FREE AGENT NOTEBOOK - DIVISIONAL LEADERS
September 28th 2010
After a Fedoresque absence from the scene for almost a year, Free Agent Notebook returns to address some of the burning questions about the Mixed Martial Arts market in 2010. This comeback installment takes stock of who is making the biggest waves in each of the major "money" divisions in the sport: Heavyweight, Light Heavyweight, Middleweight, Weltweight, and Lightweight.
Pro Record: 27-6
Tim Sylvia hit rock bottom in his mixed martial arts career following a nine second KO loss to Ray Mercer in an MMA vs. Boxing-themed match in July of 2009, his third consecutive defeat. But thanks in part to the deft hand of manager Monte Cox, Sylvia has bounced back with three straight stoppage victories while campaigning as a main event attraction on independent MMA cards. "The Maine-iac" has headlined two of the five pay per view events held by various promoters in 2010 at the price point of $29.99, and is tentatively planned to top another card versus Pedro Rizzo in a match-up of two former UFC Heavyweight titans. If he emerges victorious from that bout, will Sylvia simply continue headlining third party PPV events, or will it be time to make a multi-fight commitment to UFC or Strikeforce?
Honorable Mention: Hae Joon Yang, Todd Duffee, Paul Buentello, Ricco Rodriguez
LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT (205lbs)
Pro Record: 18-6
Better known by his nickname "Cacareco", Alexandre Ferreira is the heir apparent to Lyoto Machida as the least desirable opponent to draw in the light heavyweight division. Even "The Dragon" himself is said to have declined a fight with Ferreira prior to his title reign in the UFC. With a seven fight winning streak dating back to 2007, Ferreira's inability to get international bookings is especially unfortunate considering the ongoing success of his countrymen. Time after time, leading fighters on the Brazilian MMA circuit have jumped to the UFC and instantly established themselves among the top class in their respective divisions. With his elite submission ability and agressive fighting style, Alexandre Ferreira has the potential to follow compatriots Paulo Thiago, Junior Dos Santos and Charles Oliveira to international prominence.
Honorable Mention: Jamal Patterson, Keith Jardine, Martin Desilets, Jan Blachowicz
Middleweight, Welterweight and Lightweight leaders after the break.
Pro Record: 12-3
When Danillo Villefort's UFC career was abruptly cut short following a TKO loss on a cut stoppage in his debut, fans of the touted prospect cried foul. The UFC was accused of letting a prized prospect slip through their grasp on specious grounds. Coming aboard the Shark Fights 13 card on ten day's notice, Villefort appeared to prove his worth by exacting a complete victory over well-regarded Strikeforce middlweight Joey Villasenor. His display of technical precision and power was so impressive that it vaults him past his American Top Team stablemate and cornerman Jorge Santiago as the top middleweight free agent. Villefort is telegenic, affable, younger (Santiago is 30), more affordable, and most importantly, is not beholden to any Japanese promoters, as Santiago is being Sengoku's 84kg Champion. Though interest from Strikeforce and Bellator is likely to be high now, Villefort may be better served building his personal brand even further under the Shark Fights banner, where no clear stars have yet emerged.
Honorable Mention: Jorge Santiago, Chris Weidman, Jeremy Horn, Tomasz Drwal
Pro Record: 19-4
Of all the names in the 2010 free agent class, by far the most maligned is Jay Hieron. After a frustrating 2-0 stint in Strikeforce where neither of his fights were televised, "The Thoroughbred" sought his release from the promotion. However, despite fulfilling his fight obligations, there remains a lengthy "matching" period (rumoured to be up to a year) in his contract. He can accept offers from other promoters during this time, but Strikeforce has the right to retain Hieron if they choose to match an offer Hieron accepts, much like restricted free agency in the National Basketball Association. Though Jay is a top welterweight and respected veteran of many televised fights (mainly in the late International Fight League), he has not found his niche in today's MMA landscape, and his unequivocal potential as a star remains unrealized. Hieron has made no secret of his desire to rejoin the UFC after a disappointing 0-2 stint there in 2004-2005, but an offer in excess of his $65,000 purse for his last Strikeforce bout may be hard to come by. Rather than sit out the remainder of 2010, Hieron should consider a return to the negotiating table with Strikeforce.
Honorable Mention: Yuri Villefort, Ben Saunders, Eduardo Pamplona, Delson Heleno
Pro Record: 13-2
As a free agent asset, Efrain Escudero's prospects are difficult to project, because there has never been anything like him to enter the market. As a young, telegenic winner of The Ultimate Fighter with the unique distinction of having all eight of his UFC and TUF fights broadcast on Spike TV, Escudero brings a lot to the table for any would-be suitor. With their growing rotations of lightweight standouts, Strikeforce and Bellator would seem to be the obvious choices, but Efrain is the kind of all-action fighter who will receive offers from all corners of the MMA world. Bellator is planning a season four lightweight tournament, so they appear to offer the most immediate prospects of frequent fights and big prizes, while Strikeforce boasts the better collection of established names, including champ Gilbert Melendez, Josh Thomson and Gesias "JZ" Cavalcante.
Honorable Mention: Daniel Straus, Rob McCullough, Magno Almeida, Hermes Franca
As always, comments and feedback are appreciated. And if any MMA managers or agents want to inform me of current or impending free agents that should be considered for future installments, drop me a line.