On Saturday, September 24, UFC Fight Night will be headlined by a Cris Cyborg bout, with the Invicta champion and UFC favorite taking on the relatively unknown challenger Lina Lansberg. It could be the biggest draw between now and UFC 204, and while it looks like a fairly straightforward fight for Cyborg, there's a lot of pressure on the Brazilian fighter to win, and do so emphatically.
That's because Cris Cyborg has a chance to become the face of female fighting in the UFC. It goes without saying that this unofficial title once belonged to Ronda Rousey (and in many people's eyes still does), but when Rousey was stunningly knocked out by Holly Holm, the women's side of UFC suddenly became something of a free-for-all. Rousey disappeared from the spotlight and has yet to return, and in her absence the other top female fighters have continued to struggle for superiority. It's not unlike what happens in women's tennis when Serena Williams is knocked out of a tournament—there are some other top contenders, but there's no telling who will seize the moment.
Holly Holm would have been a natural choice as the next dominant force in women's fighting after she dethroned Rousey. Many casual fans believed Rousey was so far ahead of her competition that anyone who defeated her would surely be unstoppable. However, Holm has struggled mightily since the Rousey fight, losing her title to Miesha Tate at UFC 196 and dropping her follow-up bout against Valentina Shevchenko as well. Holm's best shot at regaining a position near the top of UFC is if she winds up in a rematch with Rousey and manages to win a second time.
Tate herself is also in contention as UFC's leading female fighter. Though she entered her first fight against Rousey as a significant underdog and failed to beat Rousey in both of their contests, she always seems capable of taking down the top ranked fighters. She defeated Holm and briefly held the title after UFC 196, and she always seems to be popular with fans. However, her own quick loss to Amanda Nunes at UFC 200 probably kept her from being elevated to a higher place of prominence in the sport.
The "best" fighter in women's UFC, if there can be a definitive one, is probably Nunes at the moment. "The Lioness" hasn't lost since 2014, and is the current bantamweight title holder after her victory over Tate. She also defeated Shevchenko by unanimous decision, just a few months before Shevchenko beat Holm this summer. Right now, she's the woman to beat, and if the timing works out she could even be the one to welcome Rousey back to the octagon when the time comes.
But there are still many who see Cris Cyborg as the most dominant female fighter not named Ronda Rousey. She may have done most of her work in Strikeforce and Invicta, but she's always been a fearsome competitor. And while there are some questions about how she and Rousey would match up in a weight class, Cyborg has made no secret of the fact that she wants a fight with Rousey. She's gone as far as to insult the former champion, suggesting that Holly Holm "kicked her into retirement," and has all but requested that UFC make it happen.
And that's why there's actually a great deal of pressure on Cris Cyborg to perform at Fight Night. On paper, Lansberg should be a very winnable fight for her. But Cyborg surely knows that if she loses now she'll become a less appealing opponent for Rousey. And every UFC fan knows that whether she faces Holm, Tate, Nunes, or Cyborg, Rousey's return will probably be the most publicized fight in the sport's history. Cyborg wants to be part of that fight, and winning her upcoming contest with Lina Lansberg is a necessary step in that direction.