Longtime UFC featherweight champion Cris Cyborg has been one of the most dominant fighters in women’s mixed martial arts for well over a decade, winning titles for three different promotions during a 13-year run where she finished 17 of her 20 straight wins. That run ended late last year, when Amanda Nunes knocked her out with shocking ease. One loss should not taint Cyborg’s status among the women’s MMA elite nor mark her as irrevocably washed up, and yet UFC czar Dana White has insisted on talking trash about his fighter.
Since the loss last December, White has made a point of repeatedly mentioning how “afraid” Cyborg is to fight Nunes again. Even though Cyborg called for an immediate rematch and has accepted public criticism for the loss, White has gone out of his way to needle her. Cyborg fought last weekend for the first time since the Nunes loss, and she took a one-sided unanimous decision against previously undefeated contender Felicia Spencer.
White characterized Cyborg’s performance as the sputtering gasps of a fighter on the decline, which doesn’t quite make sense. “After watching her fight tonight, and after her last fight, I don’t blame her for not wanting to fight Amanda Nunes,” he told ESPN. “If that was Amanda Nunes in there tonight ... Cyborg’s been around a long time. In my honest opinion, Cyborg sees herself in the twilight of her career, and I think she would like some easy fights. And there’s nothing wrong with that.”
In her post-win presser, Cyborg sounded fed up with White’s criticism (at the 2:25 mark of the video). “Everybody knows that I don’t have the best relationship with UFC,” she said. “I don’t have the best relationship with Dana White. He’s bully me around, bully me on the internet. I suffer bullying everywhere because of this. I have a daughter. I have a father. He never [said] “I’m sorry” for me, anything about this ... [He’s] saying I’m scared to fight Amanda Nunes. Saying I don’t want to fight her. This is liar because I text him after the fight saying I want the rematch.”
White has a history of going after Cyborg. Five years ago, White mocked Cyborg for looking like “Wanderlei Silva in a dress and heels” and took Ronda Rousey’s side when she called Cyborg “an it” because of her muscular build. He also called her a “bad representative for female athletes” and casually accused her of being on steroids throughout her career. Cyborg was once suspended for steroid use, though White has notably supported repeat offender Jon Jones through similar violations and even moved an entire PPV card at the last minute to keep Jones eligible to fight.
Because the Spencer fight was the last one on Cyborg’s UFC contract, White seems to be ramping up the attacks on his fighter right before the two parties enter into negotiations for a new deal. It is to White’s and his organization’s benefit to try and drive Cyborg’s value down by characterizing any possible future opponent besides Nunes as a can to crush rather than a legitimate opponent, especially with Bellator president Scott Coker publicly interested in signing Cyborg.
White wants to set up the UFC for a win-win. Cyborg either looks like a coward thanks to a fabricated narrative, or she takes less money than she’s worth to fight Nunes again. This is a well-established part of the UFC playbook, and the organization is more than happy to bury fighters it actually wants if it means they get paid less.