Hello, friends. It's been a while. How have you been? Why, yes I have lost weight. And no, it's not a haircut, I just washed my hair last Tuesday, but thanks all the same. So, anyway, what's the haps? What have I missed? Any big..................now what the hell is this?
So, as we all know, sixteen fighters were cast out of Dana White's garden yesterday. Jay Hieron made a bad habit of collapsing all over the flowers, if you catch my drift. Mike Russow has wiped his ass with a bunny rabbit for the last time (the rabbit of opportunity, the dookie of poor cardio). As for Jon Fitch: whoa, guys. Words cannot describe. But let's just say he "failed" to "exhibit" a "satisfactory" "level" of "respect" for the "UFC's" "demands."
Some of the cuts were long overdue, and some, of course, further darken the shadow of doubt cast over the meritocracy that is (that should be) the UFC's roster. In the interest of managing this sturm und drang, won't you join me for a breakdown of this week's culling?
Of the sixteen fighters turned loose this week, eight earned their release the old-fashioned way. Light-Heavyweight Wagner Prado; welterweights Jay Hieron, Simeon Thoreson, and Mike Stumpf; lightweights Paul Sass and C.J. Keith; bantamweight Motonobu Tezuka; and flyweight Ulysses Gomez all find themselves in the typical "two and through" position. Of these nine, however, Sass and Gomez are the clear outliers, albeit for slightly different reasons.
Sass is the only one of this group who's current UFC run yielded a win percentage of at least .600. He won his first three fights in the UFC, all by submission, and over fairly respectable competition, including Michael Johnson and Jacob Volkmann. Nevertheless, he's fighting in one of the organization's deepest weight classes, and his last two defeats--against Matt Wiman and Danny Castillo--suggest that the jig may be up for the submission specialist. A bit of time on the regional circuit to round out his game should do him some good.
The tragically monicker-ed Ulysses "Useless" Gomez is the more puzzling cut to me, though you wouldn't know it at first glance. He is, admittedly, winless in the UFC, but he's also fighting in the still-nascent flyweight division. Hard to see how he couldn't yet be of some use among the flyweight ranks. Alas, that nickname.
The ninth member of this group is flyweight Josh Grispi, whose UFC record stands at 0-4. Once slated to challenge Jose Aldo, Grispi was never able to gain his footing in the UFC. It's hard to imagine what kept him in the ranks for this long beyond, perhaps, the sympathies of the UFC brass (sympathies that are kept in close reserve, as the ensuing list shows).
Easiest Cut: Grispi
Hardest Cut: Gomez
Next we have those fighters who, despite being one or two fights in the hole, could arguably have been given another shot in the UFC, based on either mitigating circumstances or relatively steady competitiveness.
Terry Etim, Jacob Volkmann, and Mike Russow have all compiled fair UFC records (6-5, 6-4, and 4-2, respectively). Of these three, Volkmann is, I suppose, the most easy to let go. He proved himself to be a capable gatekeeper at lightweight, though his fights were rarely interesting, and his on-screen personality--reviled by creatures great and small--didn't do much to make up for his tiresome performances.
By contrast, Terry Etim possesses a generally crowd-pleasing style, with five of his six UFC victories coming within the distance. And while he's lost two in a row, his most recent loss came following more than a year-long layoff. It's a bit of a shame to see him go like that, but supposing he strings together a couple regional wins and the incoming Strikeforce crop weeds itself out, we could very well see him back.
Meanwhile, Mike Russow finds himself on the wrong end of two straight TKO losses. However, he managed to put together four straight wins prior and, working in the classically sparse heavyweight division, one could argue that there's still a place for him in the middle of the pack.
Add to this Che Mills, who's alternated wins and losses across four bouts in the crowded welterweight division. That both of his wins have come by TKO was, apparently, not enough to ward off a pink slip. Fellow welterweight Jorge Santiago can't claim even a pair of UFC victories, going 0-1 in his most recent campaign, with a dispiriting promotional record of 1-5 overall. Nevertheless, one might have guessed that debuting at a new weight class on short notice might have earned him a bit more latitude.
The heartbreaker for me here, however, is Vladimir Matyushenko. The 42-year-old MMA veteran is 4-3 in his current UFC run, and 7-5 overall, dating back more than ten years. And while two first-round defeats never look good, consider: his last two losses came against Top 10 light-heavyweights Ryan Bader and Alexander Gustafsson, and that, prior to those fights, Matyushenko himself had dispatched two opponents within Round 1. I can't help but think that Matyushenko might have had one or two good fights in him, albeit at the lower end of the division.
Easiest Cut: Santiago (with box-office poison Volkmann in a very close second)
Hardest Cut: Matyushenko
Mike Russow. Again. Because watching his prodigious torso in motion on pay-per-view is the only thing that gets my lady in the mood, and you can't call this fighter bashing because for all you know it's true. I'll never tell. Never, okay? Guys, what I mean to say is, I'LL DIE BEFORE I TELL YOU WHETHER OR NOT MIKE RUSSOW GETS MY WIFE IN THE MOOD.
And then there's Jon Fitch.
Now 1-2 in his last three bouts, Fitch has never looked more vulnerable, getting knocked out by Johny Hendricks in late 2011 before giving up a three-round shellacking to Demian Maia a year later. However, between these two losses was a remarkable unanimous decision victory over prospect Erick Silva.
Remarkable, of course, not for the end result, but for the way he got there. Across three rounds, Fitch fairly mauled Silva, displaying an uncharacteristic level of urgency and bloodlust that made for the most exciting winning performance of Fitch's UFC career. This new look, combined with Fitch's perennial Top 10 status, makes his cut from the UFC inexplicable on all but the most petty, personal grounds.
The long and short of it is, Jon Fitch was not a company man. He wouldn't consent to fight his teammates, he balked at the UFC's multimedia use of his image, and he was a persistent contender who rarely deviated from his unmarketable style. Thus he finds himself in this position, serving as an example for any other rabble-rousers in UFC Land.
Fitch is now in an almost unprecedented position. Who else, after such a lengthy UFC run, has found himself outside the Octagon looking in? Tito Ortiz is the closest approximation, but even that isn't much of a comparison. Unlike Ortiz-- who was not especially competitive by the end of his tenure, and whose departure coincided with an ostensible urge to retire--Fitch maintains a foothold among the elite of his division and, despite recent losses, is decidedly relevant. What comes next? Given the seemingly personal edge to his removal, it's hard to imagine that things will be as simple as him re-signing after a couple wins on the regional circuit. It's hard to imagine him on the regional circuit at all. Even Bellator seems too small for him. Where will he go from here?
We might ask the same question of the UFC itself. The decision to cut Fitch comes on the heels of a string of moves from the UFC bearing the whiff of "entertainment first, sport second." In light of Nick Diaz's title shot at the expense of Johny Hendricks, or the sensationalism of casting Rousey vs. Carmouche as the headliner over Henderson vs. Machida, one has to wonder: in making another big push into the mainstream, to what extent will the UFC hold spectacle supreme over sport?