It seems as though every time there is a story where the UFC or Zuffa has pulled off some sort of questionable business move, there is a segment of the fans and media who rush to the "they can do whatever they want" defense. And in the case of the decision to release Alistair Overeem and then a trio of Golden Glory fighters in Marloes Coenen, Jon Olav Einemo and Valentijn Overeem from their respective Strikeforce and UFC deals, that is absolutely true. The UFC has every right to decide that they don't want these fighters on their roster.
E. Spencer Kyte of Heavy took up a few "column inches" with an article about how the Golden Glory releases were a solid business decision and a fair move by the UFC. Kyte also offers the opinion that it's Dana White's personality that makes people see the moves as more than "strictly business":
Here's a question though: would we be having the same discussion right now if White were an unseen, unassuming, mild-mannered suit instead of the in-your-face, over-the-top, emotional person he is?
Probably not because there would be no way to spin this as a vindictive decision. The business side of things would be all that remains, and as long as there is a sound basis for the decision in terms of the business, what can you really say? But because White is involved, it has to be viewed as controversial and spiteful. Few people ever think the UFC President is acting in the genuine best interest of his company; he's always got to be out to stick it to someone, right?
Wrong. These decisions aren't rash and emotional or based on White's feelings being hurt; they're the right steps to take for the company based on the situation that played out last week, a situation no one knows all the details of at this point in time.
They also paints a very clear, very unapologetic picture of how Zuffa operates: no one fighter or no group is greater than the company. Fighters can be replaced. Zuffa is holding just about every card in the deck, and if you want to compete on the biggest stage, you're going to follow their rules.
Of course, no one has any strong reactions to the more vanilla heads of other sports:
The notion that this is only a story because of Dana White's reputation and personality seems a touch absurd. There was a public issue with a champion leading to his release despite holding a promotional belt and being on a 10-0 (1 No Contest) streak since 2007. Due to the politics at play in the situation, having three fighters in the same camp as Overeem released in the following days would have been a story if it were the reserved Scott Coker or the brash Dana White.
There is certainly more juice to the story because of Dana's personality. But I think it's crazy to suggest that it wouldn't be seen as a move that goes beyond mere "smart business" to cut a champion (and current #3 in the world) and then cut his fellow camp members in such a short timespan.
Let's not forget the situation with Jon Fitch and AKA. Fitch was released from the UFC when he and American Kickboxing Academy fighters would not sign over lifetime likeness rights to the promotion. This was a story dominated by the ruthless decisions of the UFC. It was also a story where White's personality factored in much more than with the current Golden Glory story.
To rewind to that story, there were moments of dishonesty about the deal and attempts to make it "not about Jon" by White (via 5 Oz of Pain):
"No, no, no. It has nothing to do with an agreement," White corrected Carmichael when the host began to suggest Fitch was cut amidst reports he wouldn't sign an agreement that would grant the UFC lifetime rights to his likeness for the purpose of making video games.
"It doesn't have to do with Jon Fitch either," continued White. "I like Jon Fitch. I've never had a bad word with Jon Fitch. The problem is with the idiots that run AKA. I won't use any names; the idiots know who they are."
Of course, other moments saw Dana being more honest about his feelings (via MMA Junkie):
"Affliction is still out there trying to build its company. Let [Fitch] go work with them. Let him see what he thinks of those [expletives]. [Expletive] him. These guys aren't partners with us. [Expletive] them. All of them, every last [expletive] one of them."
In the madness of the AKA battle the UFC also was willing to cut a future heavyweight champion:
"Can you believe that?" White said. "Chuck Liddell has that language in his contract. Randy Couture has it. Anderson Silva has it. And Cain [expletive] Velasquez, with two [expletive] fights, wants us to change it for him? That's [expletive] nuts. He can get the [expletive] out.
In many ways, that is the issue. The fact is, Zuffa can play the "we're the big time and we don't need any of you" game. But when it leads to you almost dumping one of the best fighters in the sport's history (Fitch may not be top 10, but he's pretty high on the all-time list still), a guy who would go on to become your heavyweight champion and now the #3 heavyweight in the world, it affects the "sports 'league' with the best in the world" view.
I'm not suggesting for a second that I don't think there was more going on behind the scenes that led to the moves. I just can't put together a situation which warrants these moves and makes them "just good business."
Alistair does appear to have a legitimate injury which made him feel he couldn't be ready for the September date. I would say that if he were really cut for refusing a fight he couldn't feel ready for that it would be a low point in Zuffa's history. And if they don't feel it was legitimate and was instead a play for more money, is there a place between cave to the demands and release him and his teammates from their contracts?
I also have no doubt that GG pushed Zuffa for more money for their fighters. This is not some shocking or unacceptable move. The job of a fighter's management is to make their fighter the most money possible. Making a play for more money is rarely grounds for release.
Some have also suggested that it's Golden Glory's intention to start promoting events in the U.S. or their possible ties to the K-1 revival attempt that forced Zuffa's hand. But neither present any sort of threat to the UFC's position. Is K-1 going to run another horrible failure like Dynamite!! USA again? What kind of big business could we legitimately expect Golden Glory shows in the U.S. to do? We're talking about sub-Bellator levels of exposure.
Zuffa has done of ton of good in this sport, the UFC is undeniably a fantastic promotion. But I just can't sign on with "fall in line or kick rocks" as being truly "good for the sport" when it leads to undeniably vindictive moves like this.
One also has to wonder if, in a year where the average number of UFC PPV buys has dropped by over 150,000 per event, it makes sense to cut fighters like Overeem (talented and exciting more times than not) and Einemo (may have people interested after a fun FotN performance) from the Zuffa roster. Alistair has a lot of the intangibles that can make for a mainstream star in the fight game, something that the UFC roster is lacking in quite a bit.
None of this is to say that the UFC is in trouble, simply that this seems to be a situation which shows that sometimes Zuffa's decision making does seem motivated more by ego and an overly vindictive nature than by calmly and coolly determining the smartest course of business.