It has been more than a week since the UFC announced that Jon Fitch had been cut as the organization is trimming its roster of “superfluous” talent.
Translation: Those who don’t add to the big entertainment/marketing machine are unceremoniously released.
Sure, UFC president Dana White offered many justifications in what by all accounts was an epic 15-minute rant following last Saturday’s UFC 157 in Anaheim.
And if it was meant to send the message that if you don’t deliver in the cage you’ll find yourself in danger, then you can understand the motivation.
However, it may have actually backfired.
Case in point: Last Saturday’s Brendan Schaub vs. Lavar Johnson fight. In what was tabbed as a potential slugfest, Schaub instead employed a safer gameplan, taking Johnson down repeatedly and controlling the action for a crowd-booed, social media-criticized unanimous decision. While Schaub may not admit it — he was unapologetic about his cerebral approach — you’d have to think the fact that Fitch was cut after one loss meant he knew there was no way he was keeping his job if he lost his third straight. Thus, he fought the way that was most likely to earn him a win, not most likely to entertain. Essentially, he put on Fitch-like performance.
On the flipside, White talked about guys likes Dennis Bermudez and Matt Grice, who put on a Fight of the Night performance, as an example of the way to fight to avoid a pink slip. However, Grice was being lauded for his ability to take a shot and not quit. But it’s not like Schaub failed to do that (or Fitch for that matter). They simply didn’t need to. And if Grice could have executed a slightly-less-exciting-but-winning fight, don’t you think he would have?
The precedent that has now been set is even if you’re entering a fight coming off a win, your job is still in jeopardy with just one loss. And that can make for nervous fighters who may not fight the way they normally do, which is not good for their health, or the long-term health of the sport.
That backdrop could very well be on fighters’ minds this weekend in Japan. Fellow Sportsnet.ca blogger E. Spencer Kyte already believes that is the case with Hector Lombard. While his big salary plays a big role in that, don’t think for one second lower-profile fighters are feeling more secure just because they’re pulling in less dough. With the UFC a reported 100 fighters over its roster, both high-priced and bargain-basement talent could be on the chopping block.
The headliners of Saturday’s UFC event in Japan, Wanderlei Silva and Brian Stann, are both coming off losses. Could they be in danger? It seems unlikely because they are fan favourites. Co-headliners Mark Hunt or Stefan Struve? Let’s hope not, as they’re both potential title challengers. But then again, so was Fitch not long ago.
As for everyone else on the card — let’s just say they that the Land of the Rising Sun won’t save them from the shadow of the lowering axe.
And UFC fighters know as well as fans that when White wields a figurative sword, you’d better listen. Take Jose Aldo, who was reportedly refusing to accept the matchup with Anthony Pettis last weekend.
White’s response: “He’s going to fight Pettis or he’s not going to like how this turns out.”
That sounded pretty ominous.
Any problems were alleviated when the UFC promised Aldo that he would get an immediate lightweight title shot with a win — the same terms that Pettis is getting at featherweight.
Seems fair — quite reasonable, actually — but I imagine the UFC was going to get its way regardless. Aldo is one of the UFC’s biggest pound-for-pound stars, but he’s not irreplaceable. Very few are.
Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre certainly are. Jon Jones (the UFC 151 debacle notwithstanding) and Cain Velasquez (who last week signed an eight-fight deal) likely are too. And now, so is new women’s champ Ronda Rousey.
Everyone else is expendable. The UFC’s No. 9-ranked welterweight getting cut should teach us that.
And for those who justify it by Fitch’s recent record, saying he only has one win his last four fights (two losses, one draw), another way of looking at it is he only has two losses in his last nine fights (since his title-fight defeat to GSP). It’s all a matter of perspective.
And then there’s Nick Diaz, who reportedly was up to his old tricks, missing some media tapings of UFC Primetime and causing White to suggest he was close to pulling him from the upcoming UFC 158 title fight with St-Pierre again.
While White said they eventually got on the same page, the likely scare tactic was probably meant to avoid any further issues (of which they’re thankfully haven’t been any). While Diaz himself isn’t on the above list of non-expendable fighters, the UFC certainly doesn’t want the upcoming much-awaited matchup with GSP postponed (or cancelled) yet again.
We’ve got our fingers crossed. As do many UFC fighters these days.