to the division he left. GSP was scheduled to fight Bisping at 185.
At the time of this article, the GSP fight has fallen apart for a number of reasons, and Bisping is recovering from surgery while the middleweight division sits in a standstill. Both of these events have occurred within the past year, yet the UFC wants to claim they stripped GDR to maintain the sport’s integrity. Either MMA is a sport, or it’s entertainment. The UFC brass is clearly treating it like entertainment where the rankings don’t matter while claiming they’re organizing legitimate sporting contests where fights are made based on merit. The sport will struggle to gain mainstream legitimacy until the UFC stops straddling the fence. I’m a fan of the McGregor/Mayweather fight. I think it can bring a lot of fans to MMA. But in every other professional sport league, championship matches are chosen by merit. Imagine a world where the Cowboys got to play to Patriots in Super Bowl 51 (go team meteor!) despite losing to Green Bay because “it’s what the fans wanted to see.” I’m pretty sure there would be riots. As I said, I don’t have a problem with the UFC relieving GDR of her belt, but if we don’t start to see some consistency with the way the UFC handles their champions, MMA is going to struggle to gain legitimacy to the casual viewer.