Downsizing: UFC Planning Major Roster Cuts

April 24, 2008

One of the UFC’s favorite talking points in demonstrating its dominance of the MMA industry is the number of fighters it has under exclusive contract. 250 is the standard talking point, although Forbes magazine reported it at 275. According to the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, the actual number is closer to 200, but not for long.

Dave Meltzer reported in the most recent edition of the newsletter that the company plans to cut its roster down significantly, perhaps to as low as 150 or less. The stated rationale is that the company is struggling to keep all of its fighters active, despite having recently increased cards from nine to eleven bouts.

The first casualty of the new policy appears to be Jake O’Brien who was cut after suffering his first career loss to Andrei Arlovski. Kalib Starnes is the latest announced cut, although he claims to have requested a release, but will not be the last. The recently announced move to cut the WEC Light Heavyweight and Middleweight divisions also fits nicely with the new policy.

According to Meltzer, the company’s goal is three fights per year for contracted fighters. That number looks about right for the top fighters, but will likely be less well received by mid to lower level fighters who are accustomed to fighting 4-5 times per year at a minimum and depend on their fight purses to a much greater degree than more established names.

Money is another obvious factor in the move. The company is not doing as well financially as it was in 2006 with rumors of a round of layoffs at the corporate office and pressure to reduce costs. As the minimum contracted payouts slowly, but steadily, increase the incentive to sign and stockpile talent diminishes, particularly at the bottom of the card where it becomes cheaper to bring in new talent.

To some degree Tim Sylvia fits into this conversation as well, as an example that the days of simply paying what it takes to keep a guy are over. The company appears to be serious about containing its fighter costs and is willing to let some of its top fighters go.

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