With the death of Dream, the top fighter to enter the open MMA market is Bibiano Fernandes. It looked like he was not going to be a free agent for long, as UFC announced quickly that it had signed him, and he would be fighting Roland Delorme in July. Flash forward a couple of days, and UFC pulled the fight from it's web site, and some new details emerged. Fernandes had verbally agreed to the UFC contract and fight, but almost immediately received a bigger offer from OneFC. Now Fernandes is going wait until his wife gives birth in a couple of months before he makes a final decision on where he will land.
Let's take a look at all of the parties and what they have to gain, or lose from this situations
UFC made a quick offer, so now they are on record saying that they want Fernandes in their organization. Bantamweight is not a very deep division, and UFC could use all of the talent that it can get it's hands on. Cruz, Faber, Barao, and McDonald are the exciting fighters at BW. After that, there are some very good fighters like Bowles, Wineland, Jorgensen, Torres, Pickett, and Mizugaki but they have had their chance, and some new blood is going to be needed. Future stars like Mike Easton, TJ Dillashaw, and Johnny Eduardo just are not ready yet, and there are many questions if these guys will ever step into the limelight.
Many rankings have Fernandes in the top-10, I'm not sold on that. As fans we have been burned several times by guys who have made their name picking off low hanging fruit in Japan, only to disappoint when they showed up in the UFC (Jorge Santiago is a recent example). I personally would have Fernandes at 13 in the UFC right now, but could rise quickly with a fight or two to verify the hype.
Another benefit for UFC is that it gets a star who has history in multiple markets. Fernandes is Brazilian, but has made a name for himself in Japan. This means that UFC could easily work him into the main card in Brazil, or during some of it's Asian shows.
OneFC, and Bellator after the jump
OneFC has openly declared that they want to be "the UFC of Asia." What they lack right now is the top end talent. This get's back to the ranking of Fernandes, if they truly believe that Fernandes is a top 10 guy, then this is a big acquisition, but not without risk.
This might be interpreted as "the shot across the bow" to UFC that announces OneFC as a major competitor to UFC. That is not a good thing, unless you are ready for it. In my opinion they are not, their next card is being headlined by Roger Huerta, and Babalu. Asia is a key market for UFC, they put on a very successful show in Japan earlier this year, they are taking a close look at India, the Philippines, Singapore, and already have a fight scheduled for Macao towards the end of the year. If UFC starts losing fighters, and feels threatened in a key market that it wants and needs, then OneFC might become a threat before they are able to withstand the UFC pressuring them and driving up the price of talented fighters.
Will OneFC overpay for Fernandes? For Fernandes to pull out of a verbal agreement with the biggest MMA organization in the world, I'm guessing that the offer from OneFC was a hell of a lot more money. The biggest problem that many failed organizations have run into is that they overpay their talent. Bibano Fernandes has no pull with the casual MMA fan around the world, is what they are paying him worth what he will bring in?
Who will OneFC match him with? Will they be able to find the types of fights that keep him interested, or is Fernandes in line to be the next Hector Lombard in Bellator where there just isn't a ton of interest in watching him beat some guys who have no business being in the cage with him.
Bellator/OneFC Combination -
In a competition with UFC, and a guy that OneFC really wants I do not think Bellator can scoop a guy exclusively, but they could put their ability to work with OneFC into play to work a good deal. Bantamweight is one of Bellator's stronger division. They have numerous fighters in the SB Nation / USA Today top 25. That means that Bellator is not going to have to worry about offering Fernandes very good competition, and the ability to prove he belongs at the top of the division.
Bibiano Fernandes -
Does Bibiano want to be considered the best BW in the world? Because that will not happen outside of UFC. Bellator/OneFC could get him close, Cruz, Faber, Barao, McDonald, Bowles are in UFC, and those are the names that someone will need on their resume to be considered number 1. Most of these athletes are type A, aggressive personalities who want to be the best in the world. Right now the path to being considered the best in the world is UFC.
Fernandes also probably messed up this negotiation by giving UFC a public black eye, and embarrassment. UFC is not known for being easy to negotiate with, but taking a real close look at the uninspiring Bantamweight division, and some of Fernandes' credentials means that he probably could at least play the game a little bit. If he had played off the OneFC, and Bellator as possible suiters he could have possibly maxed out his UFC worth. Now UFC is probably just going to stick with their initial offer and not want to get into a bidding war.
In the end, Bibiano is going to make the choice that he feels is best for him and his family. I personally hope that is UFC where he could have great fights with guys like Bowles, Mizugaki, Wineland, and Menjivar. That being said, seeing him go through a Bellator tourney right now would also be a lot of fun.
As always you can read my thoughts here