Mass Fighter Exodus from the UFC?

Steve Cofield from Fox Sports Radio 1460 in Vegas says he thinks it’s headed in that direction, via a recent post on his Mr. Sunshine blog:

UFC was forced to lock up most of the Pride stars to new contracts for unheard amounts by UFC’s standards. Much of it appears to be money poorly spent. Stars like Wanderlei Silva, Shogun Rua and Cro Cop have combined to go 1-4 in UFC. White was so disatisfied with Cro Cop, he exercised an option in the Croatian’s contract to release the heavyweight star.

It’s not huge news and has little impact with most American MMA fans. Cro Cop’s lackluster performances showed newer fans little. The assumption from most is that he was never that good to begin with.

It’ll be a different case if U.S. stars like Tito Ortiz, Andrei Arlovski and Tim Sylvia jump for what they view as greener pastures. Those guys would give a huge boost to smaller fight organizations.

Ortiz is going to present a real problem in the coming months. His UFC deal ends after one more fight when he battles Lyoto Machida at UFC 84 in May. That’s gives the former UFC light heavyweight champ a chance to bash the organization and White for three months. The early shots fired between were pretty nasty on NBC’s MMA Fight Weekly.

I agree with Cofield to a great degree, but not completely.

Losing Arlovski and or Sylvia would hurt, but I don’t think they’d represent a loss that the UFC couldn’t compensate for. Brock Lesnar is the real deal and we shouldn’t forget about Shane Carwin. If he can make the cut to 265 pounds, he has the potential to be a star.

There aren’t a lot of young heavyweight prospects out there these days, but V.P. Joe Silva does a good job of scouting and will find them. Blue chippers like Jon Murphy, Dave Herman and Brett Rogers have already been gobbled up by EliteXC, but there are still some unsigned fighters with upside such as former college basketball standout Maurice Jackson and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Marcus Jones.

I’m not saying losing Sylvia or Arlovski wouldn’t hurt, just that their losses wouldn’t represent something the UFC couldn’t recover from.

Tito Ortiz? That’s a different story. Unlike Cofield, I’m not worried about Ortiz bashing the UFC. How many times has he ripped them during contract impasses before? Tito has ripped Dana and the UFC so many times that I think people have become numb to it.

Where the potential loss of Ortiz could hurt the UFC is that he could be of tremendous benefit to the competition. I have no idea what Tito’s asking for. It could be so much that it isn’t worth it to the UFC to re-sign so they can keep him. However, it might be worth it to re-sign him for whatever he’s asking just to prevent him from fighting for anyone else.

People can say what they want about Tito as a fighter, and goodness knows that I have. But the bottom line is that he’s a star and stars in MMA are at a premium right now. People can bitch and moan about Brock Lesnar and Kimbo Slice all they want, but the bottom line is that the masses are willing to pay to see them fight. Ortiz has sold a ton of tickets and pay-per-views over the years. If promoted and marketed properly, he can be every bit the draw he was at his peak during the time of the first Ken Shamrock fight.

Think about it. Let’s look at Tito’s potential options should he become a free agent. A possible rematch in 2009 against Frank Shamrock with the right PR firm behind it could be the most successful non-UFC PPV in MMA history. And don’t think for a second that a fight with Fedor Emelianenko isn’t something that won’t be considered (if it hasn’t already) should Ortiz not re-sign. While I’m sure he wouldn’t be eager to jump in the cage with Fedor, if you pay Tito the right amount of money, he’ll fight just about anyone.

While Fedor and Shamrock are the most logical possibilities, Kimbo Slice and Kurt Angle are possibilities as well. People keep saying they want to see Kimbo fight someone legitimate. Well, Ortiz fits that bill. I also realize that everyone doubts Angle will ever crossover into MMA but if a promotion made a bloated offer then he might actually feel like he has no other choice but to take it. And if you give Tito and Angle enough time to promote a match against each other, Angle might actually be able to justify a multi-million dollar offer to fight Ortiz.

Regarding Kimbo, Tito already began laying the groundwork for that match with his negative comments towards Slice during last year’s ESPN’s “E:60″ feature on Kimbo. For the right amount, Ortiz would likely embrace the role of playing bad guy to Kimbo’s growing fanbase.

I’d go so far as to say the potential loss of Ortiz could affect the UFC more than Randy Couture’s departure. As of now, Couture isn’t working for the UFC’s competition. Meaning, even though he’s not making the UFC any money right now, he’s not making money for anyone else either. While the UFC apparently holds a right of first refusal on Ortiz even after he completes his current contract, the threat of him making money for a competitor to Zuffa makes him more dangerous outside of the cage than inside.

13 COMMENTS
  • Jeremy says:

    I still don’t understand the “mass exodus” title to his article. Three fighters is hardly a mass exodus, unless he is referring to other fighters not mentioned as leaving as well. But they keep resigning guys and signing new ones left and right, so I don’t see that as of now from what I have read on other sites and articles.

    Like you mentioned Sam the only one that really hurts the UFC is Tito Ortiz. Tim Sylvia is not a fan favorite and Arlovski has fought in forever now and hasn’t shown anything when he has lately, so like mentioned those are hardly loses that dramatically hurt them at this point. And really we don’t know if Sylvia is even going to leave since he retracted his statement about leaving the next day.

    The one thing I have wondered, and maybe someone here at fiveouncesofpain.com can help me with is what type of pay organizations in the states other then UFC pay, especially their big time fighters? Can M-1, Hdnet, and EliteXC consistently pay Ortiz, Arlovski or Sylvia what the UFC does. Obviously they probably can in a one-off fight if it’s against the likes of Fedor but how about over a long term deal. We have to figure Oritz(with ppv money that he gets) makes over a million per fight or at least really close to it. I would think Hdnet, with Cubans’ money could pay him that per fight but what about EliteXC and M-1? I don’t know if he would want to sign with a Japanese organization that could pay him that kind of money and not be in the American spotlight.

    What I am trying to figure out is if the opportunities for these guys is really there on a consistent basis. And/or is it worth it for some of these organizations that can pay them to do it? Meaning is it worth M-1 or EliteXC to sign a Tim Sylvia to a couple hundred grand a fight?

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  • Gabber says:

    As of now, according to MMAjunkie, Randy is now under contract with HDNet Fights.

    As for Tito, I think his loss would be a huge blow to the PR machine of the UFC especially with him coming off (and most likely winning Celebrity Apprentice). Tito has huge star power, he made the UFC through the dark years, the only guys you can count on winning during that time was Hughes and Tito. He gets the Jenna Jamesion Fans, he gets old UFC fans, he gets the new UFC fans, he gets fans of TUF coaching against Shamrock, he gets the fans that hate him that want to see him lose….now he gets very casual Apprentice fans, he gets troop support from all his time spent overseas. The guy truly is the epitome of market saturation and it works. The guy is just a machine and no matter what the outcome, win or lose vs Machida, Tito is still going to be talked about more than his opponent. Tito still holds the record for most PPV’s for the #1 & #2 spot for the UFC. Tito has done his homework, his legwork and his PR work, now he truly has become bigger than the UFC. That doesn’t mean he’s going to start his own fight organization or any of that BS. But I agree with Sam, anyone you put Tito up against Fedor, Randy, Shamrock, Angle, Arlovski or Slice, he is going to give the competition some clout. It might only be for that one show but if that shows goes as well EliteXC did last weekend, they’re going to garner some fans. Kimbo really brought me into the EliteXC show and I can deal with some problems (the Vanilla Ice Rapper and the 5 minutes to wait for the replay of KO) but Tito can do that with a whole lot of people who only know Tito and don’t know the UFC nearly as well.

    I think it’s in the UFC’s best interest to re-sign Tito, who cares if he tanks and goes 2-2 on a four fight deal. I bet they’re selling more PPV’s and putting more butts in seats with him fighting in their cage, in their house.

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  • Jo says:

    I think it would be a bad move on Dana & UFC to let Tito go else where. I think Dana needs to leave his ego aside and make a business decision with out emotions. Obviously there is some bad blood between him and Tito but Dana has made a lot of money of Tito’s fights, probably more than Tito made fighting for Dana. I think it pisses Dana off that Tito is getting more and more star power. It is going to be interesting to see how it plays out.

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  • cyphron says:

    The problem is that there are so many fighters that can be on a roster. The UFC boast the biggest influx of great up and comers out there as well as top veterans.

    You have Lyoto, Wanderlei, Shogun, Nogueira, etc . coming in and winning or putting on great fights. And then you have the the Tito and Arlovski who are on a losing streak or are putting on boring fights… but yet they demand “winner’s” money. Something’s gotta give right?

    Who would you rather lose: Machida, Shogun, Wanderlei, Nogueira, Lesnar OR Sylvia, Arlovski, Tito? There’s only a finite amount of money to be spread around.

    When you put up with the demands that losing fighters ask for, then you must pay the winners more. As fighter’s salaries rised, so has the price for the PPV. Every one would like fighters to get paid big bucks, but are you ready to pay $5 to $10 more for PPV? When fighter’s pay rises, either buy rates have to rise as well, or PPV prices must rise. Since 2007 PPV buy rates stayed the same, guess what? 2008 PPV prices have risen.

    Sure, the UFC is taking in 40 mill profits, but they’re paying $28 mil in interests on their loans. Lets not forget the staff salaries as well as marketing and expansion costs. When sports leagues make $4 billion in revenues, a $100 mil staff, marketing expense budget is only 2.5% of revenues. When the UFC makes 200 mil in revenues, a staff budget of 50 mil is 25% of revenues. Why do I have a feeling that the UFC isn’t making as much money as we all believe?

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  • Evan says:

    “But the bottom line is that he’s a star and stars in MMA are at a premium right now”

    My argument has always been that Tito’s star power is rapidly dropping.

    You can only have a propped up star for so long and his mouth will become more tiresome as his results continue to disappoint. Be it that he hasn’t evolved with the rest of MMA or he is simply hosting too many injuries not many really considers him a contender anymore.

    I just looked at several mma sites and including this one nobody has him in top 10 that I saw for LHW.

    What benefit would the UFC have in signing him to a large contract? How many more times can he draw on a card with such poor results?

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  • Gabber says:

    I think you guys are looking at it in the wrong light.

    Star Power has nothing to do with being successful….plain and simple.

    Tito is more popular outisde of UFC then he is inside the “hardcore fan collective”.

    How many people watch Celebrity Apprentice every week?

    Compare that to how many buys most UFC events get….

    Not even close. The Neilsen rating on the show is through the roof and they’ve already signed on for more seasons…

    Think of all the people that know of him through Jenna.

    It’s crazy, the guy is going to glow with MegaStar Power…

    That equates to more pub for the UFC and more PPV buys….

    And talk about a guy who is on his way down. Randy got knocked out twice and retired, came back and wiped the floor with two “Top 10 HW’s”

    Tito has been dominant before, he can do it again. Better for the UFC if he tries to do it there instead of giving Mark Cuban 500,000 PPV buys for him fighting Fedor. :P

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  • bjjdenver says:

    Mass exodus= Tito, Timmy and AA??

    Tito would probably be the biggest loss, even if you consider him to be irrelevant at this point. Fact is he is highly visible to the casual fan and an org like EXC adding him would give them instant legitimacy and recognition.

    Tim would only be a loss because, imo, the HWs are the weakest division and letting him become available to M1/K1/EXC/anyone would add to the possible matchups they could promote, i.e. Fedor/Tim, CC/Time, etc.

    AA is the biggest loss to me. He still has a broad fan base and the skill set to be the champ. However, he has looked bad or cautious in his recent fights and average UFC fan has no patience for that. Also for the same reasons as Tim.

    I really can’t see the UFC letting AA and Tim both go. For some reason, I expect to see them stay with the UFC.

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  • Evan says:

    “Star Power has nothing to do with being successful….plain and simple.”

    But eventually you have to do something with that star power. Proof of that is why Fedor is taking so much heat nowadays.

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  • Mike Wolfe says:

    How do we know that Tito wants to stay? As Cyphron points out. light heavy has a lot of depth in the UFC. Tito would be better off moving to an org. where he’s top of the food chain and not buried in the middle of the ranks or lower. If he signs with an org. with less depth, casual fans will still be impressed if he beats fighters who wouldn’t be competitive in the UFC. A series of wins will enhance is “star power” more than a tough losses against better quality opponents. I say Tito’s best decision is to move on, and he’s smart enough to know it.

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  • Andrej says:

    Tito Leaving would not hurt the UFC as much because of his fights of late. Why would the UFC resign this guy. This guy had a draw with Rashad Evans who he should have walked through. I just don’t get why it is such a huge loss if they let go of Tito Ortiz. He hasn’t even fought in a main event in such a long time?

    Tim Sylvia I don’t see leaving. He has a rematch with Frank Mir or Nogueira 2 if he want’s. He has beaten good comp in Brandon Vera and Jeff Monson. I just don’t see him going.

    Andre Arlovski has been very boring of late. His fights with Fabricio Werdum and Tim Sylvia makes you question if his heart is in it. He was exciting but not anymore. Maybe EliteXC will want him for a dollar.

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  • mike wolfe says:

    I’d be surprised if Sylvia left. He’s always focused on the UFC belt, and I’ve never seen anything suggesting he’s unhappy in the UFC.

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  • treebranch says:

    “While I’m sure he wouldn’t be eager to jump in the cage with Fedor, if you pay Tito the right amount of money, he’ll fight just about anyone.”

    And that is exactly why Tito hasn’t accomplished anything in MMA in the recent years. Tito only cares about money (which I can’t blame him), but in MMA you need to love what you’re doing. Chuck, Couture, and all the stars LOVE to fight. They take on all comers. Not Tito. He should want to fight Fedor to prove he is the best. But, No, it’s all about the money.

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  • glock says:

    Let him go, who give a fu#& ?? UFC has plenty of HW talent to keep us interested
    lesner and kongo come to my mojito infused mind pretty quickly..
    Tito who??

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