Eight years ago, Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos appeared among a cloud of vapor and dust, between two 18-wheelers, in the parking lot of an industrial building somewhere near the Brazil border. Nude to the world, she walked to the nearest mixed martial arts gym, Chute Box Academy, and declared "I need your clothes, your gloves and your octagon."
And while she was greeted with laughs, she left with them all, and has kept them within her grasp since her first professional win in 2005.
However, despite her record of 11-1 (9 knockouts) and intensity, which rejects any adjective, the mixed martial arts community seems to revile her presence. Now in their defense, Santos did test positive for stanozolol, an anabolic steroid, after her vicious TKO win over Hiroko Yamanaka in 2011.
But, for just a moment, consider the countless other fights who have tested positive for banned substances: Josh Barnett, Tim Sylvia, Nate Marquardt, Vitor Belfort, Stephan Bonnar, Royce Gracie, Phil Baroni, Sean Sherk, Antonio Silva, Chris Leben, Ken Shamrock, Chael Sonnen, Thiago Silva, Muhammad Lawal, and Alistair Overeem. The list includes former champions of UFC, Pride, and Strikeforce, as well as, three UFC Hall of Famers (Bonnar, Gracie, Shamrock).
Yet, none of these men are vilified in the same undignified light as Santos. In fact, after reading the list once again, one can easily spot several of UFC's most popular current fighters...i.e. Belfort, Silva, Sonnen, Overeem.
So why can't the general MMA population forgive Santos? Several individuals have presented varying reasons, but none have introduced the most obvious, yet most contentious theory, which rests simply on one word: aesthetics.
Now before a cavalcade of feminists form on the technological horizon brandishing pitchforks and torches, allow me to explain.
Women's MMA existed years before 2007. However, it was not until February 10 of that same year that neophyte fans of the sport would be introduced to WMMA with a battle between Gina Carano and Julie Kedzie at EliteXC: Destiny. Directly following the bout, the crowd responded to the violence, but as the years progressed fans began to pledge their allegiance solely to Carano. Sure, the former kick boxer continued to win in impressive fashion, but her looks didn't hurt either. Magazine covers. Modeling gigs. Movie scripts. Even former Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker and former Strikeforce announcer Mauro Ranallo were not shy about declaring her beauty. Additionally, women lauded her efforts as inspirational and attached the moniker of role model to her name.
And then it happened. She lost. Actually, Carano did not just lose, she was bludgeoned by none other than Cyborg. Even the nickname, polar opposite of Carano's aura, sent chills down the spine of fans. And when fight night arrived, all who watched and attended understood why. In less than two rounds, Cyborg nearly stripped layers of beauty away from Carano's face with a vicious onslaught of punches, knees and elbows.
Over the next two fights, Cyborg eviscerated Marlos Coenen and Jan Finney. The declarations of beauty had been replaced with adjectives such as "vicious," frightening," and "scary." The modeling gigs were replaced with short YouTube videos displaying Cyborg's strength. And the Carano fans waited. They admittedly waited for a Carano comeback or another beauty to end the reign of this tyrannical "monster."
Then there, on the horizon, like a fair maiden of violence, Ronda Rousey emerged onto the scene. She was brash, talented, but most of all beautiful. The Olympian's spotlight grew exponentially in only a few fights, leaving fans to beg for a super fight between her and Cyborg. It was the perfect script for these fans: "beauty vs. brawn," skill vs. violence, good vs. bad.
And then it didn't happen. Commence abbreviated history: steroid bust; weight disparity; trash talk; contract issues; UFC introduces women; Rousey announced as UFC bantamweight champion; more weight issues; contract negotiations; and Cyborg signs with Invicta FC.
The final piece, Cyborg's new Invicta contract, immediately did two things: suspend a possible super fight and diminish the aura of Santos. According to several fans, she is "out of sight, out of mind." And according to most, who despise Cyborg for her steroid bust; it is for the best.
So, now Cyborg sits, in veritable obscurity of the public eye at Invicta, days away from one of the best women's fight on paper, and once again she holds the banner of "bad guy." Her opponent, Marloes Coenen, a former Strikeforce champion, has won over the fans with her attempt at redemption, and because "hot chicks are just better people."
Unfortunately, staring over the landscape of MMA, there only appears to be one possible way to win over the community: Defeat Coenen. Establish a super fight with Rousey. Present issues for the UFC champ in the first three minutes; yet, ultimately succumb to an arm bar in the final minute of the first round. Then, and only then, will these ignorant fans, who describe Santos as a "dude" or "beast," recognize, if only for a technological minute, her true talent.