February 20th, 2013 will stick out in the minds of MMA fans for a long time. It was the day that Jon Fitch, Paul Sass, Terry Etim, Vladimir Matyushenko, Jacob Volkmann, Jay Hieron, Motonobu Tezuka, Josh Grispi, Ulysses Gomez, Mike Russow, Che Mills, Mike Stumpf, Simeon Thoresen, Jorge Santiago, CJ Keith, and Wagner Prado were all told that their services were no longer needed by the UFC. In case you didn’t notice, there are some significant names on that list. The only thing that makes all of them comparable is that they are all coming off of a loss.
Is this a valid reason to cut someone? Sometimes. Stumpf, Keith, Prado, Tezuka … these are all names that aren’t good enough to stick around. Josh Grispi had too many chances. Jay Hieron and Vladdy Mats were the imperfect combination of “workmanlike” and “increasingly likely to get killed in under a minute”.
The reason behind cutting guys like Jon Fitch and Paul Sass is more difficult to pinpoint. In fact, I don’t even think I can. So here are a few theories, for feces and giggles.
It’s about money.
Jon Fitch made $66,000 in his last fight, a lopsided loss to Demian Maia. Sass and Volkmann both make between 10 and 20 thousand per fight. Che Mills fought for peanuts. The money theory doesn’t work for me, as the UFC is in the business of making a great deal of it. Some guys on the roster are undoubtedly overpaid, and some are underpaid, but that doesn’t change the fact that the UFC isn’t struggling to pay these guys, and it’s hardly cringe-worthy to give 66K per fight to Fitch, a perennial top ten welterweight.
(Tangent: I’m not defending these cuts in any form or fashion, but at least guys aren’t getting cut after wins. Imagine being an NFL player that has been loyal, recognizable, and a valuable asset to their franchise for years and years. Then, all of a sudden, you get called into the coaches office one day as you’re finishing up an offseason workout. You are told to bring your playbook. You get axed. And it’s all business. It’s all about clearing cap space. They are very, almost disturbingly, upfront about this. Thanks for the memories, Hall of Famer. Enjoy trying to get signed somewhere else for the league minimum. And could you shut the door on your way out, please? And that brings me to theory #2 …)
Like I said, after a certain point in an NFL player’s career, he can never feel like his job is secure, purely for monetary reasons. Some of these Zuffa cuts, though, have a personal twinge to them. Especially in the case of Jonathan Parker Fitch. He’s had numerous squabbles with Dana White in the past, the subjects being anything from publicly saying he wouldn’t fight his teammate (with Dana standing right there), to refusing to give the UFC lifetime rights to his name to use in a video game, to publicly complaining about salary. Throw in the fact that he hardly has a style that would appeal to someone like Dana, and there he goes.
I would wager that this angle definitely has something to do with his release, if not others. Dana White might be the most petulant, petty human being on the planet when it comes to stuff like this. However, I doubt even he would come out and admit it. Wait, of course he would. He’s Dana White. Whatever. That brings us to our final theory.
It’s about roster space.
When the Ultimate Fighter debuted in 2005, the rhetoric was that whoever won the show would get a $100,000 UFC contract. What was never mentioned or eluded to was the fact that many of the other cast members would also go on to make multiple Octagon appearances. This tradition remains today, as fighters like Paul Sass (3-2 in the UFC with one of the most dynamic, relentless submission games out there) and Jon Fitch (one of the most accomplished welterweights of all time) get shelved so that mediocre (that might be too kind) Johnny-come-lately’s like Mike Ricci and Colin “Freakshow” Fletcher can get shine on pay-per-views.
Another issue with this list is that it is partly comprised of guys who got their shot in the UFC because someone went down with an injury. If you’re Jorge Santiago or Motonobu Tezuka, do you take a short notice fight, knowing that your opponent has the benefit of a full training camp? Or do you decline it, knowing that Dana White and his pals frown on such an act and might not call you back? Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
The UFC also has a habit of liquidating promotions and seizing their assets. The result is that their roster boasts nearly 400 fighters. Now, if they had gone about these liquidations a little bit more methodically, then the cycle of roster cuts might not be so insane. But they added the featherweight and bantamweight divisions, the flyweights, the Strikeforce guys, and the women, all in the span of 2 years. It was too much, too soon, and it left them with no other option than to make mass cuts, after pretty much every card. The problem with this set of cuts is that, business or personal, they got rid of the wrong guys. Some took short notice fights and lost. Some burned bridges with the boss man. Most importantly, some are excellent fighters that the UFC could have kept using to great effect, but for whatever reason, they chose not to.
Congratulations, UFC. Your roster is now less interesting.