Over the last couple years, the UFC has started a trend in releasing fighters with “boring” styles well before many think the cut is deserved. The most prominent examples are obviously Welterweights Jon Fitch, Jake Shields, and Middleweight Yushin Okami. All three of these cuts came while these fighters were in or near the Top 10 rankings of their division. So, how does the UFC justify releasing top-tier fighters from the premier organization in mixed martial arts?
There are a few contributing factors to these decisions. Age and cost of their fight contract are obvious reasons. However, I believe the most important is the fighter’s style. Fitch, Okami, and Shields are all notorious grinders who are often decried by fans for their smothering, low-offense styles.
It’s easy to criticize the UFC for booting talented fighters with habitual lackluster performances. However, they have little recourse in affecting change in in-cage performances.
In every other major sport, the leader in the industry is capable of adjusting their ruleset as they feel is necessary. The NBA and NFL make numerous adjustments year-to-year and have made dozens over the last decade. Most importantly, when the big leagues make these changes, they’re immediately implemented.
Yet, the unified rules of mixed martial arts have remained almost impressively stagnant since being adopted in 2000. The bigger problem remains that there is no singular governing body to determine the need and implementation of rule changes. The Association of Boxing Commissions is around to discuss and suggest changes annually, but they don’t have any official authority over state commissions. So, even if they approve a rule change, it’s up to each state commission to find a way to to enact that change or not. That’s why we see variance state-to-state in the exact wording of the unified rules interpretations.
Additionally, for better or worse, the UFC has no official representation in the ABC. Even if the UFC would want to adjust the rules to increase action or offense in the fight game, they have no way to make that happen within the current system. Instead, they’re left to send a “message” to their roster through cutting top fighters that happen to be “boring.”
It’s simple really; fighters that don’t deliver action don’t draw eyeballs. In a time where the UFC has almost zero pay-per-view draws and waning ratings on television, they need performances fans can enjoy. Grinding fighters like Fitch, Okami, and Shields do not bring in viewers. In fact, they’re more likely to repel them. That’s why they got chopped and Leonard Garcia was able to go on a five-fight losing streak before getting the axe. It may not be fair, but without an ability to enact change in an official capacity, they’re left with few other options.