The Zuffa Freeze Out And Unintended Consequences

October 20, 2008

Contrary to the Countdown to UFC 89’s contention that Brandon Vera sat out of competition for a year due to “management problems”, in reality Brandon was the initial test case in the “Zuffa Freeze Out” strategy. The freeze out strategy mainly consists of the front loading of fights on a fighters contract in order to increase negotiating power with the threat of holding out the fighter until nearly the end of the contract before giving said fighter their last fight. Such a measure cuts down the fighters ability to generate income from fights and sponsorship money as well as impacting the fighter value if he chooses to exit the UFC. Other noted fighter who have gotten or look to get the treatment are Andre Arlovski and Roger Huerta.

While the UFC is able to use their multiple marketing platforms to rehabilitate a fighter’s profile and visibility if they eventually resign a fighter, the UFC isn’t able to do such a job on an athlete’s skillset and experience level that veers towards stagnation during such a “freeze out” period. Such a deterioration looks to be the case with a fighter like Brandon Vera. Dana White spoke with ESPN and commented on the impact of the layoff on Vera’s game:

“It’s like he lost something,” White said. “That year off, I don’t know what it was with him. But he doesn’t have that killer instinct; he doesn’t go after it. This kid used to be so cocky. … He was good; he was walking through heavyweights. He took that year off, all the contract stuff, and hasn’t been the same guy since. I don’t know what’s wrong with him.”

Dana unwittingly seems to put forward the idea that his own freeze out strategy impaired the value of the same product he ended up reinvesting in. Such long layoffs would have a detrimental affect on the athlete. While it is admirable to think that fighters will keep themselves in shape and working on their game during such a layoff, that may not be the truth of the matter. An example of this would be a fighter like be Rampage Jackson, who came into his fight against Forrest Griffin looking like a shadow of his former physical self due to a ten month layoff and his performance seemed to bear that out.

Such a layoff is particularly detrimental for a fighter like Vera, who had a limited number of career fights at the time he was under the “Zuffa Freeze Out”. While such a freeze out would seem to hurt their own product, the strategy looks to be here to stay. Varying from the strategy would put them at risk of putting to the free market a fighter that would be fresh from the Zuffa hype machine ready to be snapped up by a competitor to reap the benefits.

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