Dominick Cruz is about as much of a straight shooter as one gets in MMA. If you ask him a question, he’s going to give you an answer — often whether you like it or not.
That’s why Cruz was a little confused when he heard Marlon Vera’s pre-fight chatter ahead of their main event this Saturday at UFC San Diego. Earlier this year, Vera lambasted Cruz for allegedly ducking fights with him because of his ranking. Cruz pushed back on the narrative at the time, explaining that if he did ever turn Vera down in the past, it was probably only because the date didn’t work out for him. But Vera has largely kept that same energy since the matchup was booked, and Cruz isn’t sure why “Chito” is so upset.
“You’ve got to remember, it’s not as clear of communication between fighters is as it could be,” Cruz said Monday on The MMA Hour. “So you’ve got a matchmaker, you’ve got managers — who knows what the matchmaker is saying to the manager, then who knows what the manager is saying to the fighter. Whereas, I represent myself. I talk to the matchmaker directly. So I’m pretty clear. I told you, ‘I want the date, I want somebody ranked above me, and that’s it.’
“And if the date doesn’t align with the timing of the person, I could see how they might think that I don’t want to fight them. But maybe they just want to fight at a different date than I do? So it’s OK. I can’t blame the guy [Vera] for thinking that way if that’s what he wants to think. But it’s not necessarily true either, because obviously we’re here.”
Cruz isn’t the only popular UFC fighter to recently open up about his decision to cut out the intermediary in conversations between he and UFC matchmakers. Fellow bantamweight star Sean O’Malley gave a lengthy explanation on The MMA Hour this past month about why he now represents himself in UFC negotiations rather than employing an MMA manager.
Cruz clarified that he doesn’t necessarily manage himself; he simply chooses to represent himself and communicate for himself when it comes time to book his next UFC fight.
“I’ve had to learn,” Cruz said. “I’ve been in the game for 16-plus years, so it’s like, after a while you’ve built some relationships with people and you understand. I’ve got a good relationship with [UFC matchmaker] Sean Shelby in the sense of communication. If he wants to talk to me, he can reach out to me. And I think a lot of us fighters can do that with Sean Shelby whenever we want. You’ve just got to have the heuvos to do it, because he’s a good talker and he knows how to get under your skin, and he knows how to throw this guy at you.
“But with Shelby and me, we have a pretty clear line of communication, and with that I can get to the point. And here we are.”
Cruz added that given the current landscape of the UFC, in his eyes, the only instance in which it usually makes sense for him to use the services of a manager as an intermediary is when it’s time to renegotiate a new multi-fight contract.
Aside from that, the former two-time UFC bantamweight champion likes to handle his business himself.
“In the UFC, we’re signed to a six-fight contract,” Cruz said. “Are we not? Four-fight contract usually at the lowest. So why would I pay somebody for four fights when it’s set after one? That doesn’t make sense to me. And then on top of that, with a manager, how are they supposed to be bringing in sponsors if the UFC dictates the sponsors? So now the UFC dictates the sponsors, and UFC dictates the contract, so what is the manager actually doing? They’re just talking and creating the communication. And what managers are good at, from my experience, is making it seem like they have all the hookups — but in the UFC, what hookups can you get when the UFC makes the decisions for you?
“Now, if you’re in Bellator, if you’re in PFL, if you’re in any of these other organizations, it makes perfect sense to me for a fighter to have representation, because sponsors can get brought in, they can build relationships elsewhere. They can have a lineup of like 10 fighters, and because one manager has a lineup of 10 fighters, sponsors might come to them directly and say, ‘Hey, do you have anybody?’ So then it makes sense. But in the UFC, how many sponsors are even allowed in the UFC? Very few. And they’re already decided by the UFC. So the UFC sponsors who they want and the UFC makes the contracts.
“So for me, after the manager renegotiates my contract from one fight, I feel like I’ll pay them on that, and then from there I can do the communication for myself, because it’s already [there],” Cruz continued. “The contract is set. It’s only going to go up a certain amount each fight from there and that’s already dictated after the first conversation. So a manager is really only having one conversation and it’s getting is getting paid out for four fights? That doesn’t make sense to me.”
Cruz went on to explain that twice he’s gotten close to fighting out his contract and testing free agency, but ultimately he and the UFC came to some form of deal.
“They’ve always been willing to work with me,” Cruz said. “I just don’t talk [to them] like a prick.
“It’s really easy if you just talk to them; talk to [UFC executive] Hunter [Campbell], talk to Sean Shelby. They’re very open to listen to you if you can create the conversation from a neutral place. It’s when you come at them all crazy [is when things go wrong], ‘I deserve this.’ You’ve just got to come from a neutral place. Nobody deserves anything. You earn everything get in this sport, so you’ve got to understand they’re running a business.
“I’ve been doing this so long, I’ve watched the UFC build themselves from Spike TV to Versus to FOX to ESPN,” Cruz continued. “Like, I know what they’ve done — they’re worldwide, they’re international. It’s incredible, the business model that they built into. Sold to WME-IMG or whatever that long acronym is. Just the steps that they’ve taken, how can you not respect the UFC as a business? They’re pretty smart.”