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Win or Go Home: Taking a look at possible future UFC roster cuts

If Dave Meltzer’s reporting is accurate (and it usually is), the UFC will be cutting its existing talent roster down from 200 to somewhere in between the 140-160 range.

According to the print edition of last week’s Wrestling Observer, Meltzer indicated that the loser of every non-televised undercard match from this point forward will be a candidate to be cut, barring an amazing performance in a losing effort.

If the UFC cuts 50 fighters, that means its current workforce will be downsized by about 25%. That’s a pretty steep number, and as such, there are a lot of fighters right now who are essentially on unofficial notice.

Nobody likes to see anyone lose their job, but the reality is that the UFC isn’t going to continue to put on 11-13 fights each show for much longer. It’s likely that they decided to expand their roster in the first place in hopes of hoarding talent in an attempt to hinder its competition from building up their own rosters. But after seeing EliteXC sign Scott Smith and then proceed to schedule him for the first-ever broadcast of an MMA event on live primetime network TV, the strategy essentially became moot.

Fighters such as Smith, Soa Palelei, Diego Saraiva, Doug Evans, Ryan Jensen, Junior Assuncao, Hermes Franca, Joe Veres, Hector Ramirez, David Terrell and several other fighters were put on the chopping block towards the latter stages of last year and during the early portion of this year.

The latest round of cuts got an early start soon after UFC 83, with Travis Lutter being dropped following a disappointing loss to Rich Franklin. Both Kalib Starnes and Charles McCarthy have also signaled their respective retirements in the wake of their losses in Montreal, but chances are they would have been dropped regardless. In the case of Starnes, UFC president Dana White was quoted after the event as saying Starnes had in fact been dropped by the company.

So while some cuts have already been made, many more are on the way. Again, no one enjoys seeing someone lose their job — especially not in this economy, however, it’s the purpose of this website to cover the industry whether the tone of the story be positive or negative. I also do not like to speculate, but I couldn’t help but look at the UFC’s upcoming cards in an attempt to determine which fighters stand to lose the most in their upcoming bouts.

Below you will see a list, broken down by card, with matches that I have identified as fights in which the loser could potentially lose more than just their fight. I want to stress that the list is based purely on speculation and not on inside information, so take it for what it’s worth.

UFC 84 on May 24

Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou vs. Kazuhiro Nakamura – I consider Sokoudjou to be a future superstar, but it doesn’t seem as if the UFC shares my appraisal. Just look at how they’ve utilized him: first, they throw him in against Lyoto Machida during his UFC debut at UFC 79 and now he’s slated for a non-televised bout vs. Nakamura. It’s almost as if the UFC wants to punish Sokoudjou for being a creation of PRIDE. They really missed the boat on him and should have debuted him on a UFC Fight Night on Spike TV and set him up to demolish a can. The idea would be an attempt to re-create his stunning PRIDE upsets over Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Ricardo Arona.

While I don’t know it to be fact, I can only assume Nakamura is on thin ice. Not only did he lose in unimpressive fashion to Machida at UFC 76 last September, he also tested positive for marijuana. He’s denied the test result at every turn but he lost his appeal.

Both Sokoudjou and Nakamura are mid-level salaried fighters under the UFC’s payscale and they are both being used in a non-televised fight. That tells me all I need to know. It’s like an NFL team keeping a $3 million a year middle linebacker as a backup after he was supplanted as a starter. Having someone in that role at that salary is a luxury that few franchises can afford. If Sokoudjou or Nakamura aren’t competing in high-profile matches at light heavyweight, I think the UFC will have a hard time continuing to justify their guarantees.

To me, there is little doubt in my mind that the loser of this fight leaves the UFC.

Rousimar Palhares vs. Ivan Salaverry – Palhares is considered a prospect by many, so I believe he’s safe, win or lose. Salaverry on the other hand is a different story. After being cut by the UFC several years back, he returned to the promotion involuntarily after his contract was absorbed from the now-defunct WFA.

I’ve heard all kinds of rumors that this is Salaverry’s last fight on his previous deal with the WFA and that he’s also considering retirement. As a mid-level salary fighter, I think that this will be Salaverry’s final UFC fight, win or lose. I just don’t see a lot of upward mobility for him at middleweight following his loss at UFC 71 to Terry Martin, another fighter who has either been cut by the UFC or is on hiatus, depending on who you talk to.

Shane Carwin vs. Christian Wellisch – Carwin took less money to sign with the UFC after receiving a strong offer from EliteXC. Couple that fact with his status as a top heavyweight prospect and I don’t think he’s in trouble if he suffers an upset loss to Wellisch.

On the other hand, Wellisch, even though he’s 8-3 and has won his last two UFC fights, is closer to a journeyman than a prospect and I think it’s going to be tough for him to stick around if he doesn’t get the win in this fight.

Dong-hyun Kim vs. Jason Tan – Kim is a recent UFC signing (within the past three months), while Tan will be returning to the UFC following a pit stop with the California-based Gladiator Challenge promotion. He returned to the regional promotion following a first round knockout loss against Marcus Davis at UFC 72 last June. Tan has some upside but I think the UFC will allow him to try and develop on the regional level if he’s not able to defeat Kim.

UFC 85 on June 7

Luis Cane vs. Jason Lambert – Cane came into the UFC highly-regarded but really hurt his stock after being disqualified against James Irvin at UFC 79 last December. He didn’t help himself when he decided to mock Irvin following the fight.

Meanwhile, Lambert is coming off a tough loss at UFC 80 in January, where suffered a second round knockout against Wilson Gouveia in a fight he had been dominating. Lambert really helped himself with his upset win over Renato “Babalu” Sobral at UFC 68, but that win seems like it happened five years ago.

Both Cane and Lambert are solid fighters, but with so many fighters to cut, some of the cuts will not be easy.

Neil Wain vs. Antoni Hardonk – Hardonk is a preliminary MMA fighter making mid-card money. If this were football, he’d be the equivalent of a third round pick being outplayed by undrafted free agents. His 17 second win over Colin Robinson at UFC 80 in January was not enough to obscure his previous disappointing defeats to Justin McCully and Frank Mir. Also, the win at UFC 80 becomes a lot less impressive with the knowledge that Robinson was cut soon after the fight.

The fight at UFC 85 vs. Hardonk will mark Wain’s UFC debut, but he’s hardly a blue chip prospect and it’s not a fight he wants to lose.

TUF 7 Finale on June 21

Kendall Grove vs. Evan Tanner – Again, if the UFC ends up cutting 25% of its current roster, some tough choices are going to have to be made. I think the loser of this fight will be a higher-profile cut.

If Grove loses the fight, it will be his third consecutive loss. He has so much upside and cutting him could prove to be a mistake, but three straight losses will be hard to overlook, especially since the matchups against Patrick Cote and Jorge Rivera were put together with the intent of Grove winning them. If Grove can’t convert on the layup wins, then what option does the UFC have?

The fight vs. Tanner is by no means a layup, so hopefully he takes the fight seriously and brings his A-game. Tanner will bring his A-game, but at 37 or 38, will it be enough? Just how much gas does he have left in the tank? Taking on Yushin Okami in his UFC return was overly-ambitious, but if he can’t get past Grove, I just don’t see the UFC giving him another chance.

I think the UFC looked at both fighters as having a lot to lose so they matched them up against each other. If they had matched them up against other fighters, the UFC might have found itself in a situation where both guys were on the losing end. Putting them together guarantees them that one guy will move forward, and as such they will get some benefit from the outcome, as opposed to no benefit.

Marvin Eastman vs. Drew McFedries – Eastman has said this is the last fight on his current UFC contract, which was absorbed through the acquisition of select assets from the WFA. “The Beastman” isn’t happy with his pay so he’ll need to win here in order to have any hope whatsoever of being able to go to the negotiation table and ask for a raise. If he loses, I don’t see the UFC feeling a need to bring him back.

McFedries has so much upside but after losing two out of his last three UFC fights, I see this as a must-win for him. His two UFC wins after over Alessio Sakara and Jordan Radev, fighters he’s supposed to beat. But when given a chance to take a step forward against the likes of Martin Kampmann and Patrick Cote, the Miletich Fighting Systems product couldn’t get the job done.

Dean Lister vs. Jeremy Horn – Lister just re-signed with the UFC late last year so I think he’s safe, even if he loses this fight. However, Horn didn’t look good during his UFC return against Nathan Marquardt at UFC 81 this past February. Prior to returning to the UFC, Horn was coming off a loss in the Art of War promotion against Jorge Santiago. After having not been submitted since 2001, Horn has now been tapped in his past two fights and retirement could be near. If he doesn’t come out strong in this fight then I just don’t envision him being retained.

UFC 85 on July 5

Melvin Guillard vs. Dennis Siver – This fight has sink or swim written all over it. It’s a clear cut must-win situation for both fighters. Siver is 1-2 lifetime in the UFC and I don’t see him evading the chopping block if he falls to 1-3. As for Guillard, he’s already taken a hiatus from the UFC. We all know about his potential, but potential only means that you haven’t done it yet. He’s a fighter that has tried a lot of people’s patience in the UFC and patience is running thin. If Guillard doesn’t beat Siver, chances are that he’ll become another fight promotion’s problem.

Ben Saunders vs. Jared Rollins – The UFC has already cut a lot of welterweight fighters from the TUF 6 cast because they felt they had too much depth at 170 lbs. to be able to properly develop a lot of the TUF welterweights. Rollins helped himself in a losing effort during the TUF 6 finale last December by turning in an amazing performance vs. Jon Koppenhaver, but I just don’t think he can survive two consecutive losses during a period of downsizing.

I really like Saunders’ long-term potential, but there aren’t very many easy fights at 170 in the UFC. Just about every fight in the UFC at welterweight is a tough one and if Saunders loses here, a realization could set in that he might be better served fighting on some more regional shows before being brought back.

Cole Miller vs. Jorge Gurgel – Look, I think Cole Miller is great and I think he’s a prospect. But as I stated earlier, some tough decisions are going to have to be made and the UFC’s lightweight division has a ton of fighters under contract. Miller lost to Jeremy Stephens at UFC Fight Night 12 so a defeat here would make it two in a row. Unless Miller takes care of business vs. Gurgel, I fear that he could be an unfortunate victim of a numbers game.

Gurgel is starting to evolve from a pure jiu-jitsu practitioner into a well-rounded mixed martial artist but his record in the UFC isn’t the best. I don’t think he can afford to lose this fight.

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