Following the news that Yushin Okami was cut after a single loss, despite a 7 year, 13-5 run with the company, we decided to look at other fighters who might also be walking a fine line with the UFC.
I wasn’t very happy with the Fitch release, or with the Okami release. I would be very unhappy if any of these guys were released as well, they’re all top 10 or top 15 talent who make a habit of not having losing streaks.
Sadly the UFC seem to be cutting guys who fit a certain profile; Good enough to pose a problem for prospects; no clear, immediate path to a title shot; an unwillingness or inability to spend every single fight throwing wild bombs and being paid enough to justify the cut on financial grounds. If you’re in a busy division that’s even worse.
Here’s a list of guys who seem to be one loss away from potentially fulfilling the UFC’s new criteria for cuts.
Jake Shields – Approx $75,000/$75,000
Shields is a Strikeforce import known for his unique “American Jiu Jitsu” grappling style, which resulted in a string of six submission victories in seven fights between 2006 and 2009. Since joining the UFC however, every win has been a decision (including two split decisions) and he has an overall UFC record of 3-2, with 1 NC after testing positive for a banned substance. If he loses his next bout, he will be one of the top 5% in terms of salary and have a .500 UFC record. That’s not where you want to be when the UFC are cutting guys after single losses.
Hector Lombard – Approx $300,000
Lombard is another import, this time from Bellator FC. He received a huge contract, with an alleged $400,000 signing bonus and $300,000 in base pay per fight according to Bjorn Rebney. Since joining the UFC he has gone 1-2, with his most recent loss coming to the recently cut Yushin Okami. Two decision losses in three fights is bad. Three losses in four fights and the UFC will free up a million dollars a year to spend on other fighters by cutting him.
Gray Maynard – Approx $45,000/$45,000
Until 2011, Maynard was undefeated in MMA. His title fight with Frankie Edgar won fight of the year. So, what is he doing on this list? Well, he’s 1-2-1 in his last 4, his UFC record is 8 decision wins, one KO win, two losses and a draw. Seven decision wins, three of them split decisions and a significantly above average price tag in the deepest division in the UFC doesn’t bode will. If he loses his next fight the UFC might cut him loose to stop him from taking out potential title contenders, just like Okami and Fitch.
Jim Miller – Approx $40,000/$40,000
Jim Miller is a guy I hope and pray is actually a million miles away from being cut; he’s tough as nails, never gives an inch and is finally getting recognition as one of the top 10 lightweights in the world. Then again, Okami and Fitch were both top 10 as well. Miller has a couple of things going against him. His recent record is 2-2 with one NC (which was originally a loss).
He’s in the most competitive division in the sport, and his wins tend to be decisions or submissions, not the fan-friendly knockouts that seem to protect some guys from being cut forever. His submissions are amazing to behold, but that artistry seems to be under appreciated by many fans. I hope I’m wrong about this, but if he loses his next fight it’s possible he gets his walking papers. If he does, it would be the most shocking release on this list for my money.
Gleison Tibau – Approx $35,000/$35,000
Another lightweight. Noticing a trend? Lightweight is possibly the UFCs most stacked division, with 74 fighters under contract, so some numbers need to be trimmed from the division. Tibau is one of the guys who might fit the bill. Despite being built from a combination of oak and concrete, and coming in weighing approximately 800lbs on fight night, he still has some significant risk factors.
His recent record is 3-2, with 4 decisions in that run. Yushin Okami was cut after going 3-3 in his last 6. Tibau’s relatively high paycheck and decision heavy style could mean one more loss is enough to show him the door. .500 in a busy division while making $35,000 to show up is enough to convince the UFC brass to move you on these days, no matter how much of an immovable object you may be. His saving grace might be his popularity in his native Brazil.
The truth is that if the criteria are shifted even slightly, this list grows to 10 or 15 well known fighters who could be at risk. Generally the UFC tries to avoid cutting guys it views as prospects, but at this point it has a number of prospects with 10 fights under their belt, making hefty $40,000/$40,000+ paychecks. It’s very possible the next round of cuts sees guys like that go. It’s a disquieting thought, and the financial reality of the situation seems to have reached a point that is now impacting on the ‘Best fighting the best’ mantra of the UFC.
Here’s hoping the WSOF or Bellator are willing and able to pick up and capitalize on the top fighters the UFC let go. Losing the talents of a Yushin Okami, Jon Fitch, or any of the men on this list would be a loss to MMA as a whole.