Ariel & The Bad Guy: Would a Cyborg-Spencer clash fire up the 145-pound division?

MMA

The women’s featherweight division is considered the weakest in the UFC. ESPN and the UFC don’t even have rankings for the weight class listed on their respective websites, after all.

But the division may have gotten a jolt with the performance of Felicia Spencer last week in her Octagon debut, defeating the 6-foot Megan Anderson in the first round. Following the win, the 7-0 Spencer called out Cris Cyborg, one of the most dominant performers in women’s MMA. And it didn’t take long for Cyborg to accept the challenge.

With the division so thin, it’s practically a no-brainer for the UFC to make this fight. But, would this potential matchup be a sign of growth for the women’s featherweight division or a sign of desperation?

This was one topic discussed in this week’s Ariel & The Bad Guy episode, streamed exclusively on ESPN+.


Ariel Helwani: OK, so this is a really complex question, Chael, because as we know we’ve talked about the women’s featherweight division at length and it’s not easy. There’s no real division — there’s just a couple of faces here and there, but I think Felicia Spencer is a really interesting prospect. In any other division, someone like Felicia Spencer, who is just 7-0, who is coming into the UFC — one victory in the Octagon under her belt — I don’t think under any other circumstance would she be in the discussion to fight someone like Cris Cyborg, who was undefeated for all that time, who was a long-reigning champion, it just doesn’t make any sense. Unfortunately because featherweight is so shallow, these discussions are being had.

But two very interesting things need to be discussed when discussing this fight. First of all, there’s a reason why, Chael, that Cris Cyborg is talking about fighting July 27 in Edmonton. The reason for that is her contract expires in August, and so she has one fight left on her contract or it’s just going to expire in August. She wants to get that one fight left and wants to get back in the win column so that once her contract does expire, she has a lot more leverage than she does right now, coming off the loss over Amanda Nunes. So that’s why she is pinpointing that particular date and she doesn’t have a new contract as of right this moment, I’m told.

The other thing that I think is really interesting to note is that Felicia Spencer, when I asked her about this fight against Cris Cyborg, she said, ‘Yeah, I am interested, but I want to get paid to fight Cris Cyborg. I have seen what other people who I don’t believe are as good as me — like the Yana Kunitskaya‘s of the world, who made in the ballpark of $300,000 just to fight, just to do the job to Cris Cyborg last March — I see what they got paid. I don’t get paid anywhere near those people, so if you want me to take this fight, you’re going to have to pay me,’ and I think that’s pretty damn cool for a person that’s 1-0 in the UFC to start talking like that. I did not expect that from the Canadian-American.

Chael Sonnen: Look, I have no problem with this call-out, I really don’t. Does the match make a ton of sense and for all the reasons that you laid out, which is: Do we even have a division here? Is there even a point of doing this or is it just to bring it and showcase Cyborg, which, who by the way, we only have under contract for one more fight. So where’s our real incentive to even do that? Look, there’s a lot of moving parts. I like how Spencer is playing it. I wish she wouldn’t have talked about the money, Ariel, I realize this is prize fighting, I realize she has every right to go in and get the money, I just wish she would have done it behind the scenes, and I’ll tell you why — it just draws against the competitive nature for me.

Cris Cyborg, do not make any mistake, is a competitor. It doesn’t matter if it’s grappling, it doesn’t matter if it’s MMA, it doesn’t matter what the division is, she’ll take a kickboxing match on Saturday night just for something to do. But, when Spencer comes in and looks like the competitor herself and says give me anybody, even give me the queen, give me Cyborg, but then says you’ve got to incentivize me. For me, in fairness, it just takes away from it a little bit. I wish she would have gone after Cyborg. I wish she would have built something. I wish she would have got the reaction — it looks like they’re already picking a country to go fight in of Canada — and then in the back door go knock on Dana’s office. That’s how I would have preferred this was handled.

Helwani: I get that. I think it takes a lot of chutzpah to bring it out into the forefront, to talk about it in public, and especially when you’re a Canadian and you’re known to be …

Sonnen: Wha, wha, wha, what is this word? Stop. What?

Helwani: Chutzpah.

Sonnen: It takes a lot of what?

Helwani: Chutzpah.

Sonnen: What is this?

Helwani: Chutzpah.

Sonnen: Help me.

Helwani: Are you not familiar? Chutzpah. It’s a Yiddish term. …

Sonnen: Do I gotta go to Twitter to find out what that … what’s a chutzfah?

Helwani: It would certainly help. Chutzpah is sort of like, for lack of a better word, cojones.

Sonnen: What is it?

Helwani: It’s a Yiddish term where it takes a lot of …

Sonnen: Courage?

Helwani: You know, courage …

Sonnen: Courage?

Helwani: Yes, courage …

Sonnen: Let’s say courage.

Helwani: Chutzpah, but you have to say it huh … chutzpah, chutzpah. Say it.

Sonnen: Huh … huh … courage. Huh … huh … courage. Got it. OK, go ahead.

Helwani: In any event, it takes a lot of courage/chutzpah for someone to come out with one fight under their belt in the UFC to say something like this. Here’s what I would do. If I had the pen, Chael, if I had the pen, we saw the name at the bottom of that little graphic — Macy Chiasson. She won the featherweight tournament for “The Ultimate Fighter” not that long ago. She dropped down to 135 not that long ago and she missed weight. One-thirty-five is a very tough cut for her. How about you do Macy versus Felicia Spencer, two fresh faces in the UFC. Have them fight each other and maybe do Megan Anderson versus Cris Cyborg. Now they’re both coming off of losses. This is a fight that we wanted to see for some time. Megan was trying to get this fight in her UFC debut — now’s the perfect time.

What do you think of that?

Sonnen: Ariel, I love it. And you know what? If you did have the power of the pen, not only would you give us some good fights, you might just revive the whole division. It’s not just about having one fighter or having who I call the queen, in Cyborg, out there. We need [Nos.] 2 and 3 and 4 and 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11. And I think you might have just found a way to encompass a whole lot of people because I am curious what’s going on with that division. And quite frankly, even though you talked about it — we usually don’t — look, there is some contracts and bureaucracy and politics there. If she only has one left, what is your incentive to motivate and go build that division when you brought in the division to give her a place to fight in the first place? I think there are some moving parts there. I’d like to get it settled down. And quite possibly we should hand you the pen.

Helwani: Chutzpah. It takes a lot of chutzpah to ask for the pen, and I would like that pen.

Sonnen: Courage.

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