Steve Carl, the welterweight who last year became WSOF's inaugural 170-pound champion, is now a free agent. Carl's contract was terminated on Wednesday, the end result of a protracted and contentious layoff which stretched nearly eight months following his March loss to Rousimar Palhares at WSOF 9. MMAJunkie.com first reported news of Carl's release.
Carl first began voicing his frustrations with WSOF's inability or unwillingness to book him a fight over Twitter in early September. His criticisms gradually picked up until finally reaching a head this month, when Carl sent out a stream of tweets referring to the promotion as "unprofessional" and stating that WSOF apparently believed "being a pro fighter should only be a part time gig."
"This s**t was ridiculous, and it's pathetic I have to go through this," Carl told MMAFighting.com immediately after news of his release broke.
"I've been trying to not be that guy, not to try to start drama or anything. But it kinda seems like nothing gets done unless you go to Twitter and start bitching. People start picking up on it, and then all of a sudden the company wants to start doing something."
Carl stated that he and his management were able to terminate his contract due to an inactivity clause, which gave the fighter grounds to demand his release if not formally offered a fight within five months. Carl last fought on Mar. 29, after which he said that he was sidelined for two months due to injuries sustained on his right knee in his loss to Palhares, before his NAC-issued medical suspension could be lifted in late-May.
Carl subsequently suffered a minor shoulder injury, which he says he rehabilitated for eight weeks following a June 12 MRI before returning to training.
Carl received official medical clearance on his right knee on Aug. 29, allowing him to resume professional competition. From that point on, Carl claims that his repeated requests for a fight were largely ignored.
"When I began asking for a fight in August, I was asking for a fight at 185 or 170 because I knew they didn't have enough 170-pounders," Carl said. "So I said I'll fight anybody, any weight class, just keep me relevant, get me a fight, get me paid. And I asked for months just like that and got nothing.
"After not being able to get ahold of them for a long time, me and my management decided to go ahead and request my release due to my inactivity clause, and that was October 20. And immediately they tried defending themselves, basically saying I couldn't go, this, that, and another. Once we settled that they were in the wrong, due to my contract, they have 15 days to fix the situation. So I mean, all they had to do was give me a fight. Maybe a little bit of money, but give me a fight is the biggest thing, and it didn't happen. They went right back to just ignoring the calls and the texts. Today (Wednesday) was day 15, so we decided to go ahead and terminate the contract."
When contacted by MMAFighting.com, WSOF executive vice president and matchmaker Ali Abdel-Aziz denied accusations that Carl's appeals were ignored, stating that Carl's contracted inactivity clause instead kicked in only once the fighter was officially cleared to compete on Aug. 29, and that the welterweight was "penciled in to fight" in early 2015.
"From the day we got the release on August 29, we have six months to get him a fight," said Abdel-Aziz. "I was probably going to have him fight in February or March, to be honest with you. I need contenders at 170 and he's a top-level fighter, he's not an average fighter. But from the day I received the medical release, from August 29, I have six months to find him an opponent. I don't appreciate the way he went at it, because I was going to give him a fight probably in March or February, to be honest with you, or maybe the co-main event in January."
To further complicate matters, both Carl and Abdel-Aziz agree that WSOF were in the preliminary stages of booking a proposed rematch at WSOF 15 against former title contender Josh Burkman, however the bout fell apart in early October before an official offer could be made.
"I'd already spoken to Josh," said Carl. "Josh was going to make a sizable amount of money more than me to give him that rematch, and I asked (WSOF executive) Shawn (Lampman), could he pay me the same amount of money? Everybody thought that was reasonable, (WSOF president) Ray (Sefo) thought that was reasonable.
"The last conversation I had with them, I was under the impression that me and Josh were going to fight and it was going to happen. It was just going to be a one-time deal, I was going to make $10k/$10k more to match Josh's pay, and then go back to my contracted pay. Then five hours later I find out Burkman is in the UFC. There was a lot of promised fights after that and nothing happened.
"First I was told they would give me a quick fight on the Canada card (WSOF 11). Then I was told I would be on the November card. But then the second they let Burkman go, they signed two more title fights and then told me I couldn't be on the November card because there wasn't anymore main card slots, and just the other day they added another main card fight."
Carl (21-4) exits WSOF holding a 3-1 record inside the promotion, and an overall 7-1 record since his departure from Bellator in 2011. All seven of Carl's wins over that span came via submission, the first six of which ended inside the first round, and the last which was highlighted by his title-winning fourth-round chokeout of Burkman last October.
Now 29 years old, with an uncertain future ahead of him, Carl hopes to simply be able to make the most out of his prime years and continue what has been an otherwise impressive fighting career.
"I gotta make a run for this and make some money," he said. "Even sitting on a loss eight months out, I'm still sitting in the top-25 and I want to prove I'm better than that."
"Steve Carl chose to show he's unhappy, and World Series of Fighting, we're not going to keep anybody unhappy anymore," said Abdel-Aziz. "If you're unhappy, you can go. There are a hundred-million fighters out there who can fight. And listen, Steve Carl was getting paid top dollar. Now Steve Carl, maybe he can go fight for RFA or fight for Titan. I don't know what he can make, but I wish him the best of luck.
"I personally like him, I think he's a good guy. But he told us he was hurt and he couldn't fight. After that we booked him a fight. After that he said he wanted more money to fight, and [we did it]. It didn't work out, but at the end of the day, his contract says we have six months to give him a fight from the 29th of August, and we were still in that period. That's it."