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.”