Before I begin my rant, let me start with the full disclaimer than I am a staunch hardcore conservative who is opposed to unions of all types. I say that not to invite debate or stir the pot before my article really even begins, but to show that my own natural bias bends in a direction that seemingly goes away from everything you're about to read. Why is that important? Well, for one, I do try my best to remove my own self-imposed "JaceMan blinders" before ruling subjectively on any topic. Secondly, I don't really believe that any argument can be waged with much objective clarity when logic is removed for the sake of convenience. So with my disclaimer now out of the way, let us dig in with why I think that fans, and especially fighters, should be wary before taking very much of what comes from the mouth of "Zuffa" as gospel.
There are no less than a dozen of topics that I could write passionately about that show my personal distaste for the way Zuffa chooses to operate. That isn't to say that I think Zuffa, or Dana White for that matter, are all bad; I'm just letting the record be known that I do have my issues with the way certain things are done under the UFC banner. And in time, you won't have to wonder exactly where my discontent comes from as I will slowly reveal them all. For this article however, I mainly want to focus on the company's recent releases; promised releases to come; and releases in general.
It is no big secret that the latest rounds of cuts sparked quite the debate in the mixed martial arts community. The debate was only all the more loud if you were a fan of Jon Fitch, Jacob Volkmann, or Che Mills. Heck many who aren't fans of any one or all of them still found themselves outraged as they respected each fighters contributions inside the Octagon. This was especially true of Fitch and Volkmann who each have their own issues with the majority of fans for varying reasons. That being said, both still found love being thrown their way this past week from the same fans who had repeatedly clamored that they had seen enough of both. Now why do you suppose that is? Well, I have my own theory on that.
I think the main reason we experienced a very vocal outcry from the fans of mma this week was because on some level the fans of mma are actually better fans of the sport than myself and others have often given them credit for. Coming from an amateur wrestling background myself, and having trained in judo and jiu jitsu when I was younger, I think I bring a much greater appreciation of the "ground game" than the casual "We came here to see a bar room brawl!" fan. And while that may well be true, what is becoming more and more clear to me is that the "casual" fan may not actually be the drunken frat guy looking for "human cock fighting" either. He's certainly not the fan of amateur wrestling that I am, but that doesn't make him clueless about the entirety of mixed martial arts either! So could it be that the casual fan actually falls somewhere in the middle? I believe evidence is beginning to suggest that it could.
You see I am fervently convinced that while most fight fans would PREFER to see two guys "stand and bang," they also realize that this is MIXED martial arts. As such, you have to be prepared to handle yourself wherever the fight may take you. And if you want to be the best, you have to rely on your own skill set to get out of harms way and impose your will on your opponent rather than waiting for the referee to tilt the fight in your favor by way of a stand up. You want the fight to take place on the feet? Simple -- don't get taken down, or if you do -- GET UP!
While fans may not like to see wrestlers "lay and pray" (for the record, I hate that term) their way to victory, I also don't think they like to see one guy imposed with a handicap because his opponent has trouble combating a certain aspect of his game. It is for this reason that I think most fans have actually given Jon Fitch a lot of love this week in spite of being guilty of probably cheering wildly every time he has been stood up or groaning with distaste every time he has scored a take down in recent memory. Deep down, in spite of their own desires and preferences they really do "get" this sport more than most of us believe they do. And as a result, they want to see fighters matched up fairly; fights contested on level play fields; and fighters in charge of their own destiny rather than which guy is the easiest to promote.
Now all of that being said, I understand the UFC is a business. As I pointed out very early on, I'm a conservative capitalist -- and I truly have no problems with the "greed" of the UFC. Where I get upset is when profits trump ethics, or when an organization that claims to want to herald the legitimacy of the sport has single-handily been behind much of its non-legitimate match-ups and rulings in recent years.
Yes Dana, I know you "put on the fights the fans want to see!" (save for the ACTUAL fights the fans want to see like GSP/Silva, Silva/Jones, Rousey/Cyborg, etc.), but how much worth does your champion's title actually have if he/she isn't defending it against those most deserving the opportunity to unseat them? I understand the need to sell pay per views and tickets, but I would also think there is some fear of "watering down" the number one brand in mixed martial arts through the prospect of its champions being champions in name only, and not via defeating top level competition and challengers.
I mean for all there is not to like about Bellator's tournament format, the one thing that I think most people dig about it is the concept and theory behind it. Are there some logistical problems with the Bellator structure? Oh yeah, they're are! But those concerns aside, the Bellator way is a much more pure way to crown a challenger than who has the largest Twitter following.
When you combine the fact that Zuffa grants title shots to whomever it pleases, whenever it pleases, regardless of a fighter's record or ranking (or actual weight class), it has a tendency to delegitimize a champion's right to refer to him/herself as "The Best." And in my opinion, this problem is only heightened and made all the more extreme when you have a tendency to constantly tell the media that your fighters are better than any other organization's because only your fighters are "fighting the best competition in the world." After all, when you're not even making your best fighters fight the best fighters in their own division, it seems more than a little hypocritical to me to disparage your competition and claim that their champions aren't all that impressive because they aren't fighting "the best." While that may be true, at least they are fighting THE BEST AVAILABLE TO THEM!
Now you may say, "Jace, these are good points and all -- but what do they have to do with fighters being released?"
Well, I'm glad you asked!
The biggest connection between strange matchmaking and releasing fighters who would not be most anticipated of being cut by your fans is that both deligitimize the sport. In addition to the legitimacy issue I have already harped on, both also make it harder for fans and fighters to trust you, your brand, and your promises. It is this lack of trust that makes me caution fans and fighters not to be so quick to bow down at the altar of Zuffa nor too quick to take Uncle Dana at his word.
Not only has Zuffa made strange match-ups (in the name of "fun") and failed to make numerous "fun" fights the fans have asked for, but they have also routinely promised fighters title shots only to decide later, for one reason or another, that they don't need to honor that. And when you make a habit of doing that, what good does it really do to be labeled the "number one contender" or to find yourself co-main eventing some high profile "title eliminator"? At the end of the day, history has already shown that the prize you're likely to receive in victory is subject to being taken away from you because Zuffa feels another match-up is more profitable or easy to sell.
And that brings me to how I really link these match-ups and false promises to fighter releases. The fact of the matter is there may NOT be an obvious connect between fighter match-ups and releases, but there is a HUGE and VERY OBVIOUS connect between PROMISES and CONTRACTS. And in a sense, both of the aforementioned topics affect the latter two.
You see, it becomes quite the quandary when Zuffa tells fighters that they need to honor their contractual obligations by being locked into exclusivity agreements, make media appearances, and sticking around to fight (or commentate) the specified number of events in their contract, when they are free to send you packing 1 or 2 fights into a four fight deal. You look like quite the hypocrite when you bash your competition for unfair business and contract practices, meanwhile deciding that you're justified in defending your company's actions with the logic that "It's been this way since day one."
Well you'll have to excuse me if I don't think that leaving something broken simply because it always has been broken is justifiable. It isn't! And while I already admitted that am not a fan of unions, I must also admit that I believe that non-guaranteed contracts like those offered by the UFC and NFL to their fighters and players should be voided the second they are drafted. The purpose of a contract is to protect one or both parties from neglect by the other party. The purpose isn't to make it legal for one party to do unscrupulous things to the other party that they probably wouldn't be allowed to do if said contract didn't exist.
I find it very brash, arrogant, condescending, and even dirty to assert that "real" fighters don't turn down fights, and use that verbiage to manipulate your own fighters into taking fights they haven't prepared for only to turn around an release them 48 hours removed from an event because they didn't "perform up to expectation." Furthermore, it becomes all the more difficult to put much stock into the notion that "fighters need to let it all hang out in the cage" when you have previously cut fighters coming off "fight of the night" honors or losing one exciting fight after being victorious in three "boring" ones beforehand. When you do things like that, it makes you seem incredibly two-faced and hard to trust.
On one hand you tell a fighter that they need to be aggressive and exciting to find a home in your organization. On the other hand, you send them packing after they abandon their own style in favor of your advice that didn't work too well for them.
In conclusion, I would caution my fellow fight fans not to get too excited about any scheduled fights until we hear "Big John" proclaim, "Let's get it on!" After all we know that all cards are "subject to change" and it need not be the dreaded injury bug to bring that change into question. And I would suggest that no UFC fighter really go to bat or fight for anything more than a one fight contract. In a world where you're "only as good as your last fight" and are subject to being cut before your contract is honored, why hand Zuffa any added power over your future? And before you say, "Security for my family!" I remind you that security that isn't guaranteed or need not be honored isn't very secure at all. If they (UFC) are going to force your hand to win and win exciting each time out, you might as well step up and negotiate for more following each successful tilt, because you already know you aren't guaranteed another.