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There’s really no question that the UFC is the top MMA organization in the world. It’s pretty much every fighters dream to make it to the big show and get the recognition and pay they truly deserve. However, sometimes the dream just doesn’t last forever. The UFC is reserved for winners and if a fighter isn’t getting enough W’s it’s very likely they will be sent back out into the wilds of the global MMA scene. Luckily for those that have to rebuild their credibility, there are more options then ever to earn a paycheck and regain some of their luster. However, which path they choose to take is just as important as getting the wins they need.
Some fighters choose to fight on smaller, more regional MMA shows. The level of talent of these smaller shows is normally much less then what they were facing in the UFC and is seen more as tune-up fights then legitimate competition. Depending on the popularity of the fighter it’s possible to get a few wins at these lower levels and get the call to come back to the UFC, but it’s not too likely. While padding a fighter’s record will make them seem more impressive, the brass at UFC isn’t too interested in bring back a fighter that really hasn’t improved since being released. On the flip side, if a fighter loses a fight in these smaller shows the road back to the UFC is that much greater. Very few fighters released from the UFC are willing to take this path; the pay is often so much lower and the motivation so little that’s it’s the least appealing option outside of retirement.
Another option, and one more widely chosen, is to fight for a mid size national or even global MMA promotion. These promotions often have a mix of promising up and comers and more well know MMA veterans. The pay and competition are often a bit lower then what a fighter was previously getting in the UFC but is still enough to keep MMA as their sole income generator. A win or two in these shows can earn a fighter a call back in the UFC, again depending on the level of popularity of the fighter and the UFC’s need to fill a division or short notice fight. A good recent example of this is Titan Fighting Championships that recently picked up Anthony Johnson. What I like most about this choice is that it gives these smaller promotions some big drawing power. Having guys on the roster that the common fan knows will bring more eyes to the promotion and the talent that they are helping to groom. This path seems like the smartest if the fighter is willing to take a smaller paycheck in hopes that they will be brought back to the UFC. However, sometimes fighters are looking more for the bigger paycheck now, even if that means they won’t be able to go back to the UFC for a while, if ever.
The other choice is to sign with one of the bigger MMA organization. While signing with the Bellators and Strikeforces of the world will get you a bigger paycheck, they also come with longer contracts. Most big name fighters can negotiate to a short term contact with the mid level shows but the bigger shows want to have their top talent locked down for a number of fights. The level of talent of these shows is comparable with the mid to high level guys in the UFC (Doctor Law, I’m sure, would disagree). If a fighter can make it in these organizations and become a name stay for them, good money normally follows. This is, along with champion clauses in contracts, why you don’t see some of the top guys from Bellator and Strikeforce come over to the UFC. While it’s true that if you can become a champion or a big name fighter in the UFC the money will be better then these other organizations, but starting out (if not granted an immediate title shot) the money most likely will be about the same but with a shorter contract. This is why we haven’t seen Gilbert Melendez, Hector Lombard and Ben Askrin make the jump over to the UFC.
Everyone knows that right now is the absolute worst time to lose your job and MMA fighters aren’t immune to the economical problems the world is facing. However, it’s nice to know that thanks to the growing popularity of MMA, and more honestly the UFC, that getting cut doesn’t mean the end of these fighters fighting full time. With other organizations paying their fighters pretty competitive wages, there’s still some places where they can either call their new home or get some decent wins and hopefully get called back to the big show.