There is no debate that the UFC is at an all-time high in terms of controlling the vast majority of the best talent in the sport of mixed martial arts. The outliers are fewer now than ever before - comprising mainly of a small handful of Bellator guys. More than any other time in the promotion's history, the best are truly able to face the best.
However, along with this new era has come a new trend of questionable title challengers. We are seeing, for the first time in the promotion's history, that fighters coming off losses are changing weight and getting immediate title shots. Or, in the case of Nick Diaz, a fighter coming off a loss and a drug test failure are placed directly into a title shot.
Yesterday we saw another step in the direction toward what some might consider an "entertainment first" approach to the UFC as Jon Fitch was released from his contract. Fitch held a 14-3-1 record in the world's most prestigious fight promotion. From 2005 to 2010, he lost one fight out of his fourteen trips to the Octagon, which was a unanimous decision loss while challenging for Georges St. Pierre's title.
Just this month, the UFC launched their first "official fighter rankings," which were most recently updated after the UFC on FUEL TV 7 event this past weekend. Fitch checked in as the ninth ranked welterweight in the world, a slip from his long time standing as the #1 man at welterweight not named Georges St. Pierre, but still an impressive accomplishment when considering his seven and a half year stint in the UFC.
Yes, Fitch has gone 1-2-1 in his last four bouts, the draw being a slightly too late thrashing of BJ Penn where Fitch beat on Penn for the last round in brutal fashion, but lost the first two to force the draw on two cards. He was knocked out by the number one welterweight contender in Johny Hendricks in a fight where he was caught in a slight mistake early and most recently was roundly dominated by the number five ranked welterweight in Demian Maia. The losses weren't good performances, but he derailed a very hot prospect in Erick Silva in between the losses.
Somehow, despite being ranked in the top ten at 170 pounds and his only career UFC losses coming to the welterweight champion -- and greatest welterweight ever -- the number one contender and the number five contender, the UFC has seen fit to let Jon go.
It's a difficult thing to fully understand what the UFC is at this point. If it's truly the best fighting the best, fights like Sonnen vs. Jones or Diaz vs. St. Pierre (or even Carmouche vs. Rousey given Carmouche's lack of a win over anyone currently sporting a winning record) and moves like cutting a top ten fighter who has never lost to someone outside the top five would seem to suggest otherwise. If it's pure entertainment, so be it.
Fitch is not the most exciting fighter to grace the Octagon, even disregarding the Erick Silva fight. But that has no real bearing if he is talented and deserving of a spot on the biggest stage possible. Every indication is that he has earned his status and the unanimous respect of his peers.
To be fair to the UFC, Fitch makes a lot of money, and a run where he has lost two of his last three fights could make him worth less to the point where they felt they had to cut him out of pure business interest.
We know that Fitch makes in the $66,000 to show with a $66,000 win bonus range.
Let's compare that Fitch salary to other ranked welterweights:
Johny Hendricks $26k/$26k
Carlos Condit $55k/$55k
Nick Diaz $200k
Rory MacDonald: $21k/$21k
Demian Maia: $60k/$60k
Jake Ellenberger: $42k/$42k
Martin Kampmann: $42k/$42k
Josh Koscheck: $73k/$73k
Those are based on last officially reported salaries. I have a feeling a guy like Hendricks is making more right now and Condit probably got a raise after winning the interim title -- the 55/55 deal was for the Diaz fight.
But based on the available data, it wouldn't seem that $66k/$66k is some unbearable contract compared to other deals in the division, and especially not compared to complete nonsense around the promotion like Ben Rothwell pulling $52k/$52k.
So, ultimately we're left wondering why Fitch was among those released from his UFC deal.
Is he "too boring?" If so, does that override his success and therefore speak to a lack of a "sports first" mentality in the UFC? And what of the fight with Erick Silva, which was one of the better fights in UFC history in the minds of many. While that may be the exception more than the rule when it comes to Jon's fights, it was recent, and it was fantastic.
Is he "too expensive?" It would seem that his deal is fairly well in line with his standing.
Are there lingering resentments from that whole nasty -- but ultimately brief -- split with the UFC over likeness rights for video games? Did something else come up?
In the end, it doesn't really matter as the UFC can cut him for any reason they see fit. But there are many questions lingering about the UFC's decision making process in this case.