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Cris Cyborg as Billie Jean King in an MMA Battle of the Sexes?

In 1973, Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in the "Battle of the Sexes," a tennis match that would go down as one of the 20th Century's most significant sporting events.

Is MMA ready for a similar event?

It sounds insane at first, but as MMA fans wonder whether Strikeforce can find a worthy 145-pound woman to fight its champion, Cris Cyborg, there's some chatter that maybe the right opponent for Cyborg isn't a woman at all.

K.J. Noons, the former EliteXC lightweight champion who trains with Cyborg, tells Loretta Hunt of Sherdog that he thinks Cyborg is the one woman who could compete at the highest levels of men's MMA. The best 145-pound men fight in the WEC, and although Noons believes women should fight women and men should fight men, he thinks Cyborg could beat some of the men in the WEC if given the chance.

"I believe (male vs. female fights) wouldn't be that competitive, but every now and then there is a special athletic woman that can compete with men in fighting," Noons said. "I believe Cris is one of them. Can she be competitive if she fought in the WEC? Yes, she could. Would she be champ? If I knew the answer to that, I'd be a billionaire and I wouldn't be fighting."

Noons is about 15 pounds heavier than Cyborg and says she challenges him as much in sparring sessions as a man her size does.

"When I see her fight other guys, she's usually beating them up or manhandling them," Noons said. "When I spar with her, we're just working; I'm giving her work. When she goes full speed on me, she definitely has the power of a man. She throws like a 145-pound man."

So does that mean Cyborg should go one-on-one with a man not just in the gym, but in an arena? And if so, who would she fight? Bobby Riggs wasn't the top male tennis player in the world, he was a past-his-prime former No. 1. So to extend the analogy, we're not talking about Cyborg fighting Jose Aldo or Manny Gamburyan or Mike Brown. I really have no idea who would be MMA's 145-pound male equivalent of the 1973 Bobby Riggs. Maybe Jens Pulver? Yes, a Pulver vs. Cyborg fight would draw plenty of eyeballs, and although it would never happen in the WEC or Strikeforce, I'm sure there are promoters out there who would be only too happy to book it.

The difference is that King vs. Riggs was great for the sport of tennis. Cyborg vs. Pulver (or any man) would be horrible for MMA. The Bob Reillys of the world would have a field day crowing about a male vs. female MMA fight. The public discourse about the fight would be ugly, and detrimental to the sport.

That's why I don't much like the idea. There's nothing morally wrong with a male vs. female MMA fight, just as there's nothing morally wrong with the kind of male vs. female sparring session that Noons describes, nothing wrong with girls wrestling boys in high school meets across the country, and nothing wrong with men fighting women in kickboxing, as has happened several times. But from a public relations standpoint, it just isn't the right time for a man to fight a woman in MMA. Cyborg may be a great enough fighter to do it, but that doesn't mean she should.

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