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Fitch’s release a calculated attempt to send fighters and their managers a message

Wednesday’s news that former UFC welterweight title challenger Jon Fitch had been released from the promotion continues to send shockwaves through the industry. Many managers and agents are distressed by the news and are bracing for the worst. Within the past 12 hours, FiveOuncesOfPain.com has spoken with several of the top fighter representatives in the business to gain perspective on the situation.

After speaking with a healthy sampling it’s readily apparent that Fitch’s release cannot be pinpointed to a single issue, as the UFC’s decision to drop him was the result of a number of factors manifesting at the same time.

First and foremost of the issues was the refusal of Fitch’s trainers and manager with the San Jose-based American Kickboxing Academy and agents at Zinkin Entertainment to recommend that their clients sign a marketing agreement that would surrender lifetime video game likeness rights to the UFC.

While Five Ounces of Pain has yet to speak with representatives at AKA or Zinkin, industry insiders have informed us that they were not happy with being asked to sign away lifetime rights. Fitch publicly stated on Wednesday that the lifetime rights provision and the manner in which the UFC went about demanding it was a major issue.

“…Then we finally asked, after reading through the contract, why can’t we negotiate for different terms? Because it asked me for a lifetime contract for the video games, so they would have exclusive rights to use our likeness for these video games and we couldn’t go and do any other video games ever again in our lifetime,” Fitch is quoted as saying during an interview with MMA Weekly.

During a Wednesday night radio interview on “The Carmichael Dave Show” on KHTK in Sacramento, UFC president Dana White was asked about why a shorter term agreement wasn’t an option and a heated White responded by saying that he didn’t feel signing over lifetime rights should be an issue.

“Let me ask you a question.” White began to respond when host Carmichael Dave asked why the UFC was demanding lifetime rights as opposed to asking for a five or ten-year agreement. “I’ve got an even better question for you: Jon Fitch takes off and becomes a huge superstar in another league somewhere else. Do you think we are going to keep him in a video game? Do you really think when the new video game comes out that we’re going to have the guy who is a huge superstar somewhere else be in our video game!? It’s common sense! People are so stupid sometimes it actually hurts my brain. Okay? He comes out and becomes this huge headliner for this future promotion somewhere else; I’m going to keep him in my video game and keep promoting him?”

Coupling Fitch’s public statements with what has been told to what Five Ounces of Pain privately, the concern isn’t whether the UFC will use a fighter’s likeness if he is no longer with the organization. The issue is that a fighter’s new promotion will be unable to use the fighter’s likeness because the UFC will have lifetime ownership. As such, a fighter’s value to another promotion is diminished if he does not retain control over his own likeness. While the UFC would be unlikely to use the likeness of a fighter no longer in the UFC for video game purposes, the fighter’s new employer wouldn’t be able to use it as well.

It appears that the UFC may have gotten itself into a bit of a predicament as sources indicate that THQ, who is producing promotion’s upcoming video game release “UFC Undisputed 2009,” operated under the auspices that they had exclusive rights to the likenesses of all fighters on the UFC roster. Five Ounces of Pain has been informed that THQ was none too pleased upon learning that rival Electronic Arts has commenced work on an MMA game of its own and that plans are in motion to involve a great deal of recognizable fighters. The sources have indicated that in addition to names such as Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz, and Frank Shamrock that known UFC fighters could potentially be featured as well.

The fact that THQ had been promised exclusive access to the likeness of the entire UFC roster when the UFC wasn’t in a position to make such an assurance is believed to be a reason why the promotion has acted in haste in regards to demanding its fighters sign over their likenesses for “Undisputed.”

Sources have stated that UFC officials chose to make an example of Fitch to send a message to other agents and managers. The feeling was that Fitch was expendable and his status as an elite fighter would be an effective way to help try and convince other fighters to fall in line.

White himself confirmed during the KHTK interview that Fitch received $169,000 for his co-headlining fight vs. UFC welterweight champion George St. Pierre at UFC 87. Despite ascending to a pay level of a headliner, there were no plans to have Fitch headline again. The former Purdue wrestling standout fell into a group of UFC fighters such as Fabricio Werdum and Marcus Aurelio that are on a mid-tier pay scale that have been cut because it was determined their salaries were not commensurate with their positioning on fight cards. Sources have added that the UFC’s roster currently resides at 183 fighters but Vice President of Talent Relations Joe Silva is instructed to get the roster down to 140.

Despite his reputation for being one of the best in his weight class, Fitch was apparently not viewed by UFC officials as someone who possessed star charisma, which in turn limited his marketing potential. Fitch was not in line to receive a title shot in the near future and that there was a concern he would stand in the way of potential challengers that the UFC has designs on building up for the future.

Additional sources have informed Five Ounces of Pain that White’s decision to speak out publicly against the American Kickboxing Academy and Zinkin Entertainment was the manifestation of difficulties of negotiating with the groups in the past. The two parties had been two of the most vocal against some of the marketing proposals that the UFC had hoped its fighters would sign.

With Fitch and Christian Wellisch already dropped, there is now a great deal of speculation regarding the UFC futures of AKA fighters Josh Koscheck, Cain Velasquez, and Mike Swick.

Sources have indicated that Swick has already contacted the UFC in an attempt to express his desire to continue fighting for the promotion and willingness to negotiate a likeness deal on his own. White confirmed Swick’s desire to cooperate during the KHTK interview.

In a clear attempt to try and entice fighters to leave AKA and Zinkin, White sent a message to non-UFC fighters that train at the gym by intimating that their prospects of fighting for the promotion are damaged as long as they are affiliated with the AKA or Zinkin. If fighters such as Velasquez and Koscheck do not break ranks and sign the agreement, they could be cut.

For now, Koscheck will remain with the UFC as he is slated to headline against Yoshiyuki Yoshida during the promotion’s “UFC Fight Night 16: UFC Fight for the Troops” event on Dec. 10 in Fayetteville, North Carolina. His future with the UFC beyond that date is uncertain. While several industry insiders that we’ve spoken to believe that Koscheck will remain with the UFC, that’s hardly a given considering his close ties to AKA and Zinkin.

“My manager, Bob Cook, I’m on the phone with him every day. When I’m in training camp I actually live with him. And I have Dwayne Zinkin, who is the president. When I’m in Fresno he’s almost like my father,” Koscheck told Five Ounces of Pain during an interview published on March 12 of this year.

“He’s a good guy. I’m at his house every night. My girlfriend and his girlfriend are sisters. So we have a very close relationship and Zinkin Entertainment is one of the best management companies out there.”

20 COMMENTS
  • Sergio Hernandez says:

    This entire story boggles my mind.

    On one hand, managers are needed for fighters who don’t know the ins and outs of business and just simply “want to fight.”

    On the other hand, and I guess in White’s experience, managers can get too greedy and make demands that don’t make sense for their client.

    And the whole THQ/EA likeness situation is VERY interesting…

  • dongbar says:

    Very well put together Sam!

  • Davey D says:

    I hope some reslove can come out of this mess. I guess it is just not good to defy Zuffa when they want to you follow their lead? Respect is a two way street. Let’s hope all parties involved can travel that road going forward.

  • Robert says:

    Dana White is really tiresome I can’t believe he has a ton of fans.The man is absolutely nauseating.

  • Patrick says:

    If another promotion picks up Fitch, I’ll buy the ppv to watch him fight again, Fitch has never let me down in a fight. Every time Fitch steps into fight, it is always entertaining.

    Huge huge mistake by the UFC, what a terribly retarded move.

  • Jay K. says:

    “The fact that THQ had been promised exclusive access to the likeness of the entire UFC roster when the UFC wasn’t in a position to make such an assurance is believed to be a reason why the promotion has acted in haste in regards to demanding its fighters sign over their likenesses for “Undisputed.””

    I understand the world of business in the sense of “if you don’t like it, go elsewhere” mindset. Neither party has loyalty to the other w/r/t Fitch, but for the UFC to pull a stunt like this with THQ after they’ve gone the distance is just sloppy mismanagement of a project plan that is being executed out of order. Whomever is running this video game project for the UFC should be given their walking papers for botching this up.

    Jay K.

  • matthew says:

    Jay K. – agreed.

    This should not have been an issue. I get the feeling someone within the UFC is trying to save face.

  • Tony Fennen says:

    As a semi-successful business man I understand the idea of cutting payroll. I also understand that Fitch is not very marketable from that stand point of charisma but the boy can fight!
    I dont think I would go out of my way to see a PPV with him has the headliner unless he is fighting someone like GSP or BJ.

    As far as LIKENESS…. You cant sign away your likeness EVER!
    This is a HUGE reason for having a fighters union. We all saw what happened back in the day with WWE and how guys like Hulk Hogan had to fight to keep his own name. Dana is wrong on this one! If Fitch becomes a champion in another promotion UFC will make it hard on him like they did to Randy.

  • matthew says:

    Tony Fennen – “As far as LIKENESS…. You cant sign away your likeness EVER!”

    I could not agree more.

  • Sean says:

    Sam,

    Do you have any idea how this is handled w/ the WWE and the contracts it holds for the wrestlers likeness when it comes to video games, posters, etc.?

    What type of employees are the fighters to the UFC? Independent contractors who receive 1099s or W2s?

    This looks like growing pains that have to happen when a “new” sport becomes this big this quickly, and with it become more legitamite to the mainstream public.

  • Lawdawg says:

    Interesting article about what the fighters are being asked to sign: http://www.tapoutlive.com/images/mags/ufc_legal.pdf
    May not be the whole story but it does give Fitch’s version of the dispute credence. No lawyer/agent in their right mind would allow their client/fighter to sign this agreement.

  • mo says:

    I think it has a lot to do with relationships with the UFC and agents. I mean Ivan Salivery and Jeorge Gurgel (maybe misspelled, sorry) are still on UFC roster with taking multiple losses and aren’t much of a draw at all on their own. I think the way the Koscheck deal pans out will be very telling. Kos is a bit of a draw because people don’t like him, and he has been very willing to step in when the UFC needed a fighter replacement, so it will be interesting to see how far Dana goes with his dislike for people who do not work with him. I could see releasing Fitch because he could block other guys from getting title shots, kind of like the Rich Franklin as a gatekeeper for MW, but you have to be a bit concerned with the UFC not having the best fighters, and focusing more on fights that may sell.

  • red says:

    At the end of the day all these camps make there living off of the UFC and the UFC wont let them dictate what there terms will be. If Fintch and AKA was fighting in Dream all this time he would have never had the pay day he had when he fought GSP because they can not bring in that type of money. I am sure that that agreement had some sort of benfit to the fighters and eve ryone wants more. Maybe Dana has learned from all he mistakes that boxing made over the years and is willing to not cave for the better of his company. But for all of us it is a short term loss because when its all said and done everyone wants to come back to the big game look at Randy.

  • ihateemo says:

    @ Lawdawg

    “No lawyer/agent in their right mind would allow their client/fighter to sign this agreement.”

    I agree – that said, if I read Fitch’s interview with MMAWeekly correctly, he says that this was a PREVIOUSLY offered contract that nobody would sign but it’s something close to what White was asking.

    Man, I am still in shock about this. Fitch is one of my favourite fighters. :(

  • russiandoeboi says:

    good another top 5 guy free to fight anywhere.
    dana wants to clear the way for brock forrestgump lesnar by freeing up
    sylvia,werdum,arlovski.
    guys way to big to be brocked, and too skilled not to finish brock

  • Rich S. says:

    how do you fire a man that JUST fought for your Welterweight Championship?

    and over something like this?

    this is absolutely ludicrous on so many levels..

  • Robthom says:

    Very comprehensive ! Great write up.
    Personally, I have to side with the fighters on this one.
    The lifetime likeness demands are, to put it bluntly, insane.
    And if UFC thinks some fighters are getting paid more than they’re worth, why do they raise their pay so dramatically to the point of being uncomfortable with it and then demanding renegotiations in the middle of the contract.
    Not cool!

    Well Affliction needs fighters, and they’ve got some money. If UFC continues to keep the cheap and popular fighters over the good ones, then maybe Affliction will become the place to see real hardcore MMA.

  • Bullylover says:

    Russiandoeboi-i agree it’s only a matter of time till they try to market Lesner as the best heavyweight in the worl knowing that Gonzaga,AA,Fedor,even Ben Rothwell would own any given day. I hate to say this but the ufc is starting to go down hill. They’re going to lose a number of contenders by not fucking withAKA. Who,s going to replace Koscheick?Paul taylor’s helmetless self.

  • Dr.Stoppage says:

    If any fighter signs over their ‘likeness’ to the UFC,then are successful somewhere else,that other promotion has the opportunity to buy the ‘likeness’ rights from the UFC.
    If I give you the opportunity to become a star in my organization,I would like to retain some sort of stake in you ,should you decide to leave,or get fired,and become a star somewhere else.
    Unless you’re Tito,or Nick Diaz,or Lawler,or…

  • matthew says:

    that is why 5-10 year likeness deals are acceptable. Lifetime likeness deals are not.

    Not in the fighters best interests as the potential to create marketing problems in the future can be significant.

    I believe that is all that was asked for.

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