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Getting dropped by the UFC might not be the end of the world for some fighters

I wanted to preface this article by saying to I took no joy in writing it. It’s rarely — if ever — pleasurable to see someone lose their job. It’s especially tougher to see a fighter lose their job considering all of the sacrifices they make.

However, I’ve remained steadfast that in order for mixed martial arts to continue to grow, it needs to be treated like a major sport. If I was still covering the NFL on a regular basis and the Philadelphia Eagles made some notable cuts after trimming their roster at the end of the preseason from 65 players to 53, you better believe I would analyze those cuts.

In that vein, I feel it’s appropriate to take a look at a list of recent fighter releases made by the UFC and to analyze their prospects in the fight game going forward.

Travis Lutter – According to the Wrestling Observer, Lutter has already received offers from Affliction and the IFL. Based on the IFL’s recent financials, I just find it hard to believe that anything between the promotion and Lutter will get done. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like to see it, as I hope the IFL is able to stick around. But Affliction still seems like a more realistic possibility, as it has a major pay-per-view scheduled for July 19 and no opponent secured for Matt Lindland. A Lindland vs. Lutter match might not be a bad idea.

It looks as though Lutter will do just fine without the UFC, which is only partially surprising to me. On one hand, the undeniable fact is that through his involvement with the fourth season of “The Ultimate Fighter” and having won the middleweight tournament that season, he’s a very recognizable fighter. And as a fighter, he’s extremely talented. His jiu-jitsu is world class and his wrestling is very good. His standup isn’t all that bad, either. That said, if I was a promoter, I’d be rather hesitant to commit serious money to Lutter until he had put some distance between his frequent injuries, conditioning issues, and concerns about being able to make weight.

To me, the concerns pertaining to Lutter are very real. There’s a reason why the UFC lost patience with him. In the end though, a major promotion is going to find his name recognition value too strong to ignore.

Din Thomas – Out of all the cuts made, this is the only one that I really question, as it seemed like just the other day that Thomas was 1-2 wins away from earning a shot at the UFC lightweight title. However, the reality is that he’s coming off two consecutive losses and with the UFC looking to cut nearly 25% of its workforce, not every cut is going to be an easy one.

When you look at recent cuts from the UFC that still have a chance to prosper, Thomas is at the top of that list. He has the option of retiring and just focusing on operating his school, but should he fight, he will likely have no shortage of opportunities. Like Lutter, Thomas also appeared on TUF 4. He also has an impressive resume, with 22 career wins over the likes of Clay Guida, Matt Serra, and Jens Pulver.

It’s also believed that the door is open for him to return to the Zuffa family should he elect to drop to 145 lbs. and is able to put some wins together outside of the promotion while competing at featherweight. Thomas is based out of Florida, which is a growing hotbed for regional MMA. It might not be a bad idea for Thomas to headline a few shows in Florida at 145 lbs. with the idea of trying to get into the WEC.

Jake O’Brien – O’Brien is an intriguing name because he’s young and he’s a heavyweight. The decision to drop him wasn’t based on his ability as a fighter or his record, as he has just one career loss in MMA. The reason why he was dropped was based almost solely on his fighting style, a style that many critics have justifiably labeled as boring. Wrestling is great, so long as you remain active once you take the fight to the floor.

His agent, Ken Pavia, was at first disappointed by the UFC’s decision to drop O’Brien. But after speaking with officials from the promotion, he seems to understand the logic behind their decision. According to recent comments made by Pavia on an Internet audio show, the UFC warned O’Brien to show more than just his wrestling skills. Pavia was adamant that O’Brien has very good hands, but has been reluctant to let them go in fights.

O’Brien will get a chance to experiment with his hands by letting them go more in a less-pressurized environment while competing for the California-based Palace Fighting Championships. If O’Brien can show more well-rounded MMA skills and put up some solid wins, the UFC will no doubt look to bring him back. However, because there is such a dearth of heavyweight talent, the UFC might not be the only major national promotion that comes calling.

O’Brien could be a hot free agent commodity a year from now and prove to be someone that actually benefits by the UFC’s decision to drop him from their roster.

Kalib Starnes – It’s really hard to know what’s going on with Starnes. The offered explanations as to why Starnes turned in the disappointing performance that he did at UFC 83 seem to change about as much as the reasons as to why the U.S. got involved in Iraq. Looking past that, I don’t think anyone will disagree that Starnes was not happy with his compensation or the pay he was making from the UFC.

Apparently rumors that he is retiring from MMA are not true and that he simply wanted to leave the UFC. Well, he’s got his wish and is now a free agent. The word that is making the rounds now is that Starnes believed he could make more money outside of the UFC. To some, the idea of Starnes making more money outside of the UFC sounds as far-fetched as Lindsay Lohan going to a club and not drinking. But the reality is, there could be a market for Starnes.

In the UFC, he was never going to be anything more than a run-of-the-mill middleweight. However, he could be a featured player for a Canadian promotion such as Hardcore Championship Fighting or the Maximum Fighting Championships. Say what you want about the guy, but Starnes already was somewhat recognizable thanks to his involvement on the third season of “The Ultimate Fighter.” And based on his controversial performance at UFC 83, he now has even more name recognition value.

Even though he fought poorly at UFC 83, he’s still a good fighter. Starnes has a very good ground game and has worked hard to improve his striking. Sure, he might not be the most popular guy based on recent events, but this isn’t pro wrestling where competitors are judged by how much applause they can generate and what their merchandise sales are. As such, I could easily see him making some good money with a Canada-based promotion as one of its marquee stars.

David Heath – At the start of 2007, Heath looked like a top light heavyweight prospect. He was 7-0 overall and 2-0 lifetime in the UFC. But things started to go downhill following a loss to Lyoto Machida at UFC 70 last April.

Heath garnered a lot of sympathy following his loss to Renato Sobral at UFC 74 but Sobral’s infractions took place after the fight was finished. The reality is that Heath took a beating and that Sobral didn’t use illegal means to win the fight. Heath’s tenure in the UFC came to an virtual end after he was on the receiving side of another lopsided loss, this time to Tim Boetsch at UFC 81 this past February.

He’s now lost three straight fights and finds himself out of the UFC. While the chips are down for Heath, he’s still someone who will be gainfully employed outside of the UFC. Much like heavyweights, there is a real need for capable light heavyweights. While Heath never had the benefit of the promotional push that TUF has provided so many fighters, he did get some publicity stemming from the Sobral incident.

Heath will no doubt have options. He’d be a good fit for EliteXC, which is starting to build a light heavyweight division with Rafael Feijao and Shane Del Rosario as the building blocks. They will need competition that can test them. He’d also be ideal for the IFL should they run shows after May. Vladimir Matyushenko, the current IFL light heavyweight champion, needs competition, and Heath would fit the bill perfectly.

One other long-shot possibility to consider: a rematch between Heath and Sobral promoted by Strikeforce or one of the other 50 promotions that Sobral has seemingly signed a contract with since being dropped by the UFC.

Joe Doerksen – Doerksen is the quintessential journeyman. He’ll never be a world beater at 185 lbs. but he’s been around the block and has paid his dues. Doerksen is a well-rounded fighter who can add a lot of credibility to regional shows. While I don’t think he’s a good fit for a major national promotion right now, I could see him returning to his roots in Canada and getting regular bookings competing for the country’s top regional promotions.

With a few regional wins, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Doerksen tapped as a last-minute injury replacement for a major promotion such as the IFL, EliteXC, Affliction, or whoever.

Kuniyoshi Hironaka – The obvious prediction here would be to suggest that Hironaka can just go fight in Japan. However, he has just about as much name value in the Land of the Rising Sun then in North America. This is a guy who does have wins over Ryan Schultz, Nick Diaz, and Charuto Verissimo, so he shouldn’t necessarily hang up the gloves. But after compiling a 1-3 record in the UFC and having been seen taking a lot of punishment in his fights, the reality is that he may need to go back to square one.

After fighting in Japan for Shooto early in his career, Hironaka eventually migrated to Hawaii, where he competed for the SuperBrawl (now ICON Sport) and Rumble on the Rock promotions. Perhaps a return to Hawaii might not be the worst idea in the world? If not Hawaii, then perhaps World Victory Road and a return to Japan would be an ideal destination.

John Halverson – Halverson lost to Roger Huerta in his UFC debut at UFC 67 but returned at UFC 82 following three wins on the regional scene. Unfortunately, he’s a free agent again after losing a unanimous decision to Jorge Gurgel.

But don’t lose any sleep for Halverson. He’s a draw in Ohio, which just happens to be a hotbed for mixed martial arts. There are so many shows in the state that there aren’t enough good fighters to fill up all the spots. At the very least, he’ll be able to make some money capitalizing on his ability to sell tickets in the Midwest. Monte Cox’s Adrenaline MMA is poised to run a lot of shows in the Midwest, and the two could be a perfect fit for each other.

Soa Palelei – This is an older cut dating back to earlier this year, but I felt it was appropriate to put Palelei on the list because we haven’t heard his name much since he was dropped by the UFC. My belief is that he will be a name we’ll be hearing from more in the future.

Many people don’t realize that he was a hot prospect before his disappointing performance against Eddie Sanchez at UFC 79. While EliteXC was recruiting Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou last year, they also made a strong pitch to bring in his Team Quest teammate, Palelei.

Thus far, EliteXC hasn’t had much luck when it comes to trying to sign Team Quest fighters such as Palelei, Sokoudjou, and Jason “Mayhem” Miller (whom they had an interest in before he signed with HDNet Fights). So the question is, will EliteXC take another look at him? He’s a fighter who would fit in well with a heavyweight division that includes the likes of Kimbo Slice, Antonio Silva, Brett Rogers, Jon Murphy, Dave Herman, and Bobby Jones.

I would think that Monte Cox’s Adrenaline MMA could also be an option. The promotion will in large part be built around heavyweights Tim Sylvia and Ben Rothwell. Since the pair are training partners at Miletich Fighting Systems in Iowa, they are unlikely to face each other. There will be a major need to find suitable competition for them and someone such as Palelei, who has the Team Quest affiliation and the UFC background, would be perfect.

The bottom line is that to judge Palelei based solely on his performance at UFC 79 would be a huge mistake. He’s a much better fighter than he showed and could prove to be an asset to a promotion that is in a position to be more patient with him than the UFC was.

18 COMMENTS
  • Donny says:

    When a company does mass layoffs its usually a bad thing…

    Why do i constantly hear people spreading propoganda about this being a good thing? are people that retarded to actually think this is a good thing?

    Do u buy every piece of propoganda thrown ur way?

    UFC is running 3x the amount of shows this year than it ever has, and all of a sudden they need to cut %30 of their roster???

    read between the lines bros

    Key Points:

    -The shows overseas losing the UFC tons of money, Ireland show barley did 50k PPV buys and ended up costing the UFC close to $20 Mil according to the Yahoo article by Meltzer

    – The last show in london almost did 100k buys and cost them money

    – The TUF show on Spike is the lowest in its history.

    – The last 3 UFNs were a complete bust ratings wise, barley anyone watched them.

    -The $325 Million Debt

    – They couldnt secure a Network TV deal or a deal with HBO

    -The talk of a Sale to the WWE and plenty others- look it up, was reported here and mmaweekly

    -The Xcience scandal – which the UFC had over $10 mil invested

    -MASS FIGHTER LAYOFFS

    – The Pride $85 Million buy which ended up worth nothing.

    Huge Roster Hits:

    Travis Lutter
    Randy Cotore (Couldnt afford to pay)
    Tim Sylvia (Couldnt afford to pay)
    Tito Ortiz
    Andrei Arlovski (Couldnt afford to pay)
    Drew Fickett (Couldnt afford to pay)
    Jake O’Brien
    Din Thomas
    Kalib starnes
    Joe Dorekson
    Hironaka
    CumMo
    Josh Haynes
    Tommy Speer

    I’m not hating one bit, I’m just tellin it like it is bros.

    Fanboys cant stand the truth, even though its right in front of them

    I had the same problem when pride died. I told everyone they were on their way out and losing money.

    What happened???

    Same thing is happening here, I cant believe you guys dont see it, its right in front of you

    or do u not want to see it?

    ask yourselves this question before you sleep tonight bros

  • Fight Fan says:

    “but this isn’t pro wrestling where competitors are judged by how much applause they can generate”

    Kimbo?.

  • BJJDenver says:

    I agree that I don’t like to see guys lose their employment, but in most cases, I think they will actually end up in better financial position.

    Other orgs will pay them more in most cases, if no other reason, than they are now familiar names. None of these guys were probably ever going to wear a belt in the UFC, but they can be top performers for other orgs.

    Many times we have seen fighters that were on TUF or are UFC vets headlining smaller shows and cashing in on that fame. Props to them, let them make as much as they can.

    Also, being out of the UFC will, in a lot of cases, allow them to fight more frequently, if healthy of course.

    Nice article Sam, I also read over at mmaweekly, that Franca is now shopping around for his new home. I realize he requested his release, but he is an exciting fighter and I expect him to come out in pretty good fashion financially.

  • TomK says:

    If he wants to cut, Din Thomas could be a force in the 145 division. I’d like to see him in the WEC sooner than later.

  • JacRabbit says:

    I think 145 is right for Din. He should dominate there.

  • bubbafat says:

    Lutter already tapped to Lindland in a standing guillotine.

  • JohnnyRev says:

    Donny, Didnt you take enough of a beating already on this topic ? wake up man ..The UFC is not in trouble . they are cutting all middle to lower talent sans the couture fiasco . Which unto itself is totally debatable. The UFC and Zuffa for that matter are rolling my friend. I just read that the Ferreta’s are building the one of the biggest casinos in Vegas which is to include it’s own arena … so not only will they own the UFC they will own the Venue. Please think about stuff before you post my friend

  • Tanner says:

    I don’t doubt that Lutter has good jiu jitsu but everyone keeps saying world class. Jacare, Marcelo Garcia, Roger Gracie, Demian Maia, BJ Penn have world class jiu jitsu. Lutter says he has world class jiu jitsu and then everyone else just follows suit and repeats it. If he’s world class i think he finishes the armbar on Franklin and doesn’t get caught in the guillotine by lindland.

  • BJJDenver says:

    Last time I’m wasting space on this ridiculous, mis-informed argument. Donny you aren’t even taking the time to re-phrase things so they sound different, lol.

    Key Points:

    -The shows overseas losing the UFC tons of money, Ireland show barley did 50k PPV buys and ended up costing the UFC close to $20 Mil according to the Yahoo article by Meltzer
    NOT ACCURATE.

    – The last show in london almost did 100k buys and cost them money
    NOT ACCURATE.

    – The TUF show on Spike is the lowest in its history.
    YES, BUT IT IS STILL AMONGST SPIKE’S HIGHEST RATED PROGRAMS AND IS DEMOGRAPHICALLY SIGNIFICANT.

    – The last 3 UFNs were a complete bust ratings wise, barley anyone watched them.
    SAME AS TUF ^^^.

    -The $325 Million Debt
    SO IT WENT UP ANOTHER 25 MIL OVERNIGHT, LOL???

    – They couldnt secure a Network TV deal or a deal with HBO
    THEY STILL CAN AND IF EXC IS SUCCESSFUL, IT WILL ONLY ADD VALUE TO THEIR PRODUCT.

    -The talk of a Sale to the WWE and plenty others- look it up, was reported here and mmaweekly
    SO PEOPLE BLOGGED IT SO IT MUST BE ACCURATE? AND ANY COMPANY CAN BE PURCHASED, IT IS JUST A MATTER OF HAVING THE POWER TO DO SO.

    -The Xcience scandal – which the UFC had over $10 mil invested
    UFC HAD NO MONEY INVESTED. FERTITTAS AND DANA DID ON THEIR OWN AND WHO IN THE BUSINESS WORLD IS EVEN TALKING ABOUT THIS? IT IS A PIMPLE.

    -MASS FIGHTER LAYOFFS
    THEY ARE LAYING OFF EITHER UNDER PERFORMING OR UNPOPULAR FIGHTERS (STYLE WISE). IF YOU OWNED A COMPANY, WOULD YOU CONTINUE TO EMPLOY POORLY PERFORMING WORKERS?

    – The Pride $85 Million buy which ended up worth nothing.
    I WOULDN’T SAY IT WAS WORTH NOTHING AND WHILE IT SEEMS TO BE A BAD DECISION, WE HAVE YET TO SEE ALL OF THE RAMIFICATIONS IT WILL HAVE ON THE MMA LANDSCAPE.

    Man, I’m not sure if UFC sent you the wrong size hoodie or what, but I can’t understand your reluctance to accept common sense. I’m not trying to bash you, but it seems you would buy into any conspiracy theory put out there.

  • Patrick says:

    “But the reality is, there could be a market for Starnes.”

    Yes, there are professional marathon runners.

    And yet again, allow me to reply to Donny.

    “UFC is running 3x the amount of shows this year than it ever has, and all of a sudden they need to cut %30 of their roster???”

    – MMA is seeing more an more exciting entrants coming up in the sport, gyms are popping up everywhere, new talent with serious skill is on the horizon. They’re making space by getting rid of dead or dying weight.

    read between the lines bros

    – Read a book.

    Key Points:

    – Not really key points at all if they’re all wrong eh?

    The shows overseas losing the UFC tons of money, Ireland show barley did 50k PPV buys and ended up costing the UFC close to $20 Mil according to the Yahoo article by Meltzer

    – Overseas shows = establishing productions in emerging markets, you spend money to make money. Not everything is instant profit, and if you payed attention to MMA at all you’d know that this is exactly how it came up in the world anyhow, it establishes a niche market in an area and then builds on it.

    The last show in london almost did 100k buys and cost them money

    – (see last response, or just take a marketing course.)

    The TUF show on Spike is the lowest in its history.

    – Evidence please. Also saying “lowest” in its history doesn’t make any sense, are you implying lowest ratings? Is it below sea level? Is it shorter? You’re not too bright.

    The last 3 UFNs were a complete bust ratings wise, barley anyone watched them.

    – Actually the “extended” UFN did well, and it was a badass card, also it was on every single t.v. in every single bar/sports restaurant in the area I’m living in, including advertisements outside of said places for an UFN party.

    The $325 Million Debt

    – Fuck you’re dumb. Operating debt, they’re leveraging debt just like any other major company would do it. Have you ever even read a balance sheet or income statement before? Do you realize that utilizing debt capacity is a major function of achieving profits? 325 million in debt for a company that has a net income like Zuffa is not that much man, look at MSFT or GOOG and the amount of debt they’re utilizing. If you don’t know what debt really is past personal debt, don’t comment on it because all it does is make you look ignorant of finance.

    They couldnt secure a Network TV deal or a deal with HBO

    – Yet they just hooked up with Bud Light. Hmmmm……

    The talk of a Sale to the WWE and plenty others- look it up, was reported here and mmaweekly

    – Talk is talk. I also seriously doubt what you’re saying here, full of shit? Yes, you are.

    The Xcience scandal – which the UFC had over $10 mil invested

    – The Fertitas et all had money invested, the UFC is a corporation with its own budget, it wasn’t a proprietary creditor of Xcience (also, anyone miss those Xenergy drinks? They were actually really tasty, can’t find them around here anymore, makes me sad).

    MASS FIGHTER LAYOFFS

    – Less than 20 guys is not fucking “mass fighter layoffs caps lock on omg omg omg panic”.

    The Pride $85 Million buy which ended up worth nothing.

    – It took out the only serious competition in the international game and forced some of the best talent in the industry into the UFC. Dream et al are leveraging huge hits in profit in order to establish themselves again, as well as having to reorganize their entire employment structure. Buying out Pride was smart, lots of companies will buyout their main competition even if its faltering because they know they’ll capture more market share in the process.

    Huge Roster Hits:

    -Allow me to go through these one by one.

    Travis Lutter

    – A guy who couldn’t make weight, couldn’t move after the first round, and had the personality of a rock. I’ve yet to meet anyone who’s excited over a Lutter fight.

    Randy Cotore (Couldnt afford to pay)

    – It wasn’t that they couldn’t afford to pay the guy, read up on it.

    Tim Sylvia (Couldnt afford to pay)

    – Wrong again.

    Tito Ortiz

    – Tito Ortiz and Dana White hate eachother, White is the boss, guess what happens? Tito is a non-issue in the light heavyweight division in the UFC now anyhow, he’s fallen by the wayside.

    Andrei Arlovski (Couldnt afford to pay)

    – Arlovski wanted a title fight, he wasn’t going to get it.

    Drew Fickett (Couldnt afford to pay)

    – I’m starting to feel tired of repeating myself.

    Jake O’Brien

    – Lay and pray

    Din Thomas

    – Probly not the best move, this guy shoulda stayed.

    Kalib starnes

    – Getting rid of Starnes = good. Did you even watch him run?

    Joe Dorekson

    – (blah blah blah)

    Hironaka

    – Speculation

    CumMo

    – (blah blah blah)

    Josh Haynes

    – (blah blah blah)

    Tommy Speer

    – Send him back to the WEC, he’s not ready yet.

  • mike wolfe says:

    Donny

    Dude, are you pimping for a UFC rival? Perseverating due to a head injury? Why the same anti-UFC posts? What’s the agenda?

  • mike wolfe says:

    The only cut I would argue with is O’Brien. “If you can’t beat him, kick him out?” Wrestling is a legit part of MMA and if other fighters can’t beat him, why shouldn’t they be the ones to go?

  • Stuart says:

    Doesn’t look like the UFC is in any trouble at all:

    http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2008/0505/080.html

    Just wish my investments worked as well!!

  • Patrick says:

    So we’re pretty much all agreed then that Donny is a moron?

  • GassedOut says:

    Y’know, I’m not into flaming…but if Donny wants to call the wrath of posters down on himself by repeating uninformed rhetoric with an obvious agenda, who am I to argue?

  • Sam Caplan says:

    Guys, I think his post has been beaten to death. Let’s stay on topic. Thanks.

  • Fight Fan says:

    It is strange that most of the good HW MW LW (LW is debatable) fight elsewhere. If the UFC is doing so well you think it would pay for the best.
    I realise that the UFC isn’t going under anytime soon but why are the MW and HW divisions so low on talent?. Is it just that the fighters would rather fight elsewhere or what? is the UFC just tight with its masses of money?.

    I think the UFC will regret letting Tim, AA, Tito and Randy go. I’m not trying to say the sky is falling but if another promotion gets those guys, Fedor, Josh, a few others and a few of those MWs like lindland etc then cross promotes with Dream or EXC the UFC will seem a lot less legit as “the MMA promotion”.

  • tyler says:

    I understand most of the cuts the ufc has made but O’Brien AA I hate to see either of them go

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