After Cyborg’s loss to Jorina Baars in last night’s Lion Fights 14 event in Las Vegas, some things became crystalized and other things got foggier. While this was a Muay Thai fight and not an MMA fight, Cyborg looked sloppy and plodding, but she also showed she was equal parts powerful and gutsy.
Barrs’ striking looked exactly how one might expect someone who is 33-0 in Muay Thai to look: crisp, clean, and calculating. However, she also looked out of sorts when Cyborg was able to get inside and throw big power shots overhead. When Baars was being pushed into the ropes, she could only lift her leg to create defense. When they clinched, and the flashes of MMA were seen in those clinches, Baars offered very little resistance and was tossed on her back with very little effort from Cyborg.
It’s apples to apricots to compare Muay Thai and MMA, sure, but all I could see was the ground openings for Cyborg to pounce and when Baars was tossed on her back. When Baars was on point, she fed Cyborg knee after knee, leaving Cyborg looking more human than cybernetic. Still, despite being hurt, Cyborg continued to press forward, even if she didn’t have the best defensive strategy as Baars pushed back. The fight was an entertaining five-round affair, some would argue even more entertaining than the last few women’s fights in the UFC.
Some things I learned while watching Lion Fights 14’s co-main event:
- Jorina Baars is slick. With her frame, her footwork, and her intelligence, she could give a lot of MMA fighters fits if they were only allowed to strike with her. If she learned takedown defense and some submission defense, she could really shake things up in either Invicta or the UFC.
- Cyborg can take a punch, a knee, a kick, even a shovel to the head. Usually, Cyborg doles out the striking punishment, but in last night’s fight, she absorbed quite a bit. And she was never really out of it. She was lost to find an answer for Baars’ striking. She was floored and stumped, but she was never really rocked. I have yet to see a women’s fighter in MMA with the level of Baars’ striking outside of Holly Holm. Not Ronda Rousey, not Miesha Tate, not Gina Carano, not any of the other players in the women’s bantamweight division in the UFC or in Invicta demonstrate that level of striking. That being said, I’d put my money on any of the fighters in Invicta or the UFC’s women’s bantamweight roster in an MMA match over Baars on any day that ends in “y”. All of the fighters in the UFC and Invicta are likely well-rounded outside of the striking game. They have to be.
- Tito Ortiz knows as much about Muay Thai as I do, that is to say very little, yet he was there cornering Cyborg. While Ortiz may not be Cyborg’s manager any longer his presence still casts a skyscraper-like shadow over Cyborg (no; that is not a shot about Tito’s head). Cyborg already has a great deal of attention and a lot of expectations thrown on her as a result of her past and her potential within the sport. To continue to keep a lightning rod like Ortiz around is to flirt with distraction. Tito does not like playing second banana to anyone. And Tito has proved time and again, he wilts under the media spotlight (see his gymnasium press conference and his post fight interviews with Alliction). Maybe that can work out in Cyborg’s favor. If everyone is focused on Tito being Tito and the brush fire he will ignite at some point, it allows Cyborg to stay in the conversation and Tito to be the distraction. But with the questions around her weight cut, her campaign to get into the UFC, and her past PED use, the road is already a tough one.
- I cannot watch Muay Thai or boxing matches without getting antsy. Too many opens for a takedown. Too much referee interference. Too little time for any drama to build. I’m spoiled. I can appreciate watching the striking abilities of Baars and Cyborg’s heart, but I need to see more than one aspect to a fight.
What the fight proved more than anything was that when you take a multi-dimensional fighter from MMA and put boundaries around her, making her one dimensional, things are going to play out in the favor of participant who is 33-0 in that one dimension as opposed to the participant who is 3-0 in that dimension. It was the inverse of what people learned when James Toney fought Randy Couture—take away the weapons of someone like Cyborg, force her to fight with one approach, and the chances of her dominating a fight drop, making her look less like The Terminator and more like Johnny 5.
I know some will say this loss hurts Cyborg’s chances of getting the fight with Ronda. And, Jeremy Botter said it best last night:
While I’m not convinced it will be a major hurdle, Cyborg’s loss will be the card that gets played the harder the negotiations play out. Will it affect how the parties bargain during contract talks? Sure. Will it make it harder for Cyborg to get a fight with Rousey? Not any harder than it already is. Wins and losses matter when it comes to granting someone a title fight (at least they should matter), and I think this takes a little of the shine off of a title fight between Rousey and Cyborg. But wins and losses don’t affect a storyline like the one that has been prewritten for Rousey/Cyborg. Title or not, the fight still should and will happen.
For example, back in 2006, Dana White brought Wanderlei Siva into the octagon with Chuck Liddell after a lackluster Tito Ortiz/Ken Shamrock sequel and announced Chuck Liddell would fight Wanderlei if he were to get through Babalu Sobral, setting up a clash of titans between Liddell and Silva. The fight didn’t take place until almost a year and change later, after both Wanderlei and Chuck had each lost twice before they finally squared off, after both had lost their respective titles. The result when they finally were able to face each other was still a truly memorable fight. A loss (or in the case of Chuck and Wanderlei, four losses) doesn’t diminish the fervor to see two of the best finally face each other (even if the title isn’t on the line). It simply lowers the stakes and expectations. And most MMA fans need to have their expectations tempered anyway. Rather than projecting the significance of the fight before it happens, rather than pushing the narrative of historical relevance of the fight before the fighters face each other, fans should allow the fight to happen and then reflect how it fits into the pantheon greatest fights ever. I’ll step down from the soapbox.
Cyborg fighting Ronda for the title will be difficult to pull off. Movie careers stand in the way. A weight class stands in the way. Other contenders stand in the way. However, there is too much money to be left on the table for a fight not to happen. It’s simply a matter of when it will happen and where both fighters will be in their careers when it does. Women’s MMA and the mainstream’s connection to women’s MMA is still in its courtship phase, and if the UFC is in it for the long haul, fans shouldn’t be distracted by the sprint if this is a marathon.
In the meantime, it gives Jorina Baars time to develop a passable ground game and try her hand at MMA.