Ion Cutelaba has a knack for standing out. And not just because of his chiseled, 6-foot-1 physique.
The UFC light heavyweight fighter famously painted his body green to emulate The Incredible Hulk multiple times for weigh-ins. Over the summer, he wore a replica of WWE legend Bret Hart’s sunglasses on the way to the Octagon in Hart’s hometown of Calgary.
Cutelaba wants to do even more — he understands the marketing aspect of the sport better than most — but has been held back a bit by the UFC’s relationship with official apparel sponsor Reebok, he said.
“Unfortunately, a lot of the time I feel that due to the marketing restrictions I can’t really express myself freely as a fighter, I always want to put on a show but am not able to do what I would want to at the weigh-ins or promote myself the way I would like to,” the Moldovia native told MMA Fighting in an interview translated into English. “Hopefully next time I will be granted permission.”
That next time will come in the UFC’s debut on ESPN+, against Glover Teixeira on Jan. 19 in Brooklyn. Putting him on such a significant card, where plenty of people will be watching, means the UFC must have an idea of Cutelaba’s promise, too.
Cutelaba, still just 24 years old, has won two straight fights by violent knockout, most recently a first-round TKO of Gadzhimurad Antigulov at UFC Calgary in July. Afterward, he called out UFC light heavyweight champion (and heavyweight champ) Daniel Cormier, who was sitting cageside on commentary. Cutelaba has major aspirations, including one day becoming a double titleholder like Cormier, he said.
“I guarantee you that if DC fights me, he will be praying that the fight ends as soon as possible, due to the pain I’d be causing him,” Cutelaba said. “He knows that I’ll be trouble for him in the future, my power would be too much, and with youth on my side, he would find it hard to take me down repeatedly. To be honest, there isn’t anyone on the roster who would not struggle against me.”
Cutelaba promises he’s going to be the UFC’s next golden boy at 205 pounds, once the premier division in the sport graced by the likes of Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Randy Couture, Quinton Jackson and more.
“[Yes,] 100 percent I will be UFC’s next big light heavyweight star,” Cutelaba said. “Just give me some time, and you’ll see me knocking down all doors to success. I have a great team behind me and this will help me get to the top, and with each and every single fight camp I’ve been evolving and getting better.”
One of the things that has him so confident is an improved way of cutting weight. Cutelaba said he has adopted more of a scientific method and that has him feeling even better once he gets in the cage. He no longer needs use of a sauna to shed pounds.
“I used to cut weight the ‘traditional way’ for my first three UFC fights — sauna and dehydration — and like all the other guys who do it, I just wasn’t feeling right,” Cutelaba said. “I used to cut 22 pounds in the sauna alone. But then for my last two weight cuts I started working with a team of medical doctors for the duration of my fight camps, they are called The Fuel Clinic, and it’s the best thing I have done. They showed me there’s a science behind all this, and that the dehydration and all the other harmful methods fighters put themselves through are not necessary to make the cut, I don’t cut a single pound in the sauna now. Dropping the weight should have the aim of improving performance, not just to make the scales, and since working with them I have had two first-round knockouts, and I feel a lot better with my power maintained, whereas before I felt drained. But now I look good and feel good and have my Hulk power back and will continue to do so.”
Perhaps the green paint will be back for the Teixeira fight, though Cutelaba did not say for sure.
“You know, I’m the real Hulk, not the one from Marvel — that’s just a cartoon,” he said with a laugh. “The persona of the Hulk represents me best. The idea of paining myself green came from my team, and I felt it was a great idea and it portrayed me to the public the exact way I wanted.”
If Reebok wasn’t in play, Cutelaba said he’d have some ideas — “something that costs a lot of money and is super flashy” — for his in-ring attire. But he won’t divulge any specifics, in case he does get to show everyone some day.
“I have a very rich imagination, trust me I’d stun the whole world if I didn’t have marketing restrictions,” Cutelaba said. “I don’t wanna give anything more away still though, just in case I can get away with doing some of the things I have in mind for my next fights.”