Yesterday, the UFC sent shockwaves into the MMA community with a massive downsize of a group of fighters. These fighters were well known, and some relatively big names for the promotion. Atop that list was 19 time UFC veteran, Jon Fitch. While the cuts were made for budget reasons (and maybe others that the UFC is yet to or won’t reveal), they marked a paramount instance for the UFC and the sport of MMA. And while the fan in me is sad to see some of the fighters let go, putting myself in a fighter’s shoes is the hardest part about the situation.
I am an athlete, and have competed my whole life. People who have had experience competing in athletics, or even their workplace know what it’s like to fight for something. Whether it is their wellbeing, family, passion or life (in the case of the militia), there are certain things that hold a certain importance in life, and fighting to keep those things becomes the top priority on the list of instinctual and primal tasks. In the case of mixed martial arts, fighters are faced with a confusing locale.
They spend their lives training and fighting fueled by passion, a desire to reach the pinnacle of the sport, or simply the notion of how much really lies in the balance for them to be successful at beating up another person on a given night. And knowing (especially after yesterday) that failing to do so just once could close the door on all they’ve worked for since they started in the sport, is a scary reality.
But what sometimes seems incredibly unfair is how the UFC boils down to an entertainment business. They promote fights, fighters, events and programming all for the Ultimate Fighting Championship brand. And there really isn’t anyone to blame for this. Dana White isn’t doing anything wrong by cutting fighters, and manipulating the system based on the fights he and his company want to market. Because he created the business, and there are few rules he is forced to abide by. When trying to succeed in producing quality entertainment, the fighters and their feelings wind up last on the list of things holding any sort of importance.
This creates a dynamic where the fighters become toy soldiers controlled by the demanding infant hands of the UFC brass. They are moved around, matched up and given few and far fetched opportunities to stay employed. And that was the reality before 17 fighters were terminated yesterday. Now, that same inclination has been blatantly augmented. Simply, the UFC went out and said “We can do what we want and not have any reason to give anyone for it”.
Jon Fitch didn’t deserve the release. There really isn’t a justification for what happened, but there doesn’t really need to be one. It’s tough to hear about, given how many times he has competed with and knocked down top 10 talent. But what happened to him and the rest of the cut list sends a loud message to anyone wanting to excel in mixed martial arts.
The UFC is and has been the top of the MMA food chain for years now and is only lengthening the gap between them and any remote second place promotion. It’s the apex of MMA. Every single fighter scrapping their way through small shows, then waking up to train before work the next day dreams of hearing Burt Watson yell at them as they walk out of the tunnel. The UFC has become the american dream. And what happened yesterday pushed that dream to a cumbersome distance for fighters everywhere.
Hearing that a guy who closely competed with Georges St. Pierre, beat down a rising brazilian prospect for a fight of the year contender, put together a legendary 14 UFC wins and regardless of his sometimes tiring style of fighting, proved himself to be a top ten welterweight (even by the UFC’s rankings) in the world be dropped like he was, is artlessly rattling.
It’s a revealing hint at what direction the UFC wants to move in, and the control they wish to maintain over their employees. Taking that away from yesterday is what must be done, because refusing to play by their rules will get your name on a UFC pink slip. And it doesn’t need to be fair.