As former UFC welterweight champion George St. Pierre stepped away from fighting in November 2013, he took his efficient, point-based fighting style with him. This was St. Pierre’s choosing, however; UFC brass has been handing out walking papers for years now.
Dana White has never held back his thoughts, and has publicly criticized the fight world’s less entertaining names. White has been quick to judge those like Jon Fitch and Ben Askren, who are traditional wrestlers. Fitch, prior to his release, went 1-2-1 in the organization, spearheading White’s arguments. White’s comments are ill-advised though; the UFC still needs guys like Fitch.
Both Fitch and Askren have fought for world championships and are highly recognizable welterweights. The pair are money makers for their organizations, ONE FC and WSOF. A former collegiate wrestler at Perdue, Fitch possesses a very uninspiring game plan. An overwhelming number of his fights, 17 to be exact, have gone to a decision.
Still, when Fitch was on top of his game, there was no one beating him. He, rather handedly, won his first eight fights in the UFC, defeating the likes of Josh Burkman, Thiago Alves and Diego Sanchez on the way to a St. Pierre title shot. Fitch, whom was supposed to give St. Pierre a challenge on the ground, fell short but kept on winning.
Wrestling isn’t an exciting style of fighting but the best know how to stifle it. Some of the most prominent fighters in the UFC like, featherweight champion Jose Aldo and Lyoto Machida, avoid the majority of takedowns coming their way. It would help a fighter to become adept at different disciplines but if you win at such a rate that Fitch has, 14-3-1 under the UFC, then why fix it?
Someone with the consistency and high-level ground game as Fitch should garner more respect. Sure, he fell off and suffered difficult losses, but losing to a future Hall of Famer in B.J. Penn and future welterweight champion Johny Hendricks is nothing to hang your head about. The UFC puts a premium on fighters who go to war and leave it all in the octagon but real battles are won in the trenches. For every Randy Couture, there’s a Chuck Liddell and for every Cain Velasquez, there’s a Junior Dos Santos.
We’re in an era in mixed martial arts where words hold more weight than a punch or a takedown, just ask Nick Diaz or Chael Sonnen. Those two men revolutionized the post-fight interview. Each has been rewarded a title shot in the past simply because a microphone was put before them. According to Bleacher Report’s Chad Dundas, UFC 158 St. Pierre vs. Diaz did an estimated 950,000 pay-per-view buys.
For argument’s sake, let’s compare that number to St. Pierre’s title defense against Fitch. The pair’s main event took place at UFC 87 in August 2008. The French Canadian dispatched his challenger with ease and the PPV did an estimated 625,000 buys, which at the time was one of the higher grossing shows the UFC produced. White’s promotion has grown exponentially since 2008 on the backs of St. Pierre, Brock Lesnar, Jon Jones and Anderson Silva.
Now, let’s take a look at the gate totals for both UFC 87 and UFC 158. The latter drew an attendance of 20,145, while the former tallied 15,082. A drastic difference yes, but due to the entirely different landscapes of the UFC at those moments, efforts to compare the numbers would seem futile.
Typically, the UFC has fared better in grudge matches (i.e: St.Pierre vs. Diaz). Adding a little fuel to the fire will always make a fight interesting. So while fighters like Diaz continue to lose and still fight, fighters like Fitch are shown the door as it hits them on the way out.
The saga between Fitch and White began way back in—you guessed it—2008. It began when the American Kickboxing Academy fighter was released by the promotion after he refused to sign over his name and likeness rights for use in the UFC Undisputed video game.
"It was a surprise, but not really. I've always felt there was some kind of issue between the UFC and me; I never understood what it was,” Fitch told Inside MMA.
Then, after he was released in February 2013, White remarked to MMA Junkie that “This is a sport, just like any other. It’s just like the MLB, NFL and NBA.” He made no mention of a rift between him and Fitch, later justifying the decision as business-related.
“I can tell you this, Jon Fitch isn’t cheap,” said White, adding. “He was ranked number one and now he is nine.”
According to White, Fitch was paid over $400,000 in discretionary and performance bonuses outside of his UFC contract. Fitch responded to his former boss in a video detailing exactly how much money he made in his 18-fight UFC career. According to Fitch, he made just over $1,300,000, including bonuses, but that was before he paid $200,000 to management and his gym. Bleacher Report’s Damon Martin put Fitch’s testimony into perspective.
“While Fitch didn't discuss this at the time, he also has to pay taxes on that amount of money, which would also reach well over $200,000 based on his original pay of $1,020,000 over 18 fights,” said Martin. “Fitch would also have paid taxes anytime he fought internationally, like his bout against Erick Silva at UFC 153 in Brazil.”
Cost-cutting moves have happened before in the UFC, as they do in all professional sports. Perhaps, most recently and notably, former welterweight title challenger Jake Shields, who coincidentally challenged Fitch to a fight after his latest win, was cut after he lost to Hector Lombard. White eluded that the decision was a cost-cutting measure but, as the case was with Fitch, he said to Yahoo! Sports Kevin Iole “Mixed martial arts is a young man’s game. I like Jake Shields a lot but he’s never going to be the guy.”
Wait a second, how do you justify cutting a guy who went 3-1-(1) in the UFC, and only made $120,000 in his fight with Lombard, according to White? Unacceptable. Shields may possess an extremely linear skill set, and nothing that resembles a boxing pedigree, but he deserves better. This is a man who has only lost to St. Pierre and Jake Ellenberger, and previously beat Dan Henderson.
White put it best, sports are a business and that’s what people tend to forget. Just as people crucified LeBron James when he left Cleveland, just as Johnny Damon was booed for leaving Boston, the public will hurl as many obscenities as they can think of at your general direction when they sense betrayal. Most outsiders won’t ever understand what it takes to run an organization, let alone the mind state of a superstar athlete trying to do the best thing for their careers.
What we tend to forget is that there is no loyalty in sports. Any general manager or president is always looking for a better version of you. The athlete is a mere peg in a system to just make the rich, richer. That’s why Kobe Bryant argues that owners are the ones who make off with the most cash.
"It's very easy to look at the elite players around the league and talk about the amount of money that they get paid," Bryant told ESPN LA's Baxter Holmes. "But we don't look at what the owners get paid and how much revenue they generate off the backs of these players."
But why cut some of the best fighters who helped you take the UFC around the globe Mr. White? Don’t you remember how Shields helped you set attendance records at UFC 129? You kept Dan Hardy around long after he lost to St. Pierre. White is just too busy giving the fans what they want.