The big news circulating today centers around Zuffa dishing out pink slips to former Strikeforce champ Marloes Coenen and heavyweights Valentijn Overeem and Jon Olav Einemo – Golden Glory fighters all and teammates to the freshly-cut Alistair Overeem. Never mind that Coenen was a titleholder five days ago, and that Alistair was a champ and coming off a win; when the axe swings, it swings, and whether the alleged dispute lies with unfavorable contracts, a conflict with management teams or threats of games of hardball, the fact of the matter is that no one is safe. The UFC is about a brand, not about any particular fighter. It’s always been so and likely always will. So, lest we all forget, here are a few friendly reminders that when all is said and done, Zuffa don’t play.
Jens Pulver – “Lil’ Evil” was the UFC’s inaugural lightweight champ, and with a knockout punch and charisma for miles, he fit the role of 155-pound king perfectly. But Pulver didn’t like the size of his paychecks when compared to rising star BJ Penn’s, so he demanded more money. Zuffa told him to hit the road in response. He did, and when a subsequent four-man lightweight tournament bore no fruit, the organization simply put the weight class on ice in a deepfreeze that lasted for years.
BJ Penn – With the UFC’s 155-pound division in stasis, the Hawaiian moved up to welterweight to choke out Matt Hughes and take his belt. But he soon felt he wasn’t getting enough love from the organization (Penn’s idea of “love” was fight offers against intriguing opponents), so he signed with K-1 in Japan, who had promised him big bouts and big exposure. The result was less than surprising: Zuffa stripped him of his championship title, and the ensuing legal battle (Penn filed suit to prevent them from awarding the belt to someone else) was pretty public and pretty ugly.
Murilo Bustamante – Hey, remember this guy? He was a badass Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt and MMA pioneer, and he sported enough power in his hands to KO Dave Menne and take his UFC middleweight belt. Bustamante was also enough of a stud to tap Matt Lindland out twice in one fight when Lindland challenged him for the title. Unfortunately, all that mojo meant nothing when it came time to renegotiate his contract and Bustamante wanted to hold out for more money. Like Pulver, he too was told to not let the Octagon door hit him in the ass when he walked out.
Randy Couture – Couture established early on that he had no problems bailing, as he ditched Semaphore Entertainment Group’s UFC for greener pastures (i.e.,Japan) back in 1998. He returned for Zuffa, though, and won titles in two divisions before retiring and returning and winning some more. But discord once more reared its ugly head, and in a bitter, public row, issues like money discrepancies, management disputes and the organization’s failure to sign Fedor Emelianenko were tossed about like allegations in a divorce. Zuffa fired back with both barrels, producing cashed checks and preliminary injunctions barring Couture from even appearing at other events. So, yeah, it wasn’t a like watching a romantic comedy, either.
Jon Fitch – In perhaps the ultimate flex of muscle, when Fitch refused to sign a lifetime contract releasing his likeness to the UFC for a video game, the organization unhesitatingly canned him – and threatened to can every one of his American Kickboxing Academy teammates to boot. It was irrelevant that Fitch had just lost a decision to champ George St.Pierre, and that he’d gotten his shot due to an impressive eight-fight win streak. All that mattered was that he wouldn’t play ball. Thankfully, Fitch signed on the dotted line soon after, which enabled teammate Cain Velasquez to later dethrone Brock Lesnar for the heavyweight strap.