Cris "Cyborg" Santos will finally return to action in early April as part of Invicta Fighting Championships, but there is still a chance she could end up in the UFC as part of a superfight against current bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey.
Just last week after requesting for her release from Zuffa (parent company of the UFC and her former employers at Strikeforce), Cyborg signed a three-fight deal with Invicta beginning with her April 5 showdown against Ediane Gomes.
Over the weekend, UFC president Dana White sat baffled at the decision to sign a deal directly with Invicta when they had an offer on the table to put her under contract to the UFC and still let her fight in the all-women's promotion.
Now as Cyborg's manager, former UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz, explains it there were more moving parts than just signing a deal with the UFC and going to fight in Invicta.
"We wanted to make the deal happen with the UFC. Negotiations were between me and Dana and it was for a four-fight deal with the fourth fight being against Ronda (Rousey), three fights going to Invicta and the fourth fight would be against Ronda. We were going to do a catchweight of 140 (pounds) and they said 'OK we'll call you back and we're going to find out,'" Ortiz explained in an exclusive interview with Bleacher Report on Sunday.
"I wait two days and I get a call back and they said 'no, we'll do an eight-fight deal, we'll send her to Invicta, have her fight three fights and next year we'll have her fight against Ronda at 140 possibly,' but there's no exact direction what (weight) they wanted to use. So it really came down to the factor of them going back and forth."
Ortiz says recent comments about how "irrelevant" his client apparently is, is becoming part of their ultimate decision to do a deal directly with Invicta for fewer fights overall, but hopefully strengthening their bargaining power if Cyborg wins all of those fights.
"Why would we allow our client to commit to such a long deal with no real plans or commitments to fight in the UFC? Why would we agree to a deal where an organization labels her as irrelevant as Dana (White) kept saying how irrelevant Cyborg was? We didn't run away from the fight. We just asked for her release to sign a three-fight deal with Invicta," Ortiz stated.
"She'll fight the No. 2 contender at 145 pounds and then she'll fight for the title against their 145-pound champ and then maybe Dana will have a little bit more respect for Cris Cyborg and value her as a counterpart for any superfight in women's MMA."
Ortiz may be a new player in the world of management for other fighters, but he negotiated and worked for his own career in the UFC for many years and now he believes he's in a unique position to use what he learned to help his clients.
He won't deny that money did play a factor in why they ultimately chose to sign with Invicta over the UFC, and he wanted to get a maximum deal for Cris Cyborg after she apparently didn't experience much windfall in the wake of her becoming the Strikeforce women's champion in 2009.
"The money had a lot to do with it," Ortiz admitted. "I mean for once I can actually complain about money because I'm not the one fighting, it's my clients. There's a lot of little details that go upon a fight contract in general that we really look out for, that I looked for during my career, and now I'm able to battle for those things. At the end of the day, I talked to Cris Cyborg, she came to me and she was like 'Tito, I became the world champion and nothing in my life changed, all I had around my waist was a gold piece of metal on a piece of leather, that's all I had, nothing changed.'"
"People have go to understand, fighters are killing themselves to make billions for these companies, and if these guys become billionaires, come out of their pocket a little bit and let's help the fighters."
For years, Ortiz has been leading the charge on fighters getting paid more money and it appears he's going to continue that battle now that he's a manager in the sport as well. The goal now is for Cris Cyborg to go out and wreck shop in Invicta and then possibly go back to the negotiating table with the UFC.
"Instead of signing an eight-fight deal, we signed a three-fight deal. Guaranteed championship fight, the UFC only had one weight class that would have limited her to only fight in that one weight class. I really wanted to look out for my client and make the right decision," Ortiz said.
"I'm very happy with this decision. I think it was the best decision because we still left it on the table with the UFC for the Ronda Rousey fight to start."
And the Ronda Rousey fight is exactly what Cris Cyborg wants long term, it's just not going to happen right now. Ortiz says Rousey has made this fight personal and it's no longer just about business.
"Cris Cyborg still wants to kick her ass whether (Ronda) wins or loses," Ortiz explained about the growing rivalry between the two women fighters. "It's personal to her and a lot of people don't understand that. Cris doesn't care, she goes 'Tito, if I’m still the champ, I still want to kick her ass, I want to cave her face in.'"
"She made it really personal with her, this is going back to me and Ken Shamrock where it was real. It didn't need a company to sell this fight, it was emotional already just because of the things Ronda said about Cyborg. If you've ever seen one of Cyborg's highlight tapes—I don't think Ronda wants to be on those tapes."
The biggest question still remains: Will we ever see Cris Cyborg vs. Ronda Rousey in the UFC?
Ortiz answers that question with a resounding "yes" and believes it's only a matter of time before fans can see the biggest fight in women's MMA history, if for no other reason than everyone involved has the chance to make a boatload of money.
"100 percent the fight will happen," said Ortiz. "If Dana wants to make millions upon millions, and I know he does 'cause this is a good $15 to $20 million dollar fight they would make out of it. If they want the fight to happen, it's going to happen. I don't think we really care if it's for a title. Cris doesn't care if it's for the title, she just wants to fight her, she wants to cave her face in. 'I hate the b****,' as she says."
Damon Martin is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report and all quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
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