The UFC created a special event in New York on Saturday night just for Cris “Cyborg” Justino.
Instead of being celebrated and favored to be fitted for a new gold title band around her waist, however, Brazil’s powerful and vicious fighter is expected to be back near her Southland training home when the fight begins.
Justino (16-1) twice balked at proposed title bouts to start the UFC’s newly created 145-pound women’s featherweight division, according to UFC President Dana White.
Then, by submitting a positive test for what Justino identified as the banned diuretic spironolactone on Dec. 5, she was replaced in Saturday’s UFC 208 main event at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.
Former 135-pound bantamweight champion Holly Holm (10-2), best known for vanquishing then-bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey by second-round head kick in 2015, will now meet former kick-boxing champion Germaine De Randamie (6-3) of the Netherlands in Saturday’s main event.
Justino is appealing to the UFC’s drug-testing authority, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, for a retroactive therapeutic-use exemption for the diuretic, explaining that a doctor in Brazil prescribed her the substance for high-blood pressure.
Her challenge, according to an official familiar with the case who is not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, will be proving to USADA that no other prescribed drug could have been used to treat her condition.
A decision on the matter could come later this week, the official said.
Should her appeal be denied, Justino could be subject to either a one-year ban dating to the time she submitted the sample, or for two years should her prior positive test for a steroid in 2011 be considered.
Justino declined to comment.
“When I first got into the UFC, everyone was asking me about fighting Ronda,” Holm said in a conference call last week. “I know Cris ‘Cyborg’ is the big name in the 145-pound division, but right now, with her situation, I’ll just let that pan out. I don’t want to just obsess about one fighter.
“I still have so much to do – Germaine is right in front of me. There has to be a lot to happen before our fight. [Cyborg] has to deal with whatever’s going on with USADA — who knows what’s going on with that. And I’ve got to get through this fight.”
One reason Justino, 31, is so popular is that she hasn’t lost a fight since her 2005 mixed martial arts debut.
By 2009, she joined the now-defunct Strikeforce organization, won its featherweight belt that year and successfully defended it three times before the California State Athletic Commission nabbed her for a positive test for the steroid stanozolol after a 2011 title win in San Diego.
In the Invicta Fight Club, she won its featherweight belt in 2013 and defended that belt three times — including a watershed first-round knockout win in Costa Mesa in January 2016.
White and then-UFC Chairman Lorenzo Fertitta attended the 2016 bout, watched Justino hammer challenger Daria Ibragimova with punches and finish her before the first round was complete.
The UFC bosses had seen all they needed, and while Justino raised White’s ire by previously complaining she’d risk death if forced to cut weight and fight Rousey at 135 pounds, she was signed for two 140-pound catch-weight fights in Brazil.
Justino needed just 81 seconds to finish Leslie Smith by punches, and after subjecting Lina Lansberg to severe first-round punishment in a Sept. 24 main event, she ended that bout halfway through the second.
It was at that event in the Brazilian capital of Brasilia, said a UFC official, that Justino’s apparent leveraging for the creation of the new 145-pound division began to raise internal suspicions.
While she was meeting fight-week weight thresholds suggested by the organization — Justino weighed 156 pounds fully clothed at the beginning of fight week, according to a UFC official — she was complaining publicly about being nearly 20 pounds overweight and describing her weight cut as excruciating.
After Justino’s triumph, Holm said she was summoned to a meeting with White.
“Before the 145-pound division [was formed], he said, ‘We’re offering a fight with ‘Cyborg’ at 140, what do you think?’ I said, ‘I’m open to that,’ but then [‘Cyborg’] said she wasn’t ready, that she didn’t want to go to that weight,” Holm said.
De Randamie said she was told that Justino turned down a 145-pound title fight against her.
On Dec. 14, the UFC announced the formation of the new women’s featherweight division with the Holm-De Randamie bout, and eight days later, Justino’s positive sample was revealed.
“I respect everybody’s opinion,” about Justino being the best 145-pound fighter in the world, “but Cris got the offer to fight Holly and Cris got the offer to fight me. She wasn’t able to fight,” De Randamie said.
“Then Holly and I got the exact same offer and we said yes. If you’re a champion, you fight the best. Holly and I are going to fight and we’ll decide who’ll be the next No. 1. If one of us has to defend the title against Cris ‘Cyborg,’ it will be against Cris ‘Cyborg.’
“If you look at Holly’s credentials and my credentials, we’ve both accomplished a lot for the sport, so we absolutely belong at the top. … One of us will be the 145 champion.”
Who: Holly Holm (10-2) vs. Germaine De Randamie (6-3) for new women’s featherweight belt
When: Saturday, 7 p.m. PST
Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn
Television: Pay-per-view, $59.95
Undercard: No. 7 Anderson Silva (33-8) vs. No. 8 Derek Brunson (16-4), middleweights; No. 3 Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza (23-4) vs. No. 13 Tim Boetsch (20-10), middleweights; No. 3 Glover Teixeira (25-5) vs. No. 15 Jared Cannonier (9-1), light-heavyweights