Officials with World Wrestling Entertainment have denied a Brazilian report that Strikeforce women's middleweight champion Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos was negotiating to join the never-ending list of MMA names to have participated in pro wrestling.
An article on the Brazilian MMA-based Tatame.com said Santos and her fighter-husband, Evangelista "Cyborg" Santos, were at a World Wrestling Entertainment event in California two weeks ago and that she was offered a contract.
Santos has a "champion's clause" in her contract, as do all Strikeforce champs ever since former middleweight title holder Jake Shields left the promotion to go to rival Ultimate Fighting Championships. The clause, similar to those in UFC contracts, binds a champion to the promotion until they lose. Because of the clause, Santos would need the permission of Strikeforce to appear in a WWE ring.
A similar situation occurred last year when Vince McMahon, the larger-than-life president of WWE, attempted to put together a Brock Lesnar vs. Undertaker match for his biggest event of this year – WrestleMania on April 3 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Negotiations fell apart when UFC president Dana White would not allow Lesnar to appear on a WWE broadcast. White's feeling was that he didn't want the lines blurred between WWE's fantasy fights and UFC's legitimate battles. More recently, when Roy Nelson's UFC career was in limbo over a rival promotion claiming an existing contract, his people sent feelers to WWE about him switching over. WWE has always favored people with good physiques, however, and did not express interest in the rotund Nelson.
Santos, a heavily muscled Brazilian, would fit in with WWE's male performers. But she would be in sharp contrast to the women who usually appear on its programs. The company's female performers are usually models, recruited from bikini catalogues and NBA dance troupes. Many have also been chosen based on annual Diva Search competitions, glorified bikini contests on the company's television shows.
Santos does, however, have a lot of similarities to one of the company's most popular female wrestlers of the late 1990s: Joanie "Chyna" Laurer.
Going from pro wrestling to mixed martial arts, or in the other direction, is quite common. Nearly 100 UFC fighters over its 17-year history also did pro wrestling – the most well known being UFC's current top drawing card, Lesnar, as well as other legends of the sport such as Ken Shamrock, Frank Shamrock and Kazushi Sakuraba. While Lesnar's background is well known to almost all UFC fans, few are aware of the pro wrestling background of a number of fighters on the current roster – including Krzysztof Soszynski, Riki Fukuda and Tom Lawlor. Even fewer know that Chael Sonnen had been accepted in the World Championship Wrestling training school before that promotion folded.
Of the 15 men who have been heavyweight champions in UFC's history, Frank Mir, Randy Couture, Cain Velasquez and Andrei Arlovski are the only fighters who have never done pro wrestling. In the late '90s, Couture did several matches with a Japanese pro wrestling organization that put on both planned and legitimate matches. But all of his matches were legitimate.
No female MMA champion in the United States has ever done pro wrestling, even though every major U.S. pro wrestling organization was envious of the star power of Gina Carano, Santos' major rival. Japanese women's MMA even originated from pro wrestling.
The story may be contract posturing, since Santos has not fought since a June 29 win over Jan Finney due to negotiations for a new deal.
"We're negotiating Cristiane's contract," said Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker. "We hope to finalize something soon."
Coker, in Columbus, Ohio, for a Saturday-night Showtime event, indicated he first heard about it Thursday night and didn't know if the Santos story was serious or just an attempt to leverage the current talks.
Strikeforce (unlike UFC) has allowed fighters to have joint deals – some of its top fighters also have contracts with Japanese organizations. The WWE – unless it's a one-time celebrity appearance – usually insists on owning the exclusive rights to the performers it puts on television.
Santos is likely not a big-enough celebrity to fit that bill. The WWE gives its talent stage names so the organization can own all the intellectual property rights to the characters they promote. Due to the success of Lesnar and Stacy Keibler on "Dancing with the Stars" being able to leave the organization and use their names, the company wants its characters unable to use their names after leaving the organization.
Santos' August 2009 championship win over Gina Carano was the biggest women's MMA fight in history, setting a Showtime record with a 2.17 television rating. Though Santos proved to be the better fighter, winning via referee stoppage due to punches on the ground with one second left in the first round, the success of the match was largely due to the popularity of Carano. Santos earned $25,000 for that fight, just one-fifth what Carano earned. She is believed to be seeking a new deal with numbers closer to Carano.
Her subsequent championship defenses against Marloes Coenen and Finney, however, couldn't even approach the interest level of the Carano fight.