News that Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos tested positive for steroids
following her last Strikeforce
145-pound title defense provoked a wide range of responses last week, but shock wasn't one of them. Some reacted with bitter disappointment, others with cynical detachment, but no one who's ever so much as seen a picture of the Brazilian fighter can say that they haven't at least considered the possibility that her biceps might have gotten that way via some not-so-natural processes.
For as long as she's been in the spotlight, that's kind of been Santos' thing. She's the woman with the muscles, the female fighter who looks every bit as terrifying as she fights. The positive steroid test just confirmed what most fans already suspected: there's a reason you don't see more women like "Cyborg" running around.
Maybe that's what's so disappointing about this whole story. It just seems so obvious. It reminds us once again that the MMA
world isn't some magical, mystical place. Instead, it's just like the rest of the world. When you suspect someone is a cheater, you eventually find out that you were right. Then you wonder why you ever gave them the benefit of the doubt to begin with.
That's the real problem for Santos here. When Tim Sylvia
popped positive and explained that he just wanted to look good with his shirt off, you could believe him. You took one look at his soggy, pasty torso and thought, yeah, if I had to go topless on TV I might be tempted to do something about that too.
But because Santos has long been known as the heavily muscled, über-aggressive women's champ, one failed drug test provides an all-too convenient explanation for her exceptionalism and, rightly or wrongly, taints everything she's ever done. It makes it seem as if this is merely the first time she's been caught, but far from the first time she's ever used.
Not that she's admitted to pumping herself up with stanozolol, of course. Instead she blamed it on an unnamed "dietary supplement"
and copped to nothing more serious than a failure to fully investigate the banned substances list. If she were Roy Nelson
, that explanation might fly. But Cyborg is Cyborg. When you look like she does, even the mere hint of guilt is more than enough to convict you in the court of public opinion.
Naturally, people will wonder what this means for the future of the women's division. They wonder the same thing whenever anything interesting happens to a female fighter, and sometimes even when nothing happens at all. For now, Santos has been stripped of the title and the 145-pound division put on hold. And honestly? That's probably a good thing.
For the past couple years, Santos wasn't just the champ in that division -- she was
the division. How can you tell? For starters, it's a division that might as well not exist while she's suspended, as UFC
president Dana White more or less admitted
. Think about it: how many times have you watched a women's 145-pound bout in Strikeforce that wasn't
a title fight? There aren't enough women at that weight to have a real division. It's just Santos beating up one fresh victim after another, many of whom have been cajoled into gaining weight just to get their faces smashed on TV.
The real action in the women's division is at 135 pounds. Between Miesha Tate
, Ronda Rousey
, Sarah Kaufman
, and Marloes Coenen
(among others), there's a wealth of existing talent with more coming up all the time. Santos might have had a certain circus appeal -- again, probably for the very same reasons she now finds herself suspended -- but the competition is in the 135-pound class, where the fighters sport credible physiques and the interest isn't limited to one dominant champ.
White loves to brag that he never gave in to the siren's song of freak show fights, even when his company was struggling. And while matching Santos up against one undersized opponent after another isn't exactly a freak show, neither is it indicative of a genuine interest in women's MMA. It's a sideshow. It's the scary lady with the muscles against whichever brave soul would take the fight. Now that that option has been eliminated, at least for the time being, White and his crew would be smart to move the spotlight further down the scale, where there's an actual division taking shape.
Santos' current predicament is still disappointing, even if it's not surprising, but it doesn't have to be a negative for MMA. If the absence of Santos means a bigger share of the pie for the women who are (hopefully) competing clean against opponents their own size, it might just be the best thing that could have happened.
And who knows, maybe Santos can use the forced vacation time to slim down and join her colleagues at a lower weight class. Tossing that "dietary supplement" in the trash might be a good way to start.