Strikeforce champ Cris Santos open to dual MMA-wrestling careers
SAN DIEGO – Not fighting, as it turns out, is nothing new to Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos.
Contractual jiu-jitsu has kept her from the cage for the past 16 months, but when she first came to the U.S., she said she went years without a booking.
"I kept my faith in God and just kept training and hoped for the best, and hoped that the fans would want to see me come back to Strikeforce to fight," Santos recently told MMAjunkie.com through a translator.
Still, she entertained the possibility of a move to professional wrestling, and while she said fighting is still a priority, she sees nothing wrong with doing both down the line.
"Basically my priority is to fight for Strikeforce and MMA-type fights," she said. "Everything else will be on the side."
With a new multi-fight contract in place, Santos (10-1 MMA, 4-0 SF) doesn't yet have a need to take other jobs to keep food on the table. On Dec. 17, she looks to defend her women's featherweight championship a third time when she fights Hiroko Yamanaka (12-1 MMA, 0-0 SF) at the Showtime-televised "Strikeforce: Melendez vs. Masvidal," which takes place at Valley View Casino Center in San Diego.
The champ said she's been training consistently during her layoff, and in June, she entered and won a major jiu-jitsu tournament. But, of course, there are questions about ring rust.
"I continued to train at the gym, staying active, so I don't feel that will be a factor," Santos said.
Despite the ailing state of MMA in her native country, Japanese featherweight Yamanaka has fought four times since Santos' most recent appearance, and she's finished all of her opponents. She also owns a win over a previous victim of the champ, Hitomi Akano, which avenged an earlier defeat.
Santos, though, has no intention of giving up her belt.
"I feel happy being a representative of a female champion, and I've always trained seriously to try to be the best champion I can be," she said.
How long she keeps the belt is unclear, and it's not just because of the upcoming fight. The booking resides on one of six remaining events that Strikeforce owes to broadcast partner Showtime, and the premium-cable network has not yet decided whether to renew a broadcast deal that would pave the way for future shows. During Santos' layoff, the landscape for women's MMA was cast into doubt when Strikeforce was purchased by UFC parent company Zuffa, whose executives are not keen on the sport.
"We've always believed in female fights in Strikeforce," Coker said. "I always felt that the women's division deserves a fair shake, and we've always stuck with that. For about a year and a half, Cristiane 'Cyborg' vs. Gina Carano was the highest-rated show on Showtime in the history of MMA programming. One of the Fedor (Emelianenko) fights eeked it out, but it was only by maybe 100,000 households. So it's always delivered well for our partner, and I believe in it. So, to me, it's going to continue."
Ultimately, though, the decision is now out of Coker's hands. Right now, Santos has a belt to defend. But as a professional athlete, she isn't opposed to the possibility of wrestling entertainment.
"I enjoy real fights, but if I had another option to do it, then why not?" she said.