Let The Free Agent Feeding Frenzy Begin

October 22, 2008

Dave Meltzer’s report on the imminent demise of the EliteXC in combination with the cancellation of the organization’s November 8th card have set the MMA world abuzz in the last 24 hrs. Despite the numerous warning signs, it’s safe to say that most within the community remain disappointed that yet another organization has perished. God only knows how long we’ll now have to put up with the same, old “sky is falling” routine…

Yet, I can guarantee you this – sky or no sky – there are a couple individuals within the MMA community that have been waiting months for this eventuality; and I can tell you they’re not the least bit surprised or disappointed.

After all, if you were Dana White, Tom Atencio, or Scott Coker, from yesterday to today, you’ve got one less rival to compete with. More importantly, you’re also about to embark on the biggest free agent feeding frenzy since Pride dissolved in early 2007.

As soon as some of EliteXC’s best and brightest become free and clear of their obligations, they’re almost assuredly going to be receiving multiple inquiries. So let’s take a look at the potential targets and strategies that Affliction, Strikeforce, and Zuffa may employ over the coming weeks.

Notable Fighters

With over 70 fighters signed to the EliteXC roster, there are great prospects and contenders at every weight class. However, the most notable fighters might include:

Heavyweight: Antonio Silva, Brett Rogers, Dave Herman, Jon Murphy, and the much-maligned Kimbo Slice
Light Heavyweight: Rafael Feijao
Middleweight: Robbie Lawler, Murilo Rua, Kala Kolohe Hose
Welterweight: Jake Shields, Paul Daley
Lightweight: Eddie Alvarez, Nick Diaz, KJ Noons, Charles “Krazy Horse” Bennett
Featherweight: Wilson Reis

Affliction’s Strategy

Expect that Affliction will leverage their non-exclusive contracts and relatively exoribitant pay structure to lure many of the top free agents to its side.

And, if you’re Affliction and looking at a thin non-heavyweight roster, you’re likely going to be pursuing the lighter weights in order to round things out. What would Eddie Alvarez and/or Nick Diaz do for Affliction’s lightweight division? Both of these fighters are likely to respond well to the freedom that a non-exclusive contract provides – and, hey, the pay isn’t bad either.

This is where we’ll see if Atencio can keep good on his promise to lower fighter pay over the next few events. With a rumoured deal with CBS in the works, the whole MMA world will be watching.

The Zuffa Strategy

This one is a bit funny. On one hand, you’d expect Zuffa to sweep in and take its pick of the litter, but that hasn’t necessarily been the case if you look at the organization’s history in the free agent market. In fact, they’ve been quite cautious when it comes to ponying up the dough – Fedor Emelianenko and Joachim Hansen are just two of many examples.

Furthermore, I’m inclined to believe that the Zuffa doesn’t really consider Affliction as its long-term competitor. It’s quite possible that Zuffa may just decide to bide its time and wait for the collapse of Affliction before pouncing on the free agent spoils of the entire industry.

At any rate, I suspect that the UFC will try to leverage their brand (like they always do), their level of competition, and their organizational stability if and when they approach any free agent fighters. It’s not all about the money, not for everyone, and the UFC undoubtedly has the best all-around competition of any organization. Any fighter considering the UFC as a destination knows he’ll be facing top-notch competition, but he’ll also be paid according to his success.

The downside to the UFC’s roster management style is that there isn’t a lot of job security for those on a losing streak – that can scare fighters away. Then again, Dana White is just as likely to argue he doesn’t want those types of guys in his organization anyway.

In terms of targets, you have to think that Zuffa will be looking very closely at Jake Shields, Wilson Reis for the WEC, Rafael Feijao (someone they’d targeted from the IFL earlier), and the wealth of heavyweight prospects that Elite had like Antonio Silva, Brett Rogers, Dave Herman, etc.

Personally, I hope to hell they can sign Eddie Alvarez. Show of hands, BJ vs. Eddie, anyone?

The Strikeforce Strategy

The forgotten third partner in all of this would seem to be Strikeforce. They’ve shown in the past their willingness to co-promote and thus I suspect that might be a chip on their bargaining table. They’ve also demonstrated the ability to compensate their high-level fighters at a competitive level (re: Cung Le’s base of approximately $250,000).

I cannot envision them competing for a fighter that both Affliction and Zuffa are interested in, but they could become a player for the mid-level guys that are looking for organizational stability, job security, non-exclusivity, and competitive pay.

Any one of Elite’s former heavyweight prospects would be attractive to Strikeforce; additionally, Robbie Lawler as an opponent for Cung Le is a distinct possibility.

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