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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.