Germaine de Randamie’s grinning photo, with the women’s featherweight title belt flipped over her left shoulder, remains on the title-holders page on UFC.com.
So, technically, de Randamie remains the organization’s champion.
But no matter what happens in the future, can anyone ever take her seriously as a champion – or as a fighter, for that matter – if she fails to fight Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino?
Richard Nixon had more support to remain president in the waning days of July 1974 than de Randamie, through her own words and actions, has as UFC women’s featherweight champion these days.
Talk about self-inflicted wounds.
The night in February that she defeated Holly Holm in the first – and still only – women’s featherweight fight in UFC history, de Randamie was asked the question she had to know was coming by in-cage interviewer Joe Rogan: Would she fight Justino next?
De Randamie responded to Rogan by bringing up a hand injury, saying she’d need surgery, and that though she was more than willing to fight Cyborg, she first needed to deal with her hand injury.
Cynics had a field day with that. The UFC flew Justino to Brooklyn for the fight with the clear implication being that she would fight the winner. The division was created for Justino, and to many, de Randamie’s post-fight comments made it appear she was trying to find a way out of the fight.
It made little sense. World-class fighters aren’t afraid, or else they would have chosen a different occupation in the first place. They’re successful partly because they have the physical skills for it, but also because mentally, they believe they’re the best and that every time they step into a cage or a ring, they’re going to win.
De Randamie was a highly accomplished fighter who had competed, and won, around the world. It was laughable to suggest she was afraid of Justino.
Did she know at the time how good, and how dominant, Justino had been? Of course.
And so did it make sense that she wanted to be at her absolute best before facing her biggest challenge? Undoubtedly.
But de Randamie’s recent actions are both tarnishing the belt and making her seem afraid.
Last week, manager Brian Butler-Au said in a statement to ESPN.com that de Randamie wouldn’t fight “proven cheater” Justino. Justino failed a 2011 drug test and was suspended for a year by California. A December test raised alarms, but in February, she was granted a retroactive therapeutic use exemption (TUE) and cleared of any wrong-doing by USADA.
The UFC has the best testing program in sports now, and Justino has regularly passed the tests. She was tested three times in 2015 after the program’s start, 11 times in 2016 and twice this year.
If she had a history of failing tests – legitimate tests, not the eye test – then de Randamie might have a point. But Justino has never failed a test since that 2011 one on a Strikeforce show, and she’s passed 16 since the UFC implemented its strict plan with USADA.
De Randamie said in an Instagram post that she wants to return to 135 pounds. That, too, would be understandable given the inactivity at 145.
But she posted on Instagram on Monday that it was her belief that Justino is using performance-enhancing drugs that has caused her not to want to fight.
“My reason to reject the fight now has nothing at all to do with my fear,” she wrote, translated by MMAjunkie. “I believe that if you want to do sports you do this without any means that can affect the muscle mass.”
Justino, who has been openly campaigning for a fight with Megan Anderson, may have other issues. She punched Angela Magana at the UFC athlete retreat earlier this month and may face legal issues that prevent her from competing.
The fact that de Randamie made the post on Instagram, and that Butler-Au made the statements he did instead of waiting to see what the UFC would do with Justino in the aftermath of the Magana incident, indicates that the UFC has probably been pushing a de Randamie-Justino fight quietly behind the scenes.
If they weren’t, there was little reason for de Randamie and/or Butler-Au to make any sort of public statement. The UFC could have announced it was suspending Justino, or she could have faced punishment from the Nevada justice system, and de Randamie’s concerns about Justino’s alleged PED usage would have been moot.
Despite the appearances, it’s still difficult to believe de Randamie is afraid of Justino.
But she’s now tarnishing her reputation and the title that she holds. Like they say in tennis, it’s an unforced error, but this one has caused her more than the loss of a single point.
It’s difficult to build a good reputation, and even harder to rebuild it. De Randamie has made a series of blunders not befitting a fighter of her skill level, accomplishments and stature.
It’s something she may never be able to shed.