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Standup Exchange: What if MMA promotions could trade fighters?

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UFC superstar Jon Jones is one fighter who could see a change of scenery if MMA promotions were able to trade athletes
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

On the heels of a wild NBA trade deadline this past Thursday that was highlighted by the Cleveland Cavaliers flipping half their team in the span of a few hours, the MMA Fighting staff couldn’t help but wonder how fun it would be if MMA promotions were able to make deals with each other in the same way that pro sports teams do.

After much internal discussion, Alexander K. Lee and Jed Meshew were trusted with proposing a few hypothetical trades that would be sure to get fight fans buzzing.

AL: Alright Jed, before we start off, I guess we should establish what the rules are here.

Wait. Do we even have any rules?

JM: Like the early days of the UFC, “There are no rules!” This is just about moving fighters under contract to the places they should really be to maximize the fun potential. The floor is yours, AK.

AL: Alright, we’re going to start off with a simple one, just to set the stage. Keep in mind, unlike in major league sports where there are contract conditions and cap space to consider, we have no such restrictions here. So these could get pretty wild.

Bellator trades LW Michael Chandler to the UFC for MW Luke Rockhold

Michael Chandler has done it all in Bellator. How would he stack up against the UFC’s best lightweights?
Esther Lin/

AL: This first proposed transaction is a simple one-for-one deal. Two of these promotions’ top fighters, two former champions, two guys who could use a change of scenery. That statement is definitely true for Chandler who has already held Bellator gold twice and fought pretty much every notable opponent in his division.

The move makes even more sense for Rockhold after he failed to capture UFC gold this weekend, and it’s easy to see him being interested in a reunion with his old Strikeforce boss Scott Coker. The only drawback here is that this increases the potential for an awkward Demi Lovato run-in, since she’s a regular at Bellator shows.

JM: We’re off to a strong start because this is the rare trade we’ve pitched that I think both sides say “no” to. The UFC isn’t gonna part with a flagship middleweight to add another lightweight and Bellator can’t cut ties with the face of their franchise. I think Chandler might actually be untradeable because the UFC isn’t going to offer enough to make Bellator accept.

But if you want a real Bellator-UFC trade how about this? HW Mark Hunt and WW Demian Maia go to Bellator in exchange for LHW champion Ryan Bader. Hunt is already on his way out the door with the UFC and Maia’s time as a contender for them is done, whereas the UFC really could use the Cormier-Bader fight that was supposed to happen so many moons ago. Bellator gets to add Maia to their already strong welterweight division and Hunto replaces Bader in the heavyweight grand prix, giving us Fedor-Hunto 2 potential! Who says no?

AL: Bader just got there! I do like the trade especially since Hunt and Maia fall under the category of “what else is there to do” in the UFC and Hunt is obviously a perfect fit as either a Heavyweight Grand Prix alternate or as the first challenger for whoever wins that tournament. Also, it feels like Hunt and Coker were destined to work together someday.

I’m not sure how hot the UFC is to bring back Bader, but it’s not a bad suggestion overall.

In the interest of keeping things relatively simple, here’s another two-promotion trade that might require some explanation.

UFC trades WFLW Paige VanZant to Bellator for WFLW champion Ilima-Lei Macfarlane, WFW champion Julia Budd

Paige VanZant
Could Paige VanZant shine even brighter working with Scott Coker, the man who helped make a star out of Ronda Rousey?
Esther Lin/

AL: Two titleholders for PVZ? I can hear the hardcore Bellatorians turning off COPS and getting ready to protest, but I guarantee you there’s a heck of a lot more people out there who still haven’t heard of Macfarlane or Budd even with their champ status. This is purely a marketing move for Bellator as they get a popular face to accelerate the growth of their budding 125-pound division.

Remember, it’s Coker who broke barriers by having Gina Carano and Cris Cyborg main event a Strikeforce show that drew almost 600,000 viewers, and who pushed Ronda Rousey to the forefront well before the UFC even considered hosting female fights, so he could be the man to take VanZant’s career up another notch.

As for the UFC, they get an instant flyweight title challenger in “The Iliminator,” while Budd is an obvious foil for Cyborg. The Canadian isn’t the most exciting fighter, but she has the physique to make her a believable contender and Cyborg would probably be happy to step into the cage with an actual featherweight for once.

JM: I don’t hate it but if you want to get Budd into the UFC, let’s think a little bigger.

The UFC trades LHW Jon Jones to Rizin FF and WW champion Tyron Woodley to Bellator, in exchange for BW Kyoji Horiguchi, FLW Tenshin Nasukawa, FW Kron Gracie, FW Aaron Pico, WFW champion Julia Budd, and WFW Arlene Blencowe.

How would Jon Jones do fighting over in The Land of the Rising Sun?
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

This is my masterpiece.

The UFC gives up on Jones and his incoming 2-4-year suspension and cuts ties with its welterweight champion that it clearly hates. Bellator reinforces its already stellar 170-pound division and gets Woodley the analyst too. The UFC gets a king’s ransom of young talent and the start to an actual 145-pound division for Cyborg.

Plus, the UFC gets a legitimate Gracie to promote and we get to see Jon Jones with no drug-testing policy! Everyone wins!

AL: I like everything about this except Bellator giving up Pico. I understand that’s necessary to bring in Woodley, but there is a strong chance that Coker actually sees more value in Pico over the next five years than Woodley even given the current gap in skill and name recognition. Also, at this point we’re coming dangerously close to just reforming Strikeforce, not that anyone would complain.

All that said, “Bones” to Rizin is a no-brainer and it’s entirely possible that the whole point of this article was to dream up a way to get Jones out of the UFC and into a less, um, “controlled” environment.

While we have Rizin on the line, I’d like to propose another trade that could prove fruitful in both the short and long term for the involved promotions.

Three-way deal: Rizin FF trades WFLW Shinju Nozawa-Auclair to Invicta FC for WLW Felicia Spencer, Bellator trades WFLW Heather Hardy to Invicta FC for WFLW Agnieszka Niedzwiedz, Rizin FF also receives one fight from HW Quinton “Rampage” Jackson

AL: Shaking up the women’s MMA landscape even more, Bellator lets go of another one of its pet projects in Hardy to bring in Niedzwiedz, a 22-year-old Polish phenom. She easily has the most upside of this bunch, though Hardy and Nozawa-Auclair would be instant stars for Invicta.

“Juju” in particular has the potential to develop into a major draw if given time to properly develop. She speaks both English and Japanese fluently, which would maximize her marketability on both sides of the Pacific, and she has the kind of look that would appeal greatly to the overlords at WME-IMG.

RIZIN Fighting World Grand-Prix 2017 Final Round
Shinju “Juju” Nozawa-Auclair has the potential to develop into a huge international star
Photo by Etsuo Hara/Getty Images

Spencer, a featherweight who once took an amateur bout at 170 pounds, is big and talented enough to finally give Gabi Garcia a fight that people will actually care about. At the very least, she’s not a 50-year-old former Japanese pro wrestler.

Last but not least, we get “Rampage” back in Japan where he belongs for a one-shot heavyweight matchup with Mirko Cro Cop. It’s the dream fight most people probably didn’t even know they wanted.

JM: I’m pretty sure you just made up half of those people but I do like the idea of making trades between organizations outside of the UFC, if only because it’s more likely to actually happen.

Speaking of which, I went outside the box to come up with a pair of trades that the UFC should just phone into the commissioner right now.

UFC trades LW Eddie Alvarez to the Philadelphia Eagles for RB LeGarrette Blount and HW Stefan Struve to the Miami Heat for F James Johnson.

JM: Blount just won his second Super Bowl in as many years so now it’s time for him to try his hand at MMA. Have you seen the punch he dropped Byron Hout with?

AL: Six weeks sprawl training and all that.

JM: Get this man in the heavyweight division, stat. And in exchange, Philly gets its favorite son as hype-man and motivational speaker to keep “bringing out the dog” in the Eagles. The lightweight division is too clustered anyway. It’s time for Eddie to move on to less personally damaging pursuits and he fits in well with everyone’s favorite underdogs.

Eddie Alvarez
Could Eddie Alvarez have the fans chanting “Fly, Eddie Fly” in Philadelpha?
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

AL: We’ve really gone off the rails now, though who wouldn’t want to see James Johnson (one of the NBA’s few legitimate bad asses) step into the cage for a major promotion or see Stefan Struve ambling around on a basketball court. Think about how coordinated you have to be to succeed in MMA. At the worst, he’s giving you six hard fouls off the bench. Steph Curry is going to have to protect his neck, is all I’m saying.

For my last proposal, I’m dipping back into the Strikeforce reunion well.

Bellator trades BW Eduardo Dantas, LW Goiti Yamauchi, WW Joey Davis to the UFC for WW Robbie Lawler

AL: Who’s the winner of this trade? The UFC gets a couple of talented vets who are still relatively young (Dantas is 29, Yamauchi is 25), plus a solid prospect in the 24-year-old Davis.

Lawler feels like he’s getting farther and farther away from contending for a belt again in the UFC (not that that’s ever been his primary concern), so why not send him over to Bellator where he can carve a fresh path of destruction.

Of course, the best part is the inevitable booking of Lawler-MacDonald 3.

A move back to Bellator could lead to Robbie Lawler and Rory MacDonald throwing down one more time
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

JM: The UFC definitely gets the better of this deal, but I’m not ever sure it accepts. What if instead of Lawler, Bellator gets “Shogun” Rua and adds in A.J. McKee to really sweeten the deal. I think the UFC might be willing to dump “Shogun” at this point in his career, even though he’s not far from a title shot, believe it or not.

AL: It’s never enough for this man. Now you’ve got me thinking about Shogun rematching “Rampage” or Wanderlei Silva. I think I hear the sound of the trade deadline bell ringing, and not a moment too soon.

So what do you think fight fans, would you like to see MMA promotions find a way to make moves like this? What trades would you like to see? Or is this the worst idea you’ve ever heard?

Leave your suggestions in the comments below or hit us up on social media @MMAFighting, @AlexanderKLee, and @JedKMeshew.


What hypothetical MMA move do you think is the most intriguing?

This poll is closed

  • 40%
    Michael Chandler to the UFC
    (350 votes)
  • 4%
    Paige VanZant to Bellator
    (42 votes)
  • 36%
    Jon Jones to Rizin
    (314 votes)
  • 0%
    Shinju Nozawa-Auclair to Invicta
    (5 votes)
  • 13%
    Robbie Lawler to Bellator
    (120 votes)
  • 4%
    (39 votes)
870 votes total Vote Now