Dana White declares war against the American Kickboxing Academy

As a reporter involved in the field of mixed martial arts, I hear a lot of crazy things. Some of it true but much of it false. When I received a text asking me if I knew anything about Jon Fitch having been cut, my first reaction was, “Are you smoking crack?”

I mean, not Jon Fitch? Not Jon Fitch the consensus top five welterweight. Not Jon Fitch the 17-3 fighter who fights for the UFC. Not the Jon Fitch that has gone 8-1 in the UFC with notable wins over Josh Burkman, Thiago Alves, and Diego Sanchez. Not the Jon Fitch that has tied the UFC record for most consecutive wins while competing in the Octagon?

But this is MMA, a sport unlike any other and I’ve learned that no story is far-fetched. Chances are when you hear something crazy it doesn’t mean your friends have developed an addiction to hallucinogenic drugs. Yet when I logged onto my computer to survey the carnage, I still couldn’t believe my eyes. I then began to make several late-night phone calls to try to make sense of the situation and wrap my arms around it.

During my truth-seeking mission the most illuminating information in regard to the situation is an article by Yahoo! Sports’ Kevin Iole, which included several quotes from UFC President Dana White.

“We’re looking for guys who want to work with us and not against us, and frankly I’m just so [expletive] sick of this [expletive] it’s not even funny,” Iole quotes White. “Affliction is still out there trying to build its company. Let [Fitch] go work with them. Let him see what he thinks of those [expletives]. [Expletive] him”

And as I’m sure you heard by now, Fitch isn’t the only fighter to be cut. Heavyweight and AKA teammate Christian Wellisch has joined him amongst the ranks of the unemployed and others could be next. All indications are that AKA welterweight Mike Swick has already signed and is safe. Reports indicate that Josh Koscheck is also on the rocks but multiple sources have expressed to FiveOuncesOfPain.com that they believe that situation will work itself out. However, the next to go could be heavyweight blue chip prospect Cain Velasquez.

Just about all of AKA’s fighters are represented by trainer “Crazy” Bob Cook and Zinkin Entertainment and White and the UFC are not happy with the management company’s refusal to to go along to get along. White is not a big fan of managers and agents and wouldn’t shed a tear if all of them perished off the face of the Earth. Many in the industry have said the UFC simply wants to do business in an environment where there is no buffer between them and their fighters.

The fact that White is now going to war with Zinkin is interesting because their clients have always had glowing reviews about their work when speaking with this site on and off the record. And one of White’s best friends in the industry, Chuck Liddell, also happens to be managed by Zinkin. According to Iole’s article, White felt compelled to lean on Liddell for some help.

“White said he has been ‘beefing with Zinkin for years’ and said he had to call Liddell, one of his closest friends, and tell him to get Zinkin to back off,” Iole writes.

If that’s not an attempt at a power play, what is? It’s now on the agents to strike back. No one is happy that the UFC is trying to attempt to get fighters to sign contracts that would essentially force them to give away lifetime rights to their likeness away. THQ’s “UFC Undisputed” is said to be a great game and the feeling is that it could be one of the highest grossing video games of all time. Everyone wants a piece of the pie but it’s unclear whether the UFC is willing to share.

In the past, the UFC also tried to encourage its fighters to sign a marketing deal that would award the company with all rights to fighter likenesses. The complaint from many managers was that the deal offered limited returns in exchange for lifetime rights and that the managers themselves could be cut out of the deal. The goal of the UFC apparently was to get all the fighters to sign everything over and then a portion of all the income earned from licensing deals would be distributed through a monthly check that would go straight to the fighters. It was a deal that few in the industry felt was fair.

“He wanted us to sign that merchandising agreement, and it was not a very good agreement,” Fitch is quoted as telling Iole. “There was not really a reason for us to sign it. The first thing they brought to us was for us to sign all of our rights away for everything forever. It was for very small compensation, and there was no compensation for family members if we were to die.

“We could die and they could make memorial figurines and stuff and make thousands, millions of dollars, and our families wouldn’t see a penny of it. The way they bring the contracts and stuff to us, I don’t know, it’s just not how business is done.”

But apparently this is how business is attempting to be done by the UFC on a mass scale and what happens from here is anyone’s guess. AKA and Zinkin are trying to rally as many fellow agencies to their cause as possible. I’m not sure how successful they will be in that regard because it’s one thing for a bunch of agents to band together and take a stand against a dying company such as ProElite and their top corporate partner, but no one wants to get on Dana White’s bad side. For an agency to alienate themselves from the UFC is considered to be an act of suicide. Nobody likes the terms of the deal being offered but thus far everyone appears ready to be bracing themselves to take a bite out of the [expletive] sandwich.

Without a united front, AKA and Zinkin don’t stand much of a much of chance. For Fitch, it appears to be too late. I was told that even if he fired Zinkin and was willing to sign the deal that the UFC wouldn’t take him back. With 183 fighters signed to its roster, it’s cutting season in the UFC with the promotion looking to drop as many as 40 fighters from its roster. Fabricio Werdum, Marcus Aurelio, Jason Lambert and several others have already been let go. But with Fitch, the UFC can make a major statement and strike the fear of G-d into everyone. If a fighter such as Fitch is let go it means that anyone not wearing a title and drawing a strong buyrate could be next on the chopping block.

The UFC’s decision to release Fitch also serves as a clear signal that the promotion doesn’t consider Affliction Entertainment a threat in the slightest. If EliteXC was still around, Fitch doesn’t get cut. But apparently Affliction doesn’t project the same level of fear. In order to sign Fitch, Werdum, and or Paulo Filho, it’s going to take money. And the more Affliction spends, the closer it gets to extinction. What the UFC is essentially saying is that all of the top ten fighters in the world can’t save that promotion.

Affliction may still exist but the UFC is operating as if it’s already the only player in town. They’ve declared war on the middle class fighter and are moving towards purging its roster as many mid-tier fighters it can. Look for the UFC to move towards a business model where if you aren’t able to headline a card, then you’re an entry-level guy. You’re either a prospect or a superstar with no in between. Forget about that transitional contract where you make $25,000-$40,000 as you grow from a fighter that started competing in non-televised prelims to a guy working his way towards a title shot and a headlining spot on a PPV. It’s like the NFL during the salary cap era in that if you’re a player making $3.5 million, you better be in the starting lineup and making plays, otherwise you’re going to get waived because there is no room for backups who get paid like starters.

Fitch and Werdum were deemed expendable because they were making a healthy amount of money and didn’t factor into the title picture in their respective weight classes. Winning is no longer good enough. You either open a card or you headline; you either fight for the UFC on its terms or you can go see if the grass is really greener.

Through it all there’s one quote that stands out in my mind above all else. It may not be the most poetic quote to end an article on, but in my mind, it is the most telling about the future of the business of MMA.

“…These guys aren’t partners with us. [Expletive] them. All of them, every last [expletive] one of them,” White is quoted as saying in Iole’s piece. “Partner” is apparently the term White uses when a potential business deal involving another entity isn’t to his liking. Disagree with the Bush Administration and you’re not patriotic (sorry to interject politics into this article, but we’re all adults here… get over it). Disagree with the UFC’s terms and you’re not a true “partner.” But partnership has traditionally been a two-way street… except when you’re the only game in town.

28 COMMENTS
  • TK says:

    dana white is on a power trip, big ups to jon fitch!

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  • matthew says:

    wow.

    If what’s been said is true, this is unacceptable.
    I will openly encourage any new organizations (and existing ones) so as to give the fighters options. The people will soon get tired of management using standover tactics. As they do with other fields of employment.

    To think AKA will show a united front is a little far fetched though and not likely to happen. Great camp. too many opportunists.

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  • mattio says:

    I remember when the WWE let Brock Lesnar out of his contract early, they made him agree to not wrestle in Japan or MMA for ten years. He was able to get both of those unfair provisions struck down and has wrestled in Japan and fought in MMA.

    Wouldn’t the same thing happen to the first MMA fighter to challenge the lifetime likeness clause in court? I think so. Not that I’m a lawyer, but just like WWE trying to force Brock out of combat sports for a long time it just doesn’t sound very fair.

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  • cocoon says:

    Dana is the biggest egomaniac in sports, and that is saying something. his strong arm tactics and bullying are going to be his downfall. AKA will be fine without DW, but episodes like this are going to get him fired, and how embarrassing to have to be fired by your best friends. dana is trying to make junie browning appear calm and rational perhaps, and doing a fine job. Todd Beard wouldnt put Dana on his McDonalds application right now. grow up or learn to do business you taint.

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  • Infernal says:

    I’m stunned by the whole UFC/AKA story but I can understand why on many levels the UFC would be willing to release the AKA guys to make a point. The UFC is the biggest organization and it can use that position as pretty effective leverage to say to its fighters “stay with us and you get a piece of the pie – go see what you can get elsewhere”. Simply from this story it appears that maybe the UFC aren’t giving the fighters a reasonable enough piece and that some of the terms still need to be worked out more fairly. As businesses go, the Zuffa-era UFC is still quite young and it looks like it’s still going through some of the problems that entrepreneurial ventures experience as they attempt to grow.

    Sam – I was wondering about the business model that you suggested, which sounds eerily to be to be a boxing card. I see one of the strengths of the UFC is that as entry level fighters grow within the UFC, gaining exposure and improving their skillset that they grow into being headlining status. Now maybe the UFC thinks that using TUF will help create new superstars but that still takes time and fights against mid-tier talent before being ready (Forrest and to a lesser extent Rashad are great success stories of it). In other industries an organization could acquire another organization, license a technology or subcontract, but I don’t see how the UFC could do that with its exclusive contract system, other than as it already does with acquiring entry-level talent. I think their current model for keeping a solid roster of fighters from entry-level, through mid-tier to headliner works well enough already and allows for the emergence of new talents who could themselves grow to become superstars.

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  • armingo says:

    Why Dana White is right here.

    If Zuffa and UFC is going to make these guys into stars (and currently they are the only ones that can) make them shitloads of money in fights etc and build there name into a brand why should they let you leave like TITO and go somewhere else and not continue to be able to use you in video games and classic games like the ones where you NFL team can be joe namath and other hall of famers? Why should they invest in you and then let you walk and get no return? Should ford decide to build a car that can get 200 miles a gallaon and thehave the engineer go to chrysler and take the technology with them?

    Think about it why would they want to make you into a star and let you walk and have to quit selling video games and action figures etc

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  • neosamurai says:

    Armingo your argument is hopelessly flawed. I could take your entire statement and reverse it to the fighter’s point of view. Why should a fighter work his ass off everyday, sign a shit entry level contract and work his way up, lining the pockets of the big wigs, until, depending on results, injuries etc. he gets rewarded with a better fight contract but by then it’s too late and his image is owned by Zuffa FOR EVER !!! He can NEVER make money from his likeness ANYWHERE else for the ENTIRETY of his career, life or whatver. This is a SLAVE contract. Anyone who diagrees doesn’t care about these great athletes that entertain us and brighten our lives everytime we see them compete.

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  • armingo says:

    neo it is for his likeness in a video game only

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  • armingo says:

    and by the way it would have been more than he is getting now in the unemployment line

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  • darkmetal says:

    This article reminds me of a situation where my uncle came up with an idea for a revolutionary battery, but that his company immediately owned the rights to the idea. This kind of thing is common in the business world. If you don’t like it, then start your own company, and see if it works out.

    If Fitch doesn’t agree with the terms, then he is certainly able to say no, but then has to decide if he wants to fight elsewhere for less money, less grandeur and sponsorship, and the chance of squandering his “wonder years”. I give him props if he does just that, because it is at the heart of entrepreneurship. However, there might be the downsides I state above.

    If Fitch fades away, who will care about his face being on the next UFC videogame? Absolutely nobody. And the eventual loser will likely be John Fitch.

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  • Glen McCoy says:

    If fighters don’t like UFC go somewhere that pays more, Oh yea there is no where .

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  • Robert says:

    Dana White has an out of control ego and it’s going to cost the UFC in the long run.Just think what assholes his kids are going to grow up to be.

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  • neosamurai says:

    Armingo the contractis for his image/likeness in perpetuity on ALL merchandise not just the video game.THG developed the game assuming the UFC had all their fighters image rights when they didn’t. It’s not a fair deal. This has been going on for a long time. Zuffa tried to get the guys to sign a merchandising contract a couple of months ago.

    The be all and end all is that Dana only cares about the UFC doing well, NOT the fighters. He wants a global brand that dominates MMA and he’s not far off his dream. Competition is healthy in any industry. Monoplies are never a good thing for anyone except the fat cats and bigwigs. I wonder how much Dana gets paid. Actually I don’t want to know. It will depress me.

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  • Carm says:

    Kinda “giving” your competition talent. All these guys are going to fight for lesser organizations and build them up. UFC marketed these guys, gave em big names & now he’s going to hand them over to the competition. Bad move UFC.

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  • armingo says:

    not a bad move. do you want to fight for strikeforce for 30k or the ufc for 169k? He just showed nobody is abov e being cut so get in line or get poor

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  • joey says:

    Such a bad business move by Dana. Contracts are meant to benefit both parties, and for Dana to say fuck them, hes an idiot. All the power to the Fitch for not accepting an unbeneficial contract that’s clearly forced onto him.

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  • Ft. Dub says:

    This model for the UFC will (or may have already) peak out at some point. This is just not sustainable. The problem is that if the UFC had a president who acted like a president they could have dealt with this without looking like total a-holes.

    Dana is trying to be a fake ass Vince McMahon or something, trying to be a bigger character than the sport and he just comes off looking like a douche. Even if he feels the way he does, there’s no reason he can’t be professional.

    This type of behavior may be the genesis of a fighter’s union or an antitrust investigation. It’s just not necessary.

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  • jj says:

    UFC is a business and this is how businesses operate. If you have someone in your company that doesn’t want to play by your rules you let them go and hire someone who does play by your rules. If you pay someone a high scale of money (169K) then they should cooperate with you more. You don’t see VPs and Managers of Fortune 500 companies trash talk the companies they work for. Why? Because they aren’t helping the very hand that feeds them.

    Simply put it is like a nagging girlfriend. If she complains to you everyday about everything you do then what are you going to do? You dump her! And then get a girlfriend that doesn’t nag as often. I would say get a girlfriend that never nags but that is impossible.

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  • T-Vo says:

    Let me see, Fighters who became popular and made money without the UFC.
    Cung Le, Fedor and his Brother, a slew of ex Pride fighters who never came to the UFC, and on a bit lesser level Chris Horodecki. So the list isn;t big, but its possible for MMA Stars to blossom without the UFC’s involvement. I hope all the AKA guys go to Strikeforce. Strikeforce is the possible sleeping future giant of MMA. They conintue to move along methodically, putting on shows, make money and even have a deal with NBC. Sing all the AKA guys, Tito Ortiz and wait for Cung Le to fight in 2009 and put on a primetime NBC show.

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  • Justin Van Hook says:

    Dana White has absolutely got to go!

    Though I am sure he will never be fired it is clear his only influence in the world off mma is negative. There was a time when he was helping the sport grow, but now all he’s doing is making us all look stupid.

    I’m tired of defending my love for mma to outsiders who only see guys like Dana spewing hate and acting tough. It’s so easy to see why a casual sports fan would be turned off by the UFC. Dana has gone as far as he can go in this sport. He has successfully brought in the mma base of hard-core douche bag tough guy fans that would be into it no matter what. Now it’s time to get someone with crossover appeal if the UFC is to continue to grow.

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  • ihateemo says:

    I am appalled and somewhat bewildered that people are coming out in favour of the UFC owning lifetime rights to fighters’ images and that, in the event of a fighter’s death, royalties from the use of the fighter’s image would not be paid to their families.

    Of course, I respect Dana White’s right to use his bully pulpit and virtual monopoly as a negotiating platform to strongarm fighters into signing contracts that benefit the business and not the fighter but I have to give huge kudos to the majority of AKA (boo to Mike Swick for caving) for standing virtually united.

    Fitch’s points are salient and reasonable. You can pay a guy $170k to fight for one night but you owe them a hell of a lot more for a lifetime of service.

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  • ultmma says:

    But hey when your the only game in town……..

    Seriously folks this is the MMA reality we live in now, all the UFC fan boys who wished death upon Pride, Elite XC, IFL etc.

    Now we have one major org with all the power and its going to be take it or leave attitude with Zuffa from now on

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  • kdawg says:

    From the site i posted above:

    Interviewer: One of the things that seems to be bandied about in this whole is this idea of a lifetime exclusive rights deal for merchandising stuff…

    Dana: No, no. There’s no lifetime deal on merchandising. The merchandising deal is non-exclusive. They can go out and do whatever they want to do, whenever they want to do it. with whoever they want to, and we haven’t pressured anyone to sign that thing.

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  • JacRabbit says:

    “THQ’s “UFC Undisputed” is said to be a great game and the feeling is that it could be one of the highest grossing video games of all time.”

    Oh my…I’m hoping nobody at THQ or UFC actually believes this. A little game by the name of World of Warcraft currently has 11 million subscribed (monthly paying) players. ‘UFC Undisputed’ likely wouldn’t even come as close as the 100 rank in this category.

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  • marc in bc says:

    This situation is a prime example of how a lack of strong organizations is bad for fighters. Hopefully all the UFC baglickers are happy now.
    Support AFFLICTION, WORLD VICTORY ROAD, DREAM, STRIKEFORCE, and any other organization you can. FUCK DANA.

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  • marc in bc says:

    Anybody know what the legal ramifications would be if all the fighters on the next card refused to fight? I know it would never happen but just curious…

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  • Imbecile says:

    The best argument here was made by armingo, and neosamurai has a stupid rebuttal. You can’t turn armingo’s argument around from a fighter’s perspective because the fighter did not create the job to begin with. Without the UFC, none of these guys would have jobs in the fight business at all. The UFC is not relying on Jon Fitch to create its organization, nor was it reliant on any single fighter. The fighters did not create their own place to work. The UFC created a place for them to work through tens of millions of dollars, and a lot of hard work.

    Those so quick to judge the UFC’s business practices should take note that the more everyone tries to tear down their supposed “monopoly,” and tries to add to their business expenses by “looking out for the fighters,” the greater the chance that MMA will die off. The less viable the UFC’s business, and the less profit incentive they have, means the less chance that the business will continue to grow. We have seen how difficult it is to make a viable MMA organization out there, and if you start derailing the UFC’s business model then there might not be a place for any of these people to have employment.

    Just take a look at how the unions destroyed the viable business models of American auto makers. Blame it on the economy all you want, but Volkswagon and Toyota are still investing in the American auto market, which says it is still a good market if you are able to produce things at an effective cost. But you always have morons like Michael Moore making movies about how it should be illegal for any company to fire anybody for any reason. You can’t have a serious argument with people like that.

    Giving the fighters and managers too much power at this point could be a death knell for MMA as a whole. It is always the easy argument to make for the poor little worker over the big bad business executive. But it is usually a pedantic argument that only takes surface issues into account, and does not deal with the reality of who really takes the risks in the business, and who drives employment forward.

    …And while we’re at it, exactly who did the Bush administration call unpatriotic who disagreed with them? See if you can find me an example of this Caplan. And something more than just “well… it’s common knowledge,” or some other cop out like that. You are a journalist, so give an example for your blanket accusation. The only people I remember calling others unpatriotic were people like Jack Murtha and Nancy Pelosi, who would then promptly hide behind a false statement saying they were themselves being accused of lacking patriotism, though nobody ever made tat accusation. Cowardly and pathetic.

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  • ken says:

    UFC isn’t really much different than most other profit oriented businesses. Dana’s just a lot more upfront about what goes on.

    Go in to work tomarrow and ask for a 2% raise. Say you will quit if you don’t get it. See what happens.

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

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