First, let me make this clear. Jon Fitch is a very good MMA fighter. There is no denying that. If anyone tries to say that his firing was justified because he isn’t a good fighter, they are obviously idiots. Also, I’m not saying that the UFC should have fired Fitch after his loss, I’m just rationalizing why it wasn’t the worst thing ever and probably justifiable.
That said, here are my 3 major reasons why releasing Jon Fitch (while unpopular) is somewhat justifiable.
1. He’s hit his peak:
Sure, he’s still a top 10 fighter, no doubt. But he’s gone 1-2-1 in his last 4 fights. He isn’t going to be sniffing anywhere close to a title shot ever again. Yet, he’s a guy that can still go out and win an ugly fight against just about everyone who isn’t contending for a title. Do you think that the UFC wants to risk putting a guy like Fitch in against Gunner Nelson or Tarec Saffiedine, young guys with loads of potential? The risk of those fights (Fitch Fitching) are not worth the reward (a win over Fitch). So then what do you do with Fitch? Keep him fighting top 10 guys, even though (like it or not) there is no chance for him to get close to a title shot? Have him fight up and coming fighters, in a gatekeeper type role? Have him fight lower level guys like he did once he lost to GSP? That leads me to my next point.
2. He’s dreadful to watch:I know, I know. His fight with Silva was great. But how much of that is attributed to Silva’s balls out fight style? And his fight with Maia was entertaining, but by no means was it the most exciting fight to watch either. Outside of those two fights though, his fights are incredibly dull. Fitch and L’n’P go hand in hand. I know there are some people that enjoy watching him fight. Why? I’m not sure. But they do exist. But the thing is, those people are hardcore fans… fans who are going to watch every PPV regardless. Is anyone really going to stop watching the UFC because Fitch was released? No.
Yet in reverse, if Dana were to put Fitch on a FX prelim, he is the type of fighter that can do more harm than good to the UFC PPV numbers. If I’m watching a PPV with my friends, none of which I would consider anything more than casuals, it isn’t uncommon for them to get bored watching a fight where there isn’t some type of striking. Now have them watching an FX prelim, undecided if they are going to buy the PPV or not, and imagine them watching a Fitch vs. Thiago where Fitch won but only landed 15 strikes. Or Fitch vs. Alves, where Fitch won and only landed 29 strikes. Those are the type of fights that turn viewers away. So where does that leave Dana? He can put Fitch on the PPV, but he’d probably like to reserve that for a guy who will draw some fans. He can’t put him on the prelims, out of fear he’ll resort to his old ways. He can put him on an Fuel Card or Facebook undercard, but in those cases, he’s probably making too much money.
3. He’s making too much money, for what he brings to the table for the UFC:
I’m sure this will get the most flack. 60/60 is too much money? Dana needs a new Ferrari! But like it or not, that type of pay makes Fitch one of the highest paid WW’s in the world. Why would Zuffa continue to pay this guy like he’s a top challenger or a big draw, when in reality, he’s neither?
Fitch has been very open and vocal about how he doesn’t earn enough money through fighting, and he seems like a guy who wouldn’t be willing to take a pay cut to 30/30. A complete guess is that the UFC would keep Fitch employed if he would agree to a severe pay cut. Odds are Fitch nor Zuffa would ever be able to meet on an agreed upon amount, so Zuffa said bye bye (this is all pure speculation).
By releasing a top 10 talent, the UFC loses all credibility as a "real" sports organization:
Really? The UFC (by my count) holds all the top 10 talent in every male division with the exception to 8 fighters (Barnett, Fitch, Askren, Chandler, Alvarez, Curran, Fernandez, Dantas and Montague). That’s 10% of the top fighters fighting outside the UFC, and you think having 1 of those guys fight in the UFC makes the organization that much more credible? The UFC has made it clear that the best fighters fight the best fighters, when it makes the UFC money. Chael Sonnen is unranked at LHW, but a title shot against Jones will probably do huge numbers. Once that fight is out of the way Jones will have a healthy diet of credible contenders in Machida/Hendo, Gustafsson or Teixiera. GSP vs. Diaz doesn’t make sense from a sporting POV, but it makes lots of financial sense. It’s a grudge match. Once that is over GSP will probably fight Hendricks (assuming Condit doesn’t beat him).
The point is that while the UFC tries to put on fights that, from a sporting perspective, make the most sense, making money is more important.
As Puff Daddy once said "Its all about the Benjamins baby". Does Leonard Garcia deserve to be in the UFC? Hell no! Is he fun to watch (if your a casual who doesn't realize all those punches are missing)? Hell yes. Dan Hardy lost 4 in a row (2 were to GSP and Condit...no shame there), but has now rattled off 2 straight and is in a sure fire slobber knocker with Matt Brown. Does he belong in the UFC? Probably. Does it matter? No. He's entertaining to watch, has a good fan base, and is British. We all know how the UFC feels about their foreign fighters who they thing can draw (cough...Zhang Tiequan).
This is also something that many fans love about the UFC. Not every fight has to have some divisional significance. Sometimes there is value in holding on to a guy who "WARS", regardless of if he is in the top 25 or not.
No other organization has ever released an athlete in their prime like the UFC just did:
This is the worst argument, because no other organization is in the same position that Zuffa is in. My best example would be a sports team in MLB. Use Zuffa as the Red Sox, and Bellator as the Dodgers. The Red Sox can spend what they want because they have the money too. Yet they still traded away 3 of their best players because they wanted to save some money on other players. I know it’s not really the same thing, but no other organization is in the same type of role as Zuffa is.
I’m sure I’ll get torn apart for this, and the vast majority will disagree with me, but I don’t hate Zuffa for making this move. And I wont be surprised when I see Zuffa make more down the line (especially at LW and WW where they are loaded with talent).