With a multitude of options for fighters outside of the UFC, free agency has never played such a prominent role in mixed martial arts as it does today. These options are creating a power struggle the UFC has never dealt with before and despite record breaking Pay-Per-View sales and gate revenue outside organizations appear to pose a much greater “problem” than anticipated.
Top-three welterweight Rory MacDonald and former lightweight champion Benson Henderson are two of the biggest names who’ve taken their services to another organization and more recently former middleweight title challenger, and one of the most recognizable names in the sport today, Chael Sonnen also made the move to Bellator. While the UFC may not seem to be affected by these losses on the outside they are clearly making waves internally as more fighters look to test their worth on the market.
It’s no secret a great deal of top fighters have been displeased with their treatment under the UFC banner and with Bellator, Rizin, WSOF, Cage Warriors, and BAMMA becoming viable options outside the organization it seems more fighters are willing to vocalize this displeasure. This not only causes a domino effect prompting more fighters to speak out but it also leaves fans of those fighters furious with the premier MMA promotion.
“…the biggest proof that who’s in charge in the UFC now is Conor is that when I wanted to move up to fight Pettis, they said I’d have to vacate my belt and try this fight with no title whatsoever. But with him, they let him move up to the division above without losing his belt, and also let him do any fight he wants. I understand that he sells a lot, but it gets to a limit when it’s no longer a sport, it becomes a circus. I don’t want any type of fight with the UFC. The only thing I want is to go on with my life, and they will go on with theirs.”
With an increasing number of fighters speaking out and seeking opportunities elsewhere none are bigger than current interim featherweight champion Jose Aldo who recently asked for his release from the UFC after once again being denied his promised rematch with Conor McGregor. The greatest featherweight in the history of the sport has always been outspoken on his issues with the company but in his nine years with them he’s never wanted out. While Aldo strongly suggest he wouldn’t be interested in MMA under a different banner likely suggesting a move to kickboxing there is undoubtedly a tremendous amount of interest from other MMA promotions.
While Aldo is easily the most notable name looking to leave the company other top fighters who add depth to their division are also voicing concerns. Current free agent Lorenz Larkin is upset with his lack of promotion despite being a top contender with a recent first round knockout win over top 10 welterweight Neil Magny, Irish lightweight up-and-comer Joseph Duffy spoke of his dissatisfaction with recent negotiations and his interest in testing free agency, and top 15 lightweight Al Iaquinta who was expected to fight at the historic UFC 205 in New York pulled himself from the card after revealing his disapproval of his current contract under the new Reebok deal.
With the information provided it appears the UFC has a problem that could become a daunting task to fix. Whether it’s contenders upset about unjust title shots, money under the Reebok deal, or lack of promotion it is becoming a prominent issue in the UFC. With outside promotions looking to make a play toward the top and some fighters continuing to be mistreated by the premier league it isn’t unlikely that other organizations might become viable competition leaving the UFC in an unpleasant situation.
Whether or not the UFC can turn this around has yet to be seen but they have dealt well with competition before. It is an interesting time for mixed martial arts fans with recent problems ensued upon the company. One thing is certain, other promotions are building a steady stable of top fighters and while it hasn’t yet hurt the UFC it could come back to bite them when the smoke is cleared and everything is settled.