UFC matchmaker Joe Silva generally tells UFC fighters who they face next or gives them a limited menu to chose from. Photo by Ken Pishna via MMA Weekly
"They usually give you A or B or C and you get to choose. But sometimes they just give you A, and either you take the fight or you don't. But in general with the UFC, they tell you who they want you to fight."
Fowlkes also talks to AKA fighter Mike Swick:
Sometimes, as Swick explained, they tell you before they tell your management, and the result is a clash of differing expectations.
"The one fight I took without talking to my manager was David Louiseau. I told Joe Silva I'd take that fight and I wanted to be a number one contender so bad. Then I called Bob Cook and I remember telling him, and there was nothing but silence on the other end of the phone. That's when I remember thinking, oh sh-t."
Bob Cook is the head MMA trainers at AKA and Mike Swick's manager.
This is a very telling insight into how the UFC works with the fighters under contract to them. Some fighters get some options -- for example, Rich Franklin and Forrest Griffin apparently had the latitude to turn down a bout with Jon Jones. But other fighters, enjoying less favored nation status than organization favorites like Griffin and Franklin, are simply presented with their next opponent, take it or leave it.
Roy Nelson was presented with his UFC 117 bout against Junior Dos Santos in that manner as a take it or leave it bout.
All fighters need to project an image of "I'll fight anybody, anytime", but the reality is that they have to be very careful in their fight choices. Basically, a fighter only wants to take fights that will help move his career forward. Early on in a prospect's career, the goal is to find him relatively easy fights against journeymen with limited skill sets who present an ever increasing set of challenges.
Later on, once a fighter is ready for mid-tier competition, the goal will be to find fighters with a bigger reputation and name brand that the prospect nevertheless has an excellent chance to beat.
From there it's a matter of weighing the pay day against the long term career impact. For a fighter like Marcus Davis who is in his late 30's and has already pretty much been eliminated from contention in the UFC welterweight division a fight against a young lion like Nate Diaz makes sense. Win or lose it's great exposure and a solid pay day and if he wins, instant relevance.