To paraphrase UFC President Dana White: “Pardon me, sir or madam, but might I kindly inquire if you would you like to participate in a fight?”
That question has served as the mission statement for White’s organization since he had to make that fateful speech to a cast on The Ultimate Fighter 1 that included future UFC stalwarts Forrest Griffin, Diego Sanchez, Josh Koscheck, Chris Leben, Mike Swick, Nate Quarry and several others (spoiler for a 16-year-old TV show: As it turns out, many of them did want to be f****** fighters!). It lingers now even in the modern ESPN era, with a roster that numbers in the hundreds.
It’s the question that every fighter likely asks themselves when the opportunity comes to take a short-notice fight, something several notable names have done over the past few months to mixed results. Here are some examples of fighters who stepped up and lost:
- Bobby Green (lost to Islam Makhachev at UFC Vegas 49)
- Renato Moicano (lost to Rafael dos Anjos at UFC UFC 272)
- Terrance McKinney (lost to Drew Dober at UFC Vegas 50)
- Jennifer Maia (lost to Manon Fiorot at UFC Columbus)
There have been several recent short-notice winners though, including Miranda Maverick, Ilia Topuria, Brendan Allen, and Sergey Spivak. Plus, there’s at least one famous instance where a certain British veteran capitalized on a short-notice booking in a big way. So you can see why fighters are so eager to sign on the dotted line, sometimes just days away from fight night.
MMA Fighting’s Jed Meshew and Alexander K. Lee are here to debate the merits of taking short-notice opportunities when there is so much risk for fighters but also potentially much to gain.
Join the discussion below as we’d love to hear your thoughts.
Let Them Beat Face
Meshew: I was prepared to start my portion off by noting how the above introduction specifically names fighters who lost short-notice bouts while only generally admitting to the number of people who have won their bouts, but then I looked at the list of fighters who have lost and, frankly, I think they make my point even stronger. Bobby Green, Renato Moicano, Terrance McKinney, and Jennifer Maia all may have lost their fights, but all of them are objectively winners, because they all got an extra paycheck, earned a bit of gratitude from the UFC, and maybe even got a little bit of shine from the fans for being willing to step up. In short, the only things they lost were the fights themselves.
People want to denigrate short-notice fights for the obvious risks they incur, but the reality is that for most fighters, these bouts offer substantially more benefits than risks. First and foremost is the money. Fighters have a short window of opportunity to earn whatever they can, and so getting in for an extra fight you weren’t planning on is essentially grabbing an extra paycheck (or maybe two if you win). Every person reading this can probably imagine how nice it would be to stumble into an extra paycheck once or twice a year. Add in that fighters receive additional sponsorship dollars from Venum based on how many fights they’ve had and fighters are strongly incentivized to get to 21 fights inside the UFC as quickly as possible.
Second, in the absence of a union to look out for the interests of all fighters and/or protect fighters from a vengeful promotion, keeping your employer happy is the best way to ensure continued employment. The UFC has frequently looked kindly upon those who have helped them out of tight spots, and conversely, they’ve been pretty unkind to those who have been unwilling to eat crap for them (just ask Islam Makhachev, who supposedly lost a title shot because he wouldn’t step in for them on less than a week’s notice). Since an overnight unionization of UFC athletes isn’t happening, fighters need to do what’s best for them, which, generally, means doing what’s best for the UFC.
Lastly, there’s just very little downside to accepting short-notice fights. If you lose, you have a built-in excuse for why, and if you win, you look like twice the hero for doing so. Remember when Nate Diaz came off a party boat to beat Conor McGregor’s ass with a week’s notice? That was a star-making performance regardless, but he certainly got an extra boost because of the circumstances. And for Conor, do you really think he looks back on that fight as a negative? It produced two of the biggest pay-per-views in UFC history, and will likely give him another one before his career is over.
Now I will admit, there are some exceptions to the rule. If you are a legitimate title contender in a deep division — someone like Arnold Allen — stepping up on short notice is a risky proposition. Allen is likely to fight for a title in the next year, but given the logjam at 145, any loss could derail those plans by years, if not ruin them entirely. For a guy like Allen, a short-notice fight is a liability. But there are only a handful of fighters in the sport for whom that logic holds true. For the rest of them, they’re never going to make a real title run, and thus they should run towards any opportunity to put a little bit more space between themselves and the street.
At the end of the day, the one undeniable truth in MMA is that fighters should always, always: Get. The. Bag. Fight sports are a brutal business and you never know when your time is going to run out, and so at all times, a fighter should be doing everything they possibly can to maximize their bankroll. Donald Cerrone basically made a career out of doing so, and aside from being one of the most beloved fighters of all-time, he’s also done exceedingly well financially. In MMA, the only way to get paid, unfortunately, is to get your ass into the cage and go to work. And so when the UFC calls because somebody didn’t show up for work and they need someone to cover the shift, you should cancel your Saturday plans and go clock in. Your children’s college funds will thank you.
Look Out For No. 1 — And I Don’t Mean The UFC
Lee: Fighters, put yourselves first.
In a business that is more individualistic than any major sport, somehow the UFC has managed to foster an unwavering “put the company first” mindset that has permeated for years, from seasoned veterans to prospects scraping for a chance to be booked on the Contender Series. Part of it is that fans flock to fighters who truly live up to that “I’ll fight anyone anywhere!” image. Another part of it is that fighters want to stay in the good graces of the bosses.
All that is well and good, but there comes a point where the downside of jumping on a risky short-notice opportunity outweighs the upside, and the examples we listed in the opening blurb are all evidence that the risk is getting way too heavy. And for different reasons in each instance.
Bobby Green theoretically had nothing to lose, but his drubbing at the hands of Islam Makhachev was so definitive that he lost any heat he had coming off of a tidy two-fight win streak. Renato Moicano had a lot to gain with a win over former UFC champion Rafael dos Anjos, but he ended up taking a ton of damage to the point that we all openly wondered what kind of long-term effect it will have on him. Terrance McKinney also took a calculated risk, and while he got off to a hot start against Drew Dober, he also ended up taking a loss in less than ideal circumstances. As for Jennifer Maia, that one is just a head scratcher.
Yes, Maia is a year and a half removed from her title fight with Valentina Shevchenko, but she was holding on firmly to a top spot and was actually No. 6 in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings before agreeing to fight white-hot prospect Manon Fiorot on less than a month’s notice in what was essentially a replacement booking (Fiorot was supposed to fight Jessica Eye at UFC 272 on March 5, and when that fight fell through, Maia stepped in to face Fiorot three weeks later). Maia lost, took a big hit in the rankings, and has now lost three of four fights putting her closer to the cut line than the contenders’ line.
So why do this?
It’s not all on the fighters. The UFC needs to pay their athletes more so that they can afford to take time between fights and not have to jump at the first sign of a contract. They need to give them assurances that declining an offer won’t be held against them. Managers need to read the tea leaves and help their clients make informed decisions. Fighters need to learn to put their foot down and say no.
Again, there are always exceptions. Title fight being offered? Have at it. Top-5 opponent on the way down who is ripe for the picking? Pounce. A legend you’ve been dying to share the octagon with? Put pen to paper. But otherwise, make sure you’re doing something that benefits your career as much as — if not more than — it benefits the UFC’s match/money-making machine. And for goodness sake, make sure you get an extra fat check as a thank you.
I’m not arguing that one should never take a short-notice fight; after all, we’ve seen star-making performances happen under these circumstances. I only want fighters to put a greater emphasis on self-interest and self-preservation, even if it’s tempting to leap without looking for the sake of the company and the fans. The UFC (and ESPN) will survive having an hour of runtime shaved off of a fight night card every now and then.
What is the best reason for a UFC fighter to take a short-notice fight?
This poll is closed
To be in Dana White’s good graces
Potential move up the rankings
Other (leave comment below)