Cris Cyborg has gone on a roller coaster ride with the UFC throughout her career.
Before ever stepping foot inside the Octagon, Cyborg was often the topic of discussion with UFC president Dana White, who often times lobbed insults at the fearsome featherweight before finally coming to an understanding that she was a commodity he couldn’t dare to pass up any longer.
White signed Cyborg to a deal, but then placed her in Invicta Fighting Championships, where she reigned as featherweight champion, while the two sides attempted to figure out where she fit into a UFC where there was no 145-pound weight class for women.
Finally the UFC opted to add the division, largely based on bringing Cyborg to the promotion on a full-time basis, but just after capturing the title in July, she was only a few months away from reaching the end of her previous contract.
Negotiations took several months, but Cyborg eventually came to an agreement with the UFC on a new long-term deal, while also landing her first headlining fight on pay-per-view. She will defend her title for the first time on Saturday night at UFC 219 against Holly Holm.
Despite a rocky relationship with the UFC in the past, Cyborg says that she was very happy with the terms of her new contract as well as the confidence that the organization placed in her to not only launch this new division, but to bring a lot of eyeballs to each and every one of her fights.
“I am happy to have a new deal with the UFC,” Cyborg told MMAWeekly. “I think towards the end of my last deal, things really started to be moving into the right direction. Sean Shelby and Hunter Campbell were great in working directly with George Prajin, my manager, in getting a new deal done.
“I feel like the longer commitment gives us both a better opportunity to invest in each other’s brands and the support system the UFC has built, including the addition of Mick Maynard, made me feel confident that they will continue to make the biggest fights for me on the biggest events the UFC can promote.”
While terms of the new deal were not disclosed, rumors swirled that Cyborg may now be the highest paid women’s fighter on the active roster and she’s excited that the UFC made that kind of investment in her.
Cyborg also acknowledges that she didn’t just sign her new contract to make some money and have some fights in the UFC. Instead, Cyborg looks at her deal with the UFC as a partnership where she will help bring in viewers and patrons to pay for tickets and, in return, the promotion will continue to help build her brand. So it’s a win-win for everybody involved.
“Pay is always interesting. As a fighter, I feel I have a value both as a world champion and as a fan favorite,” Cyborg said. “Fighter compensation is a unique combination of ranking and overall fan popularity. Before I became UFC champion, I was able to use platforms like CBS, Showtime, Fight Pass, and FOX Sports 1 to build a brand that fans connected with and have followed for over a decade. For fighters, especially females, it is important to connect with your fans and build your brand, because ultimately that is what creates value. One of the main reasons we started producing the Cyborg Nation videos during fight week is because we saw the success it had with my fans, and how much they enjoyed getting behind-the-scenes access fight week.
“I would like to see women fighters continue to realize the importance of creating a brand for themselves, and I think this will lead to further opportunities for us to earn equal to or better than our male counterparts.”
If there’s one question left dangling as Cyborg signed her new long-term deal with the UFC, it’s the organization’s commitment to the featherweight division at large.
To date, Cyborg and former Invicta FC champion Megan Anderson are the only true women’s featherweight fighters on the roster and the UFC has made no clear indication that other offers will be made.
Still, Cyborg seems confident that the UFC will do whatever it takes to find her worthy opponents and build the 145-pound women’s division just like every other weight class in the sport. The UFC’s commitment to her with the new contract was a sign to Cyborg that things are moving in the right direction.
“I am glad to see the UFC open the featherweight division, and am hopeful that they will start to sign more girls into the weight class now that I have committed to a long-term deal,” Cyborg said. “Part of me signing the new deal was me feeling confident in Sean Shelby and Mick Maynard’s ability to put fights together for me that the fans want to see.
“I think the fact that Holly Holm is the first fight on my new deal shows that the UFC is now committed to making the best fights with me for the fans that they can.”