Women's 145-pound powerhouse Cris Cyborg and her manager Tito Ortiz say the goal is still the same: to fight Ronda Rousey. They say that even though just last week, they succeeded in getting Cyborg released from her Zuffa contract in order to sign with Invicta. They say it even though that decision moved her further away from the goal than she was even a few days ago, even though she continues to insist she can't make the bantamweight limit, and even though she claims to have no rooting interest in Saturday night's UFC 157 matchup between Rousey and Liz Carmouche.
To hear Ortiz tell it, it is all part of a long-term strategy to increase Cyborg's marketability and attractiveness to Zuffa, hopefully leading to a scenario where it's a fight that can no longer be ignored.
There is some evidence he may be correct. Cyborg's name has been all over the MMA news in the last week, with first, her demand to be release met, and then, the announcement of an April Invicta fight against Ediane Gomes.
"Everyone wants to do interviews with us and everyone wants to know what’s going on," Ortiz said in a joint interview with Cyborg on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. "I guess Cyborg really is relevant no matter what."
That last statement came as a sort of retort to UFC president Dana White, who said at one point last week that Cyborg was presently "irrelevant" in his UFC picture. However, there was a little more to the story, in that White had floated to Cyborg and Ortiz the opportunity to sign a Zuffa contract but compete in Invicta, on Zuffa's dime, until they could figure out the future together.
Cyborg and Ortiz declined that opportunity. Cyborg said she was opposed to the eight-fight deal proposed by Zuffa because she could see nothing for her on the horizon past the bout with Rousey. Ortiz added that the salary increases offered in the deal were "not much at all."
Given those two factors, they chose to strike out on their own, independently reaching a deal with Invicta, the upstart women's fight promotion that has produced four events to date.
The hope is that Cyborg can string together a win streak that increases her profile and puts more pressure on Zuffa to bring her back into the fold to face Rousey. If Cyborg can get past Gomes in her debut, she would next be paired off with Marloes Coenen, a well-respected former Strikeforce champion at 135 pounds who has since returned to her past weight class of 145. Such a win would certainly cause many observers to take notice.
"Do three fights, show how dominant she can be in three fights, then we can negotiate and show what’s she’s truly worth," Ortiz said. "I'm going to do my part as a promoter and manager of getting her name huge and showing everybody that she’s a force to be reckoned with and never to be forgotten."
When it comes to Rousey-Cyborg, Ortiz and Cyborg are also sticking to their guns on the catch weight provision. Ortiz said that Cyborg tried a practice cut down to 135 pounds but was cut off before she ever got close.
"People say 'take muscle off,'" he said. "Well, she’s been fighting at this weight her whole career and muscle memory is not something that is lost quick."
Ortiz believes that the UFC does want to do the fight, and that eventually they will. In his estimation, doing the fight at a 140-pound catch weight means that Cyborg is the one sacrificing the most. While she has to cut an extra five pounds, Rousey will have a much easier cut than she used to. And, he also points out, the UFC conveniently discusses catch weight fights in other instances.
"Why would they keep talking about GSP vs. Anderson Silva? Why would they talk about Jonny "Bones" Jones vs. Anderson Silva?" he asked. "Then all of the sudden when they talk about Cris Cyborg vs. Ronda Rousey, it's never going to happen, no possible way."
For her part, Cyborg said she is happy with her newly established path, saying she is pleased that she can fight in April and restart her career. From there, it's forward momentum. She doesn't plan to be in Anaheim, California this weekend to watch the history-making fight between Rousey and Cyborg, but aside from that, her sights remain focused on the same target.
"I’m leaving from the UFC, but she’s still in my line," she said. "I want to fight her. I don't want to talk about her more but I really want to fight her. I feel the fight will happen. Maybe she’s now happy because we can’t fight soon but she hasn't proven herself to be the best in the world, she did not fight me. I hope the fight happens. She's in my line."