I have never been a fan of what I’ll refer to as “chopping block” stories. It’s the type of content that pops up around fight week where a writer looks at which fighters are under immense pressure to win their next bout or perhaps face release. These types of stories, while perhaps informative to the casual fan, rarely present anything the fighters or the fully immersed fans don’t know. However, UFC president Dana White recently said, “We’re gonna go through some serious cuts here at the end of the year. Probably gonna have 60 cuts coming up before the first of the year…You’re gonna see a lot of names going here in the next several weeks.” It now feels like it might be the time to look a little closer at the upcoming cards from a business point of view and see who might end up on that list of 60 fighters White spoke about.
Let me start by saying that I’m looking at this from a UFC business point of view. These are not fighters I want to see released or fighters I think no longer have what it takes to be part of the UFC roster. Instead, I will look at this from a bottom line point of view. Here are the factors I considered while compiling this list:
- Reasonable path to a title shot or another title shot
- Name value
- Reasonable replacement by a lesser known UFC fighter
One would think a fighter coming off a 12-fight winning streak during which he won an interim title, 9 fight-night bonus awards and was close to competing in a title unification bout, would be safe. That’s not the case for the soon to be 37-year-old Tony Ferguson.
Ferguson has always been a fan favorite for his pleasing combat style. The downside of Ferguson’s fistic approach is that at some point it will catch up to him. The date of that turn might go down in history as May 9, 2020. That’s the night Ferguson’s winning streak ended when Justin Gaethje put a beating on him and stopped Ferguson in the fifth-round of their scrap, which headlined UFC 249. Ferguson made a reported $500,000 for that matchup, which is high by UFC standards.
Of all the fighters that are on this list, Ferguson’s future is most dependent on performance. If he looks as if the Gaethje fight took too much out of him when he faces Charles Oliveira on Saturday in the co-main event of UFC 256, Ferguson’s name could be circled on the whiteboard in the UFC war room for further discussion.
Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza is 5-5 dating back to 2015 and 1-3 in his past four outings. The 41-year-old seemed to always be one fight away from a middleweight title fight with the UFC, but the former Strikeforce champion always seemed to fall short in his bid to earn that shot. On Saturday, he serves as a gatekeeper when he faces Kevin Holland, who joined the UFC in 2018.
With his age and recent record, Souza’s path to a potential title fight seems almost nonexistent heading into 2021. With that, the Brazilian fighter could find himself out of his independent contractor gig if he loses to Holland. Another thing working against Souza is pay. Souza made a reported $210,000 for his April 2019 loss to Jack Hermansson. That number is not exorbitant, but when put against the $12,000 starting wage of a replacement, Souza might be someone the UFC could walk away from.
Former UFC heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos has lost his past three fights by knockout. None of those battles made it past the second round. On Saturday the 36-year-old faces Ciryl Gane. Gane has three UFC fights and six overall pro bouts. Some bookmakers have Gane as more than a -400 favorite. To be blunt, it seems as if the UFC is looking for Gane to run over dos Santos and make a name for himself with the casual fans via a highlight-reel knockout at UFC 256. Dos Santos’ most recent disclosed pay was $400,000 for a TKO loss to Alistair Overeem in 2015. Dos Santos has fought eight times since then. His record in those eight bouts is 4-4.
Longtime WEC/UFC competitor Cub Swanson ended a four-fight losing skid in October 2019 with a decision win over Kron Gracie. He makes his first appearance since that victory on Saturday opposite Daniel Pineda. Pineda is in his second stint with the UFC. He is favored over Swanson.
Swanson is not highly paid — he made a reported $90,000 in his 2018 loss to Renato Moicano, but he seems to be a fighter who the UFC could replace for a lower paid member of the roster since he in unranked in the 145-pound division.
Speaking of Renato Moicano, he also has a question mark over his head. The 31-year-old is 3-3 in his past six outings and he recently made the jump from featherweight to lightweight. I don’t think Moicano is in the most danger on this card, but with a loss to Rafael Fiziev, the UFC could bump him from the roster for a much cheaper fighter.
Tecia Torres had lost four fights in a row when she faced Brianna Van Buren in June. Torres won that fight by decision. Torres is a huge favorite over promotional newcomer Sam Hughes at UFC 256. A loss to Hughes, who replaced Angela Hill on short notice, could spell the end of Torres’ UFC career.
With White’s words of a roster purge hanging in the air, every UFC fighter is going to feel at least a little nervous heading into their next outing. The above fighters are probably going to be a little more tense than average heading into Saturday’s UFC 256 pay-per-view card, which takes place at UFC Apex.