Fighters Should Test Free Agency Now While They Still Have the Option to Negotiate

HOLLYWOOD, FL - JUNE 27: Lorenz Larkin walks back to his corner between rounds against Santiago Ponzinibbio of Argentina in their welterweight during the UFC Fight Night event at the Hard Rock Live on June 27, 2015 in Hollywood, Florida. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

The Ultimate Fighting Championship reportedly is looking to downsize their massive roster, Bellator is looking to scoop up free agents, and WSOF is on life support. What a time to be a damned fight fan, right?

What about the fighters themselves!? It must be even crazier to be a mixed martial artist in 2017.

Some fighters will stay loyal to their respective organizations, regardless of what they paid to fight — but these cage warriors need to test free agency now and get as much money as possible out of their short careers, before it’s too late.

What’s too late?

The answer is when fighters are out of options; when one company has a monopoly on the sport of mixed martial arts — that is “too late.” Some might even argue that fighters don’t have many opportunities available to them at the present moment, but the truth is things could be much worse.

Right now, fighters have the option of testing ‘free agency’ at the conclusion of their contracts if they want to see how much they are worth to other organizations but, the not-so secret about that is the promoter always has the right to match any deal offered to any of their fighters. There may fighters that aren’t bound to those terms, but I’ve yet to hear of such a case.

Things could get ugly now if a fighter wanted to leave a fight organization, but the promoter didn’t want to waive their right to match — a fighter (like happened to Rampage Jackson & Eddie Alvarez) may wind up on the shelf as prime months of their career tick away, with not a single dime earned and not a single bout fought.

Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson at this very moment is being held hostage by Bellator, he’d probably tell you that himself if you asked him.

But, as I said before, it could be MUCH worse.

Imagine a world where the UFC reigns supreme with a downsized roster, Rizin fizzled out, WSOF is long gone, WME-IMG acquired a fraction of Bellator MMA’s roster and Scott Coker is now the head honcho in Vegas after a haggard Dana White had finally had enough.

It’s not so crazy to hypothesize, because that’s exactly what happened to the professional wrestling industry (except Vince McMahon is immune to becoming haggard) in the early 2000s. A few years earlier, in the late 90s, a disgruntled professional wrestler had a choice of the World Wrestling Federation, World Championship Wrestling, Extreme Championship Wrestling, various wrestling promotions in Japan, and even Mexico to find work.

A few years later? The World Wrestling Federation (renamed World Wrestling Entertainment in 2002) was the only promotion that was able to stay afloat, and as a result they held a monopoly on the entire professional wrestling industry after purchasing their competition. Even the promotions that survived couldn’t afford to pay talent their worth, and hundreds were left unemployed. Disgruntled professional wrestlers in the early 2000’s was an unemployed athlete.

Let’s Not Get Ahead of Ourselves Now…

I’m not saying that the sport of mixed martial arts is doomed, or that fighters need to be worried for their immediate futures, or even that those aforementioned companies will go out of business, rather, it is a possibility that all of those things could happen. If a life-long fan of professional wrestling, Ted Turner, backed World Championship Wrestling as a Billionare owner and that company went out of business, then no combat sports organization is too big to fail.

Fighters should make every penny they can now — before it’s too late and they no longer have an option to negotiate with other organizations.

Fighters that are on the fence about testing free agency would be wise to follow in the footsteps of those who have already announced or begun the process, such as Lorenz Larkin, Ryan Bader, and ‘Irish’ Joe Duffy, and former 2-division WSOF Champ David Branch.

As MMAFighting’s Marc Raimondi wrote in December:

Free agency can go different ways, too. Bellator released its lightweight champion Will Brooks in May 2016 and the UFC scooped him up. Alistair Overeem and Aljamain Sterling were both free agents this year and re-upped with the UFC, presumably for better deals. Same thing for Marlon Moraes, who spurned the UFC to re-sign with World Series of Fighting for presumably a pretty penny.

While it’s true that there is no real ‘free agency’ in mixed martial arts, it is better than the forced unemployment that would be sure to follow should any company monopolize the sport.

Milk those dirty bastards for all they are worth, Lorenz, because you know they would do the same to you if the tables were turned!

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