Dana White Didn't Appreciate What He Had in Cris Cyborg, and It's a Loss for UFC

Kelsey McCarsonFeatured ColumnistSeptember 5, 2019

Cris Cyborg celebrates after defeating Holly Holm during a featherweight championship mixed martial arts bout at UFC 219, Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Associated Press

Cristiane "Cyborg" Justino didn't seem to matter all that much to UFC President Dana White. How else can you explain that White let one of the most dominant forces in mixed martial arts history exit the company for a rival promotion after her contract expired this year?

Cyborg will take her impressive talent and unparalleled credentials to Bellator after she signed what company president Scott Coker called the richest contract in women's MMA history Tuesday.

But did things have to go this way?

Sure, the 34-year-old former UFC featherweight champion will probably never again be the amazing spectacle of destruction she was from 2005 to 2018. During that run, she put together 21 consecutive wins—although one decision was overturned to a no-contest after she tested positive for performing-enhancing drugs—across five different promotions to become the resident bogeywoman of the fighting world.

It's hard enough to become the best fighter in a division for a single year, much less to do it for over a decade.

But White never seemed to grasp what he had in Cyborg, and his company has waved goodbye to one of the sport's most popular female fighters. The worst part is that it boils down to White's consistent inability to treat Cyborg with respect.

Sure, Cyborg didn't help her cause by allowing someone on her team to release a doctored video of White talking to her backstage with subtitles that made it look like the UFC president admitted to lying about his opinions.

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But considering the almost immediate apology Cyborg issued after the video came out, and given White's position in the company, it would have been beneficial to the UFC if he accepted the apology and moved forward with contract negotiations.

The UFC can only be successful if its roster is packed with the world's best fighters. That's how this business works.

Bellator. Rizin FF. ONE Championship. These companies aren't just trying to carve out tiny pieces of the global market. They want to take over, and one of the ways they can incrementally do that is by signing the most popular and best fighters. Cyborg still checks both those boxes. 

Few people can do what she does, and even fewer already have a huge fanbase all over the globe.

Something is amiss when a fighter who carries such accomplishments is given walking papers by the sport's premier company.

The final fight on Cyborg's UFC contract came in July against Felicia Spencer at UFC 240. After Cyborg's unanimous-decision win, there was supposed to be a 90-day exclusive negotiating window between Cyborg and the UFC.

But after the doctored video, White said the UFC was "out of the Cyborg business."

That was the death blow to a long-suffering relationship. White and Cyborg have a long history of not playing nicely together, and it started before Cyborg ever set foot in the UFC.

In 2014, White said of Cyborg's appearance at the World MMA Awards that she looked like a male fighter, Wanderlei Silva, in a dress. White contended in a UFC interview that he was referring to a drug test Cyborg failed in 2011.

The most important thing a promoter can do is foster good relationships with talent. White never seemed interested in doing that with Cyborg. Instead, he doubled down on defending these kinds of ridiculous statements rather than doing what was best for Cyborg and the UFC, which was simply treating the fighter with respect. 

Things never got better. Even after the UFC signed Cyborg in 2016, the company never seemed engaged in promoting the longtime champion as the commodity she was. Instead, White seemed more interested in testing out his would-be Cyborg jokes in front of the media and laughing it up with Joe Rogan over crude comments Rogan made suggesting she had male genitalia. 

Cyborg wasn't laughing, and when she took her issues to the public on YouTube, White didn't do anything to mend the situation. 

"Every woman deserves the right to go to work in an environment free of sexual harassment, online bullying, and work place intimidation," Cyborg wrote on YouTube under a video compiling the insults from White and Rogan. 

The feud culminated when Cyborg took umbrage with White for repeatedly telling anyone who would listen that she didn't want a rematch against Amanda Nunes, who ended Cyborg's 13-year dominance via a first-round knockout at UFC 232.

SHENZHEN, CHINA - AUGUST 31:  UFC President Dana White attends the press conference after the UFC Fight Night event at Shenzhen Universiade Sports Centre on August 31, 2019 in Shenzhen, China.  (Photo by Zhe Ji/Getty Images)
Zhe Ji/Getty Images

Cyborg denied White's comments, but it shouldn't matter. In that case, White was shirking his responsibility to Cyborg, Nunes and arguably the UFC as a whole by needlessly establishing a narrative that would hurt Cyborg's reputation and likely keep the rematch between two of the biggest stars in women's MMA from happening. 

So there's no reason to believe White had any intention of signing Cyborg after her contract expired. That's not the right way to move forward with the 145-pound women's division the company created specifically for Cyborg.

But at least it might turn out to be the best thing for Cyborg. Having already promoted the Brazilian when she fought under the Strikeforce banner, Coker has a talent-laden 145-pound division that will include one of the most dominant women's fighters in history, as well as Bellator featherweight champion Julia Budd.

Moreover, it gives Cyborg—who's been a UFC, Invicta and Strikeforce champ—the chance to become the first female fighter to hold four different titles in the same division.

Cyborg's move to Bellator also gives her the chance to work in a less toxic environment, one that can offer her a slew of competitive fights against top-flight competition like Budd, Arlene Blencowe, Janay Harding, Olga Rubin and Leslie Smith.

Additionally, the long-rumored crossover battle between Cyborg and welterweight boxing champion Cecilia Brækhus might also finally come to fruition after Coker told MMA Junkie he is open to the idea of Cyborg competing as a boxer too.

So while it's true that no fighter—not even Cyborg—could ask for a better overall platform than what the UFC has to offer, sometimes people just plain deserve better from members of that organization.

In this case, it seems clear that Cyborg deserved at least a little better treatment from White.


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