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.