With Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) President Dana White's recent announcement the organization needs to taper down its roster by roughly 100 fighters, retired mixed martial artist (MMA) Kenny Florian believes the "boring" fighters are the ones who are going to go first.
The MMA community was collectively stunned when news surfaced on Feb. 20 that perennial top-10 welterweight and former title challenger Jon Fitch, along with 15 other fighters, had been released from their UFC contracts. Fighters being let go from the world's premier MMA organization is nothing new, but not often are so many let go at one time, and even less often do they release a fighter the caliber of Fitch.
While it's understandable the UFC needs to trim some fat from an inflated roster in order to provide enough bouts for the athletes they keep under contract, a large contingent of fans believe a fighter like Fitch was one to keep around due to his spot in the official UFC rankings (see it here) and stellar 15-3-1 record inside the Octagon.
An overall three-to-one win/lose ratio wasn't enough, though, as White explained Fitch was cut for being on the downside of his career, having an expensive contract and not producing the type of performances fight fans want to pay their hard-earned money to see.
The latter seems to be the primary reason for Fitch's release in what is becoming an increasingly hot topic. If fighters don't win, and win in impressive fashion, they will be on the chopping block.
Some believe that's a harsh way to do business, but Florian, a color-commentator for the UFC and analyst for FUEL TV, believes it's what has to be done for the promotion to maintain a high-quality product.
The UFC is sending a message, and that is even if you're one of the top-10 best fighters in the world at your weight; if you can't put butts in the seats or produce exciting bouts, you have to go.
"I would have liked to see Jon Fitch stick around." Florian told MMAmania.com. "I hate seeing any fighter get cut to be honest, that's just obviously the fighter in me -- my heart goes out to him. It's got to be very difficult. The other side I do understand is that it's a business and you do have to put on exciting fights and not a lot of people are willing to pay 50 dollars -- 50, 60 dollars for a guy who is boring them or whatever."
"Jon Fitch in my opinion was one of the best fighters in the UFC, he was extremely consistent, had a phenomenal record against excellent competition and was a top-ranked guy. But of course it's the UFC's decision, they can do whatever they want and Jon Fitch did lose his last fight pretty convincingly to Demian Maia, and you know, they have that right, they have that right as they do with everybody and everybody who is fighting for them."
With a revolving door of fighters always coming and going, the room for error was already minimal for fighters stepping under the bright lights of the UFC.
Now, each performance will be put even further under the microscope.
One lackluster effort can cost a fighter his or her job, and as a former fighter himself, Florian knows how much of a burden that can be on the mindset of an athlete, but he also knows there are only so many roster spots available and the cuts are simply a reality of the business.
"That's got to be pretty heavy to take and understand, ‘Hey listen, every single time you go out there you could be cut,'" he said. "Hopefully it becomes a motivating factor for them in a positive way than kind of get them to retreat and be more conservative. So, I think that right now the business for the UFC is that they do have a lot of shows but they have a lot of fighters on their roster right now and it's a numbers game."
So which fighters are going to be the ones to go? The dismissal of Fitch sets a precedent that no matter what you have accomplished in the past, a couple of subpar efforts can spell the end of your UFC career.
While it may upset purists of the sport -- at the end of the day the UFC is a business and Florian believes if a fighter isn't producing the type of performances that are beneficial to the business, their spot on the roster will be in jeopardy.
"They need to get rid of some people so they're going to get rid of the guys who aren't going to be the most exciting," the three-time UFC title challenger said. "They want people who are going to tune into the pay-per-view, watch the fights, they'll want guys to follow certain fighters and they're going to get rid of the guys who are boring -- and as a business guy I understand that."
Florian knows as well as anyone that not every fighter can put on a "Fight of the Night" candidate in every bout, but as someone who came out the winner in 12 of his 17 UFC appearances and won five post-fight bonuses along the way, "Ken-Flo" knows maintaining a job with the UFC is primarily about one thing: delivering on a consistent basis.
"As a fighter and as a business, you're looking for patterns and if you see a guy who consistently is having boring fights, a guy who is consistently getting booed, a guy who is not moving the needle and losing, then they're out of there." Florian explained. "Even after one loss or two losses, that could be it. The style that they want to promote is one that's exciting for the fans."
"There needs to be some kind of balance and I think this next year or two is going to be interesting in finding that balance and finding that there's fighters that kind of do both. And of course for a lot of these guys who just want to wrestle and whatever will not engage, there's other sports for them to compete in I guess."
Even though "the blood has not all been spilled yet" according to the UFC boss, Florian sees the noteworthy release as a message. Fighters need to put on performances that will keep fans on the edge of their seats or they can look for employment elsewhere. You may have a three-to-one win/lose ratio inside the Octagon, but the slightest hiccup and you're gone.
That's a hefty messages to send to a roster of 400-plus fighters, and Florian is already beginning to wonder what role -- positive of negative -- the mass cuts are going to play on the quality of fights in the UFC going forward.
"It's going to be tricky to see what happens...are fighters going to be that much more hesitant now to lose? Are they going to play it safer because they're so scared to get cut?" Florian questioned. "Or are they going to lay it on the line -- I don't know. I don't really know what that's going to do and it's interesting and it does show the fighters that, ‘Listen, rankings and records doesn't mean that much, you still have to be exciting,' and hopefully it encourages fighters to fight more aggressively and really go for the win."