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Monday, February 25, 2013
Was Jon Fitch too pricey for the UFC?

By Josh Gross

Jon Fitch
Now that he's out of the UFC fold, where Jon Fitch goes from here is anyone's guess.


No matter what you think of Jon Fitch as a fighter, Dana White's justifications for letting the welterweight go from the UFC don't work.

Let's start with White's assertion that Fitch is "super f---ing expensive."

Zuffa paid the eight-year UFC veteran, a guy with 14-3-1 record in the Octagon, a perennial top-10 ranked welterweight, $66,000 to show against Demian Maia. A win would have netted Fitch $66,000 more. This is in the range of where Fitch has been paid over the past few years. For his win in 2010 over Thiago Alves, Fitch pocketed $108,000. At UFC 100, Fitch made $90,000 by beating Paulo Thiago. Good money. But unreasonably pricey? Once in a while he received a locker room bonus. Fitch never saw a cut of the pay-per-view, even when he went the distance with Georges St-Pierre in 2008.

You'd think super expensive would better apply to a guy like Alistair Overeem. The same night Fitch fell to Maia, Overeem was paid $285,714 to leave his hands down and get starched by Antonio Silva. Never mind that the loss came after the massive heavyweight's embarrassing steroid-related suspension, something Fitch has never been associated with.

It's still not worse than White pinpointing Fitch's sliding ranking over the past two years as why it’s time for him to leave the Octagon.

This should be said: The UFC president has no credibility when it comes to rankings. In 2010 he was screaming that Overeem wasn't a top-10 heavyweight. That the MMA media was this and that for ranking The Reem so high, because the Dutch fighter hadn't beaten anyone.

Well, wins over Todd Duffee and Fabricio Werdum (an ugly performance from Overeem, by the way) were enough for Zuffa to invest an enormous money contract, signing bonus and everything else, in a fighter White considered highly overrated.

But now White is treating Fitch's drop to the bottom tier of the top 10 after years living near GSP as some kind of indictment?

"This isn't a case where Jon Fitch was ranked No. 9, No. 7, No. 6, No. 4, No. 2 and then we cut him," White said. "He was ranked No. 1 -- fought for the title, then he was ranked No. 2, 3, 6, 7 and now he's 9. That's called the downside of your career."

This during a week White reiterated he wouldn't let the newfangled UFC media rankings dictate matchmaking. For cutting one of the most successful welterweights in UFC history, though, they're just fine.

Forget Overeem, what about a guy such as Dan Hardy? He's nowhere near being ranked at 170. He was 0-4 between 2010 and 2011. And if he wins he doesn’t cost much less than Fitch. Actually, forget Hardy -- what about a guy such as Chris Leben, whose PED and legal issues have troubled him throughout his career? Leben, by the way, is 1-3 since 2011. And he made $51,000 in a loss to Derek Brunson at UFC 155. Forget Leben, what about Josh Koscheck, who was literally knocked out of the top 10 by Robbie Lawler on Saturday, and made more than Fitch did against Maia?

"What you should do is go out and try to be the best in the world, and you should try to whoop everybody's asses impressively," White said.

Isn't that what Fitch did? He certainly tried to be the best in the world. Regardless of his reputation for laying on guys, the 34-year-old Purdue University wrestler beat up plenty of fighters along the way.

"It depends on how much money you want to make,” White said. “Do you want to go around and lay on guys? How many people are beating down the door to see any of those guys fight again?"

St-Pierre, Randy Couture and Tito Ortiz earned box-office star status as grinders and ground fighters. So that idea doesn't really float either.

If Fitch wasn't "super f---ing expensive" and there are worse fighters on the downside of their career making similar money that get to hang around, what's the deal?

I figure there are a few reasons. Fitch is a threat to derail young stud prospects. Like Erick Silva. Hardly a blanket-fest from Fitch in Brazil last October, as the three-rounder took fight of the night honors.
Ben Askren-Lyman Good
A bout with Jon Fitch could prove to be a litmus test for Bellator's Ben Askren.

There are also fiscal realities at play. The UFC is facing a sequester of its own, and it's actually going through with it. Their front office slimmed down over the past year. And the talent roster will be cleaved by a quarter. This was a long time coming.

Fitch is among 16 fighters who were released, including talent such as Diego Nunes. White said another 100 or so will follow. The UFC has too many fighters under contract and not enough fights, and they don't want to be in breach of deals. Winning is the only way not to get cut.

All this roster upheaval apparently will relocate good fighters onto the open market. Fitch seems like a perfect fit for Bellator MMA, or as White lovingly refers to the tournament-branded promotion, Viacom MMA. Bellator’s welterweight champion, Ben Askren, can’t fight anyone better than Fitch. Askren, or his upcoming undefeated Russian challenger Andrey Koreshkov, deserve that kind of test so long as Fitch is willing to earn it through the tournament.

Bellator frontman Bjorn Rebney reacted to the release by saying he wasn’t interested.

“We have a stacked welterweight division right now,” he told themmareport.com. “We have a lot of guys that we are developing that we anticipate are going to be world-class fighters and break the top 10. We want to keep guys busy. We want to keep guys inside the cage and we have a plan in terms of the next year and who is going to be a part of the tournaments and it’s just not the time.”

That’s too bad, because Bellator could really use the guy. My guess is UFC hopes Fitch gets signed, destroys his way through the tournament, handles Askren, and Bellator looks weak by comparison.

“He'll smash every single guy over there and he'll be a champ,” said White, still sounding like Fitch’s promoter. “A guy goes outside, wins some fights, has some impressive runs and then comes back."

Even if that’s what happens, Bellator doesn’t have so much to lose by going into business with Fitch. For one thing, there’s no guarantee he’ll make it through the tournament (exhibit: Mo Lawal). But if he does, and if Fitch becomes Bellator champion, the promotion will have one of the most respected fighters in the division holding their title. Also, Bellator is actually churning out quality at 170. Fitch isn’t a UFC castoff like Rebney favorite Ben Saunders. (Could Saunders beat Fitch now?) Fitch actually accomplished something in the Octagon, so there’s none of the stigma. Beating him still means something.

Plus, you know, Fitch could be better than Askren.

Isn't the idea of the tournament to give guys a chance to rise on their own merits? Most people would agree that Fitch is better than the vast majority of Bellator’s welterweight roster. Why doesn’t that make him worth a contract? Because of his style? Mark that down as the first time I heard Rebney express such a sentiment, especially because many people consider Askren the most boring fighter on the planet. I don’t see Askren that way.

Isn't Askren-Fitch a terrific fight? Maybe even worthy of pay-per-view? If Askren beats Fitch, wouldn’t that only further validate him at 170?

I don't get Rebney's hesitation, which probably will result in Fitch heading to the World Series of Fighting. Bellator's format, as described 10 billion times already, is supposed to allow for the best rise to the top, to make their own way. That would appear less true if an effort isn’t made to sign Fitch. The Toughest Tournament in Sports? That slogan might be worth about as much as the reasons White gave for Fitch's release in the first place.