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Win or Go Home: Taking a look at possible future UFC roster cuts

If Dave Meltzer’s reporting is accurate (and it usually is), the UFC will be cutting its existing talent roster down from 200 to somewhere in between the 140-160 range.

According to the print edition of last week’s Wrestling Observer, Meltzer indicated that the loser of every non-televised undercard match from this point forward will be a candidate to be cut, barring an amazing performance in a losing effort.

If the UFC cuts 50 fighters, that means its current workforce will be downsized by about 25%. That’s a pretty steep number, and as such, there are a lot of fighters right now who are essentially on unofficial notice.

Nobody likes to see anyone lose their job, but the reality is that the UFC isn’t going to continue to put on 11-13 fights each show for much longer. It’s likely that they decided to expand their roster in the first place in hopes of hoarding talent in an attempt to hinder its competition from building up their own rosters. But after seeing EliteXC sign Scott Smith and then proceed to schedule him for the first-ever broadcast of an MMA event on live primetime network TV, the strategy essentially became moot.

Fighters such as Smith, Soa Palelei, Diego Saraiva, Doug Evans, Ryan Jensen, Junior Assuncao, Hermes Franca, Joe Veres, Hector Ramirez, David Terrell and several other fighters were put on the chopping block towards the latter stages of last year and during the early portion of this year.

The latest round of cuts got an early start soon after UFC 83, with Travis Lutter being dropped following a disappointing loss to Rich Franklin. Both Kalib Starnes and Charles McCarthy have also signaled their respective retirements in the wake of their losses in Montreal, but chances are they would have been dropped regardless. In the case of Starnes, UFC president Dana White was quoted after the event as saying Starnes had in fact been dropped by the company.

So while some cuts have already been made, many more are on the way. Again, no one enjoys seeing someone lose their job — especially not in this economy, however, it’s the purpose of this website to cover the industry whether the tone of the story be positive or negative. I also do not like to speculate, but I couldn’t help but look at the UFC’s upcoming cards in an attempt to determine which fighters stand to lose the most in their upcoming bouts.

Below you will see a list, broken down by card, with matches that I have identified as fights in which the loser could potentially lose more than just their fight. I want to stress that the list is based purely on speculation and not on inside information, so take it for what it’s worth.

UFC 84 on May 24

Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou vs. Kazuhiro Nakamura – I consider Sokoudjou to be a future superstar, but it doesn’t seem as if the UFC shares my appraisal. Just look at how they’ve utilized him: first, they throw him in against Lyoto Machida during his UFC debut at UFC 79 and now he’s slated for a non-televised bout vs. Nakamura. It’s almost as if the UFC wants to punish Sokoudjou for being a creation of PRIDE. They really missed the boat on him and should have debuted him on a UFC Fight Night on Spike TV and set him up to demolish a can. The idea would be an attempt to re-create his stunning PRIDE upsets over Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Ricardo Arona.

While I don’t know it to be fact, I can only assume Nakamura is on thin ice. Not only did he lose in unimpressive fashion to Machida at UFC 76 last September, he also tested positive for marijuana. He’s denied the test result at every turn but he lost his appeal.

Both Sokoudjou and Nakamura are mid-level salaried fighters under the UFC’s payscale and they are both being used in a non-televised fight. That tells me all I need to know. It’s like an NFL team keeping a $3 million a year middle linebacker as a backup after he was supplanted as a starter. Having someone in that role at that salary is a luxury that few franchises can afford. If Sokoudjou or Nakamura aren’t competing in high-profile matches at light heavyweight, I think the UFC will have a hard time continuing to justify their guarantees.

To me, there is little doubt in my mind that the loser of this fight leaves the UFC.

Rousimar Palhares vs. Ivan Salaverry – Palhares is considered a prospect by many, so I believe he’s safe, win or lose. Salaverry on the other hand is a different story. After being cut by the UFC several years back, he returned to the promotion involuntarily after his contract was absorbed from the now-defunct WFA.

I’ve heard all kinds of rumors that this is Salaverry’s last fight on his previous deal with the WFA and that he’s also considering retirement. As a mid-level salary fighter, I think that this will be Salaverry’s final UFC fight, win or lose. I just don’t see a lot of upward mobility for him at middleweight following his loss at UFC 71 to Terry Martin, another fighter who has either been cut by the UFC or is on hiatus, depending on who you talk to.

Shane Carwin vs. Christian Wellisch – Carwin took less money to sign with the UFC after receiving a strong offer from EliteXC. Couple that fact with his status as a top heavyweight prospect and I don’t think he’s in trouble if he suffers an upset loss to Wellisch.

On the other hand, Wellisch, even though he’s 8-3 and has won his last two UFC fights, is closer to a journeyman than a prospect and I think it’s going to be tough for him to stick around if he doesn’t get the win in this fight.

Dong-hyun Kim vs. Jason Tan – Kim is a recent UFC signing (within the past three months), while Tan will be returning to the UFC following a pit stop with the California-based Gladiator Challenge promotion. He returned to the regional promotion following a first round knockout loss against Marcus Davis at UFC 72 last June. Tan has some upside but I think the UFC will allow him to try and develop on the regional level if he’s not able to defeat Kim.

UFC 85 on June 7

Luis Cane vs. Jason Lambert – Cane came into the UFC highly-regarded but really hurt his stock after being disqualified against James Irvin at UFC 79 last December. He didn’t help himself when he decided to mock Irvin following the fight.

Meanwhile, Lambert is coming off a tough loss at UFC 80 in January, where suffered a second round knockout against Wilson Gouveia in a fight he had been dominating. Lambert really helped himself with his upset win over Renato “Babalu” Sobral at UFC 68, but that win seems like it happened five years ago.

Both Cane and Lambert are solid fighters, but with so many fighters to cut, some of the cuts will not be easy.

Neil Wain vs. Antoni Hardonk – Hardonk is a preliminary MMA fighter making mid-card money. If this were football, he’d be the equivalent of a third round pick being outplayed by undrafted free agents. His 17 second win over Colin Robinson at UFC 80 in January was not enough to obscure his previous disappointing defeats to Justin McCully and Frank Mir. Also, the win at UFC 80 becomes a lot less impressive with the knowledge that Robinson was cut soon after the fight.

The fight at UFC 85 vs. Hardonk will mark Wain’s UFC debut, but he’s hardly a blue chip prospect and it’s not a fight he wants to lose.

TUF 7 Finale on June 21

Kendall Grove vs. Evan Tanner – Again, if the UFC ends up cutting 25% of its current roster, some tough choices are going to have to be made. I think the loser of this fight will be a higher-profile cut.

If Grove loses the fight, it will be his third consecutive loss. He has so much upside and cutting him could prove to be a mistake, but three straight losses will be hard to overlook, especially since the matchups against Patrick Cote and Jorge Rivera were put together with the intent of Grove winning them. If Grove can’t convert on the layup wins, then what option does the UFC have?

The fight vs. Tanner is by no means a layup, so hopefully he takes the fight seriously and brings his A-game. Tanner will bring his A-game, but at 37 or 38, will it be enough? Just how much gas does he have left in the tank? Taking on Yushin Okami in his UFC return was overly-ambitious, but if he can’t get past Grove, I just don’t see the UFC giving him another chance.

I think the UFC looked at both fighters as having a lot to lose so they matched them up against each other. If they had matched them up against other fighters, the UFC might have found itself in a situation where both guys were on the losing end. Putting them together guarantees them that one guy will move forward, and as such they will get some benefit from the outcome, as opposed to no benefit.

Marvin Eastman vs. Drew McFedries – Eastman has said this is the last fight on his current UFC contract, which was absorbed through the acquisition of select assets from the WFA. “The Beastman” isn’t happy with his pay so he’ll need to win here in order to have any hope whatsoever of being able to go to the negotiation table and ask for a raise. If he loses, I don’t see the UFC feeling a need to bring him back.

McFedries has so much upside but after losing two out of his last three UFC fights, I see this as a must-win for him. His two UFC wins after over Alessio Sakara and Jordan Radev, fighters he’s supposed to beat. But when given a chance to take a step forward against the likes of Martin Kampmann and Patrick Cote, the Miletich Fighting Systems product couldn’t get the job done.

Dean Lister vs. Jeremy Horn – Lister just re-signed with the UFC late last year so I think he’s safe, even if he loses this fight. However, Horn didn’t look good during his UFC return against Nathan Marquardt at UFC 81 this past February. Prior to returning to the UFC, Horn was coming off a loss in the Art of War promotion against Jorge Santiago. After having not been submitted since 2001, Horn has now been tapped in his past two fights and retirement could be near. If he doesn’t come out strong in this fight then I just don’t envision him being retained.

UFC 85 on July 5

Melvin Guillard vs. Dennis Siver – This fight has sink or swim written all over it. It’s a clear cut must-win situation for both fighters. Siver is 1-2 lifetime in the UFC and I don’t see him evading the chopping block if he falls to 1-3. As for Guillard, he’s already taken a hiatus from the UFC. We all know about his potential, but potential only means that you haven’t done it yet. He’s a fighter that has tried a lot of people’s patience in the UFC and patience is running thin. If Guillard doesn’t beat Siver, chances are that he’ll become another fight promotion’s problem.

Ben Saunders vs. Jared Rollins – The UFC has already cut a lot of welterweight fighters from the TUF 6 cast because they felt they had too much depth at 170 lbs. to be able to properly develop a lot of the TUF welterweights. Rollins helped himself in a losing effort during the TUF 6 finale last December by turning in an amazing performance vs. Jon Koppenhaver, but I just don’t think he can survive two consecutive losses during a period of downsizing.

I really like Saunders’ long-term potential, but there aren’t very many easy fights at 170 in the UFC. Just about every fight in the UFC at welterweight is a tough one and if Saunders loses here, a realization could set in that he might be better served fighting on some more regional shows before being brought back.

Cole Miller vs. Jorge Gurgel – Look, I think Cole Miller is great and I think he’s a prospect. But as I stated earlier, some tough decisions are going to have to be made and the UFC’s lightweight division has a ton of fighters under contract. Miller lost to Jeremy Stephens at UFC Fight Night 12 so a defeat here would make it two in a row. Unless Miller takes care of business vs. Gurgel, I fear that he could be an unfortunate victim of a numbers game.

Gurgel is starting to evolve from a pure jiu-jitsu practitioner into a well-rounded mixed martial artist but his record in the UFC isn’t the best. I don’t think he can afford to lose this fight.

  • Derek B. says:

    I like the ideas of cutting fighters. I hope this will allow the bigger fighters to have more money in their purse.

  • Rich S. says:

    the Tanner/Grove one is definately #1 in this case..
    i mean, i didn’t think they would get rid of a TUF winner, but.. Lutter got kicked out last week… and Grove’s on 2 in a row.. both in devistating fashion.. so.. even though he’s a TUF winner.. you can’t have THAT many losses in a row [if he loses] and stay w/ the UFC.. so, they probably shouldn’t have given him such a tough opponent in Tanner for this fight..
    i think Tanner can take one more blow.. but if he does.. he’ll be pushed down to the prelims until he strings a few wins together..

    to me it just seems like Gurgel’s never going to leave.. i’ve liked him ever since the show.. he’s got alot of heart.. i just don’t think they’ll drop him.. [kinda like Elvis Sinisic, they keep him cause he’s just a NICE GUY, which is fine.. i guess]

    and Horn??
    he’ll never get fired.. despite his last few years.. he’s one of the best in the WORLD.. bottom line.. the guys had well over a hundred fights.. i have the utmost respect for him.. if he ever quits fighting.. it will DEFINATELY be from retirement.. not getting fired..

  • Mike Wolfe says:

    I wonder if roster cuts tells us anything about a potential network deal for UFC. It seems to me that if UFC anticipates a deal with televised fights on a regular basis–once or twice a month, for example–they’ll need a larger roster, especially if they still have PPV’s.

    Also, trimming the roster opens the door for other orgs, which is good for the sport, imo.

  • BJJDenver says:

    This is long overdue by UFC imo.

    Older fighters that are no longer contenders–Let these guys go headline an upstart promotion and make some money. Plus it unclogs UFC cards and lets the fighters fight more frequently.

    Younger prospects that have struggled–Again, they can go fight in other, smaller orgs and probably even get paid higher due to their UFC experience. Many of these guys just aren’t ready for the UFC yet.

    Besides making the cards better, it will other promotions more interesting, allow extra paydays to fighters and give us more frequent big fights.

    Nobody ever said that these guys couldn’t come back to the UFC, and I would guess that about 1/2 of them will return at some point, either by earning it or by filling in as a replacement.

    I think this is good news for fans, fighters, UFC and other promotions.

  • Evan says:

    Sokoudjou “They really missed the boat on him and should have debuted him on a UFC Fight Night on Spike TV and set him up to demolish a can.”

    What? He was on top 10 lists. I want to see true legit fights as much as possible. Otherwise I will watch Kimbo.

  • Sam Caplan says:

    The cuts aren’t good for the sport if consolidation takes place. And I think consolidation at some point soon is inevitable. Some of the guys who get cut will find new jobs and some won’t.

  • BJJDenver says:

    I agree with what you are saying Sam, but I guess the bottom line is, perform and you will be OK.

    I think the UFC has given many fighters opportunities and a lot of them have capitalized on it, but many have not. It is just like any other sport/business perform and you will be ok.

    There are always the few instances where we disagree with a business move, but there are just as many Barry Zito stories out there.

    This was always one thing that pissed me off about the selection of guys on TUF. It always seemed like half of the guys didn’t want to be there or didn’t deserve to be there. And for every one of them, there are twenty fighters around that would have loved that opportunity.

  • […] Caplan from Five Ounces of Pain has a more in-depth look at the possible casualties here. So, how likely do you think the cuts are? Who will go first? What upcoming fights are do or […]

  • BJJDenver says:

    #5 Evan–

    I agree that I want to see Soko fight legit competition, BUT…there is something to be said for letting a guy make his adjustment to a new promotion with different rules and such. Plus if you are going to invest in that fighter, you should at least give him a build-up/warm-up fight. Now I’m not saying he should get an obvious can, but an easier opponent would not have been out of line.

    Soko, Shogun, Wandy and others were given some healthy contracts and now there is definitely some luster off of their names.

  • Evan says:

    “Soko, Shogun, Wandy and others were given some healthy contracts and now there is definitely some luster off of their names.”

    People talked for years that all of these guys were better than UFC fighters and most everyone wanted to see them face off a big test right away.

  • ctownhood says:

    Sam, I think you’re pretty dead-on on all these predictions. I really hope to see Soko succeed (it’s the judoka in me I guess). His wins over Nogueira and Arona were awesome…hoping he can show those weren’t flukes!!! He looked pretty bad against Machida

  • Pramit says:

    Nice analysis, Sam. Inadvertantly (possibly) the UFC has added another dimension to these fights with the downsizing. Now, fights that may have garnered little interest have a “lose and go home” appeal to them. Now, it would appear, that every fight on a UFC card has a dramatic implication — you’re either moving towards title contention or on your way out. No more middle-of-the-roaders getting fat on doing neither…

  • Gabber says:

    Yeah man, Soko, Shogun and Wandy all had their shot at dismantling their competition, in the fashion we had been accustomed to. I don’t think they choked, they just got out classed. I don’t know what they were thinking but they got beat, not even by elite UFC fighters (Machida, Griffin & Liddell)

  • Kelvin says:

    Smart move by the UFC IMO…now all the fighter’s other organizations pick up will be known as UFC rejects.

  • yuushi says:

    If anything, I hope this means we’ll see less TUF’ers on the PPVs.

  • recently.reaped says:

    I hope this trimming of the roster leads to signing good established fighters (dennis Kang anyone?) rather than signing cheap up and coming replacements.
    sure you need new blood, but some established fighters leftover from Pride or when Dream possibly fall apart without a good TV deal, the UFC should pay the extra $$ to get some more ready to contend talent (Kid Yamamoto to WEC, JZ and Aoki to the UFC)

  • Rln says:

    “Fighter such as Smith, Soa Palelei, Diego Saraiva, Doug Evans, Ryan Jensen, Junior Assuncao, Hermes Franca, Joe Veres, Hector Ramirez, David Terrell and several other fighters were put on the chopping block towards the latter stages of last year and during the early portion of this year.”

    Hermes Franca asked for a release from the UFC to fight elsewhere and was granted one. Pretty inaccurate to lump in him with the rest of those fighters. He was never on the proverbial “chopping block”.

  • Sam Caplan says:

    RLN, was he or was he not in fact released by the UFC? A lot of fighters have asked for releases and don’t get it. The fact that the UFC was willing to comply says a lot. Thus, the statement is 100% accurate. Thanks for playing.

  • Rln says:

    Hermes France was never put on a chopping block so your statement is 100% inaccurate. Implying that he was as well as saying that he was cut because of a lose is dishonest and poor journalism. Asking for a release and being cut for poor performances are completely different issues.

  • L Grant says:

    So, it’s kind of like the opposite of the first couple episodes of TUF7

  • what if colemans beats lesnar do you think dana would cut lesnar or do think dana will keep him.

  • Ryder Die says:

    Please get rid of Kendall Grove and Jorge Gurgel. These are two fighters that dont even belong on Palace Fighting Championships roster much less a UFC roster. I am cheering for Cole Miller and Evan Tanner to win. ANd by the way Melvin Gulliard might as well lose too.

  • DocWagner says:

    The UFC is attempting to consolidate, hopefully to start paying a reasonable fighters salary.

  • mo says:

    i agree that this seemed inevitable. it is a shame that the UFC can’t find a way to put on more events a la the old Tuesday NIght Fights for boxing, but maybe at some point this could happen.

    Sam, what do you think the chance is of these guys getting cut moving to the W.E.C.? the WEC has a TV contract and has the money backing of the UFC, and i think adding more of these guys who are known to the general public to their roster will help the WEC become more popular.

  • cheapshot says:

    RLN, that was a bloody good article and whats your analysis of it? “ooo you mightve got one thing slightly wrong”. grow up son

  • Andrej says:

    # 23 Doc Wagner- What do you mean? When was the last time you saw someone make 2k+2k on the undercard? How about 1k+1k like Elite XC or any other promotion does they’re the ones you should be harping on.

    I see Hermes Franca going to WEC at lightweight and Din Thomas at 145 fight since that what he said his intention’s are. It’s all about the lighterweights right?

    You might want to add Paul Taylor vs Jess Lauidin UFC 85, and put Ryo Chonan on the list as well he did not look good in his last fight as well.

  • sved says:

    I like this post and the comments that follow

    my 2 Cents–

    WEC seems a natural fit for the guys that have name recognition but not the victories…the key is that they show some spirit

    As for simply cutting anybody that loses 2 or 3 in a row…thats a bad thing to do. Time frame is critical…example of somebody that competes despite serious family pressures over a 5 month period they could easily lose 2 “easy” matchups and then go on to lose a tough split decision a year later…well did they really deserve to be canned…I don’t think so.

    The best bet is to keep the top 32 competitors at lhw and WW
    and keep the top 20 and HW and ShW

    and the top 16 at 185
    and the top 32 at 155

    and then take all of the losers in the next 40 prelims make a big tournament in the sim weight classes and stick them together on a TUF 9 show where the opening round is the tournament to make it on the show. The Comeback from the previous TUF seasons was very good. Bring it back.–with these guys or send them to the WEC losing assets is simply stupid.

    As for making a big mistake…how about JAcare—this is a true elite MMA hybrid prospect whose all around game and explosive transitions gave Randy Couture the Current UFC heavyweight Champion fits in a Grappling match. The UFC should have paid the premium to find space for him since outside of Cote/Okami they don’t really have anybody obviously ready to take on Andersen Silva

  • Fight Fan says:

    I’d start by cutting Dana.

  • Demon6.0 says:

    I definitely agree with what the UFC is doing. Given all the complaints and all the whining every time someone stinks up a fight (e.g. Jake O’Brien, Kalib Starnes etc.) this is long overdue and should hopefully mean consistently better quality cards for the fans. Besides that, if the UFC truly want to live up to their self-made reputation of being the NFL of mixed martial arts, then they are completely right to expert a certain standard from all of their fighters.

  • Rln says:

    “RLN, that was a bloody good article and whats your analysis of it? “ooo you mightve got one thing slightly wrong”. grow up son”

    Yes, we should all just bury our heads in the sand and not speak up when people write things that are incorrect. I mean it’s written on the internet so it must be true, right?? Seriously dude, have fun frolicking with the rest of your flock.

  • Sam Caplan says:

    Yes, but you haven’t pointed out anything that was truly incorrect with the article. Was Hermes Franca not in fact released?

  • Derek B. says:

    Here’s a list of Fighters I could care less about out of the list provided:

    Kazuhiro Nakamura
    Ivan Salaverry
    Jason Tan
    Luis Cane
    Jason Lambert
    Kendall Grove
    Evan Tanner
    Marvin Eastman
    Drew McFedries
    Dennis Siver
    Ben Saunders
    Jorge Gurgel
    Cole Miler (I’d like to see in the WEC with his brother)

  • Rln says:

    “Yes, but you haven’t pointed out anything that was truly incorrect with the article. Was Hermes Franca not in fact released?”

    I’m sorry but how is saying Hermes Franca was put on a chopping block not considered incorrect?? The FACT is it never happened, he is and will be welcomed back into the UFC when his suspension expires. Passing it off as saying he asked for a release and was granted one being the same thing is a joke. Asking for a release /= cut for poor performance. I mean this article is about fighters being cut for poor performances, right?? Lumping him into that category is dishonest and a disservice to Hermes Franca.

  • Sam Caplan says:

    It was a yes or no question. You’ve always had a problem with this site and I think this is evidence of your bias coming through.

    So let’s see… he asked for his release… well, I’m sure Randy Couture would love to be released from his contract. Has that happened yet? If the UFC was completely happy with Franca, they would have denied his request. As I said before, the fact that they were willing to grant it speaks volumes, but you choose to selectively ignore that fact. Which is fine.

    Keep making incorrect corrections.

  • Rln says:

    “Fighters such as Hermes Franca were put on the chopping block towards the latter stages of last year and during the early portion of this year.”

    That’s not a yes or no question. That’s a bold face lie. Throw out all the red herrings you want but that doesn’t change the fact that what I quoted is false, dishonest and poor journalism. Keep arguing semantics and I’ll keep arguing facts.

  • Sam Caplan says:

    The facts are I said he was released… and he was released. The fact is that when you are dropped from a roster, even at your own request from an organization that rarely grants such request, that constitutes being on the “chopping block.” I’m not the one arguing semantics and you’re not the one arguing facts.

    Yes or no, was Hermes Franca released? It’s a simple yes or no.

  • Sam Caplan says:

    “Fighters such as Hermes Franca were put on the chopping block towards the latter stages of last year and during the early portion of this year.”

    LOL… that’s not even a direct quote, yet you chose to put the statement in quotation marks without any notation that you edited the quote. The only dishonest liar here is you. You sir are in no position to lecture anyone on journalism. What else would you like to take out of context in order to order to support your pre-existing bias? You fail… MASSIVELY.

  • Rln says:

    “The facts are I said he was released”

    No where, not once in your article did you say he was released from his contract because he requested it or otherwise. People are left to infer that he was cut because of poor performance which is inaccurate and dishonest.

    “that constitutes being on the “chopping block.””

    Blah, blah, blah.. more semantics. Chopping block /= asking for a release. Plain and simple. Argue that all you want but they are entirely different. Whether Franca asked for a release or not is not relevant to you saying he is on some “chopping block”. A chopping block infers that you’ve done something negative to get on it. Asking for a release means you have other interests you want to pursue.

    “an organization that rarely grants such request”

    Here you’re making up your own facts again. For every Couture you can name I can name 5 fighters that have asked for and have been granted a release. Please list every fighter that has asked for a release and has been denied because I’d love to see them all.

    Lets play a little hypothetical game just for fun. Sam Caplan is under contract to EliteXC. He gets a better job offer from some other company. He talks to EliteXC and asks to be let out of his contract to take this new job. EliteXC says we understand your desire to work for someone else and make some more money so yes you can leave. Random media blogger posts on his website that Sam Caplan had been on the chopping block and infers that he was let out of his contract because of poor performance. Is he right?? Of course not. Saying so is just poor journalism and shows that random blogger is lazy and didn’t check his facts.


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