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The Andersons are playing with matches, and the sparks are flying

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UFC 208 photos Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Monday was unique in that two of the hardest to book contenders perhaps in the history of the UFC found huckleberries. During an appearance on The MMA Hour, current Invicta FC featherweight champion Megan Anderson made it abundantly clear that she would fight Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino at UFC 214 in July if the UFC would but ask. Volunteering to meet “Cyborg” in 2017 is like picking a fight with Sir Rider Haggard’s “She” in some dark corner of Hell.

And Anderson Silva, on the same show, not only requested a fight with Yoel Romero, he demanded it. Silva said he would retire unless the UFC met his demands, which included a stipulation that the fight happen on June 3 at UFC 212 and be for an interim title.

There’s nothing quite so Hollywood as the ultimatum.

Now it’s up to the UFC, which is run by Hollywood agents, to act. And why Dana & Co. would not do either fight would defy human understanding. Romero is furious at being bypassed for a title shot, so throw him the muzzle. Silva is furious at not being booked in Brazil, so throw him the Cuban “Thing.” “Cyborg” is furious that the UFC featherweight division has started rolling without her, and currently has an absentee champion in Germaine de Randamie, so toss her a plate of fresh meat. And Anderson is asking for a chance to prove the most dominant woman in MMA history is fallible, which has a brilliant halo effect after watching so many scurry for so long.

Besides, why shouldn’t Anderson fight the women’s GOAT while de Randamie’s hand heals (or whatever)? Neither one of them even cares if it’s for a belt, for Chrissake.

And really, the solutions don’t come more ready-made: When you have so many disgruntled people in the ranks, turn them against each other. That folds the complaints in half, and buys time for the shenanigans of Georges St-Pierre and Michael Bisping to play out. Besides, both Andersons are doing the UFC a solid with their willingness to (probably) get smashed for a paying public. It’s that willingness, too, that makes the fights marketable. Both Anderson vs. “Cyborg” and Romero vs. Silva would be hugely intriguing, if for no other reason than people love to live in the space between “how courageous” and “what a fool’s errand” in a fight build up.

Start with Anderson Silva, who from 2006-2013 established himself as the greatest mixed martial arts practitioner going. He’s hit the skids since Chris Weidman came along, and he’s now in the twilight of his career. You know what’s really bugging him? That people see him in 2017 differently than they did in 2011 (which is where he still sees himself — right there on top). All that stuff with Nick Diaz, the short-notice fight with Daniel Cormier, and the controversy with Bisping in London? Just some tainted evidence pointing to his demise.

Maybe he’s right. In any case, Silva bought himself one last push for a Big Fight when he beat Derek Brunson* at UFC 208. He was supposed to fight Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 212 in Rio next month, but that fight is off after Gastelum tested positive for marijuana (nothing involving Silva is ever easy). Now he wants Romero, which is ludicrous! Outrageous. Compelling. Muting!

It’s a no-brainer.

If you’re the UFC, and you want to hear less of Silva’s complaints about not getting a second fight with Bisping and not getting the promised superfight with St-Pierre, give him Romero, who will either hold a magnifying glass up to the writing on the wall for old man Silva to read, or become a springboard for his re-emergence. Should Silva win, and do so with any of the mojo that made Forrest run from the cage, the idea of his facing the Bisping/GSP winner takes on a totally different meaning. The iron gets hot.

Romero said he would fight Silva, so long as there’s an interim title in play. Given that Bisping-GSP belongs to some distant point in the future, and your No. 1 contender is willing to “stay busy” for a pyrite belt, I mean…you got to dangle that interim title, don’t you? Romero-Silva is both a short-term fix and a table setter for what’s to come.

So, too, is the proposed fight between Anderson and Justino. Just like with Silva, Justino has a date and place circled — UFC 214, in her adopted home in Anaheim. This fight makes sense on every level, given the set-up (current Invicta FC against the one who vacated that belt), the context (they are regarded as the two best featherweights alive), the country-clash (Brazil vs. Australia), the unknown status of the champion (search parties are looking for de Randamie as we speak) and the complicated trust issues with Dana White and Jon Jones (White swore he wouldn’t put Jones in a main event again, and to have his fight with Daniel Cormier be a co-main event there needs to be an even more alluring one behind it…which is Cyborg-Anderson).

In today’s UFC, there are no slam dunks. Matchmaking isn’t as simple as it once was. Yet when you get matches like these — which have come together as if by gravitational pull, and solve so many short-term and long-term problems — you’ve got to book.

Otherwise, you’re not making matches so much as playing with them.

(*You know why that asterisk is there)