mma / News

The End of Cris Cyborg in the UFC

August 5, 2019 | Posted by Dan Plunkett
Cris Cyborg Justino UFC

The talk of Cris Cyborg’s expiring UFC contract started more than a year ago, when she still had two fights left and the women’s featherweight title around her waist. It was a major topic of discussion leading into her July 27 fight against Felicia Spencer, the final fight on her deal. Given the history between Cyborg and the UFC, it seemed a separation was the most likely outcome.

After the bout, which Cyborg dominated and won by decision, attention turned toward whether she would re-sign with the UFC. The two sides appeared to be quite far apart. Cyborg wanted apologies for past derogatory comments UFC President Dana White and commentator Joe Rogan had made about her, while White openly suggested in an interview that perhaps Cyborg would prefer to go elsewhere to fight lesser competition.

Last week, Cyborg posted a video to her YouTube channel of a conversation between her and White backstage after the Spencer bout. The video had unclear audio and was edited with subtitles that attributed White telling Cyborg that when he said things (presumably in the media), he wasn’t telling the truth. The actual quote, later posted by Cyborg after she removed the original video, was, “I’m not saying negative things about you.”

The video appears to have been the final straw. In a video for the UFC’s YouTube channel, White stated the UFC won’t be re-signing Cyborg and that he would release her from her contract. (UFC contracts have a matching period clause. If the UFC releases Cyborg from this period as White indicated, she would be free to sign anywhere else at any time.)

Cyborg released an apology for the original video and blamed the snafu on her production team. It might end up being a costly mistake, and ultimately that comes down to Cyborg, who shouldn’t have allowed it to be posted in the first place. The richest bidder is now out of the Cyborg sweepstakes, and that is not a good thing for Cyborg, even if separation was inevitable.

The underlying story of the Cyborg-UFC relationship is that when Cyborg was the dominant number one, they badly wanted her, particularly for a potential mega-match with Ronda Rousey. But Cyborg did not bow at their throne and had no desire to meet Rousey at 135-pounds, so the relationship became rocky. Only after Rousey lost did the UFC finally promote Cyborg under their banner, and she carried with her notoriety and star power. After she lost to Amanda Nunes last December, Cyborg became drastically more expendable, and we end up with last week’s events.

The general story begins in 2011, when Zuffa, parent company of the UFC, purchased Strikeforce, bringing Cyborg and a host of other fighters under their umbrella. That December, Cyborg, already a dominant champion for three-plus years, successfully defended her title in 16 seconds. Afterward, she failed a drug test for the steroid stanozolol and became one of the biggest villains in the industry for a time. There was always a simmering belief that Cyborg’s physique was not natural, and to many this failed drug test confirmed that. For her part, Cyborg has always denied knowingly using steroids.

By the time Cyborg’s drug suspension was coming up, Strikeforce was folding and the UFC was bringing over its female fighters—a first for the UFC. The idea was to debut women in the UFC with a Ronda Rousey vs. Cris Cyborg main event in February 2013. The UFC wanted Cyborg, a 145-pounder that had struggled to make 140 pounds in the past, to go to 135 pounds to fight Rousey. There was a notion that Cyborg could change her diet and lose some muscle mass to get to 135. Depending on the source, this fell apart either due to the weight issue or money (or a mix of both). With no agreement on the Rousey fight, Cyborg signed to Invicta FC.

As Cyborg competed in Invicta, Rousey became a mainstream star at a level that had not been seen to that point. She breezed through competition in seconds, so naturally talk drifted to the one fighter it was certain could challenge her—Cyborg. These were where the derogatory comments started coming in. Rousey—who had talked trash about Cyborg since their Strikeforce days eyeing toward a fight—fired several barbs at her, generally questioning her womanhood. This led to White saying Cyborg “looked like Wanderlei Silva in a dress and heels” when he saw her at the World MMA Awards, and that she was “jacked up on steroids beyond belief.”

The UFC signed Cyborg to a deal in early 2015 that kept her competing in Invicta, but the end goal of a clash with Rousey. Had the UFC forced the match at the right time, it would have been the biggest pay-per-view event in MMA history to that point. White had talked about potentially 2.5 million buys, which seemed high, but 1.5 million felt like a certainty, and when 1.5 million is a certainty, there’s no telling what the ceiling is.

Then Rousey fell and never got back on her horse. The dream fight died suddenly.

In 2016, Cyborg competed in her first two UFC bouts, both at catch-weights of 140 pounds. The weight cuts were brutal, so the UFC decided to bite the bullet and center a 145-pound division around Cyborg. After all, she was a star and they had pay-per-view dates that needed title fights.

There was a three-fight stretch in there—Tonya Evinger, Holly Holm, and Yana Kunitskaya—where things didn’t seem so bad between Cyborg and the UFC, almost like they had finally come to a sustainable peace. Cyborg did discuss fighting out her UFC contract, but these were to fulfil ambitions like boxing Cecilia Braekhus. Usually talk like that is bullshit said for headlines, but this is the same person that fought Jorina Baars in Muay Thai, so clearly she has a very legitimate interest in testing herself outside of MMA.

The loss to Nunes seemed to bring all the negative feelings back to the forefront. She’d lost; a rematch would do decent business, but the UFC didn’t need it. Cyborg was still not the type to bow at the throne. And so the separation was inevitable.

Who knows what the future holds. Cyborg has several options. You can never discount an eventual return to the UFC—stranger things have happened—but it will take some time for things to cool off.

Dan Plunkett has covered MMA for 411Mania since 2008. You can reach him by email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Dan_Plunkett.

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Cris Cyborg, UFC, Dan Plunkett