Over twelve hours ago, the unfortunate news that Jon Fitch and Christian Wellisch had been cut by the UFC broke and spread like wildfire across the internet. Since then, a lot more information has come out regarding the situation. Dana White and Jon Fitch have both given multiple interviews, and it appears we have at least partial answers to what happened, why it happened, and who else might be affected.
Jon Fitch explains what happened to USA Today.
It kind of started with the first merchandising agreement they tried to make us sign, basically (have us) give up all rights to everything that they could possibly come up for merchandising or selling: t-shirts, pool tables… anything. They wanted exclusive rights or unexclusive rights for a lifetime for a very small percentage.
We didn’t want to sign over to everything. We wanted to do merchandise piece by merchandise piece. So if they came to us with video games, or if they came to us with dolls, we did each one separately.
Well, a few days ago, they came to us with the video game agreement and it was for an exclusive deal for a lifetime. And there’s no money on that, we’re not getting paid anything.
But the way they brought that to us was, they told us, “Hey, we need a big favor, we need you guys to sign this stuff right away.”
We went back (to UFC) with our managers and said, “Why do you need this done right now? Can we negotiate it? Because we don’t feel comfortable with the terms.
The very next thing that came back to us was, “We need a yes or no answer on this. Either you guys are in or you’re out. If you’re not in, then you’re going to get cut.” And they went for all of us at AKA, pretty much.
As for White’s explanation, it appears to go much deeper than just a contract dispute over the video game.
We have chosen not to do business with this camp called AKA. These guys have never, ever, ever treated us like partners.
They’re always fighting over stupid, stupid (stuff) and negotiating over stuff that makes no sense. They’re negotiating like they’ve got Mel Gibson and this thing is the biggest movie ever being made. You know what I’m saying?
Now there’s rumors out there, I know, about, “It’s over a video game deal. It’s over the ancillary rights agreement. It’s over this, that.”
It’s over a lot of different things. It’s not one specific fighter or one specific thing. It’s about a lot of different things with a lot of these fighters.
Essentially, the UFC has declared war on Fitch’s camp, the American Kickboxing Academy (AKA), specifically trainer Bob Cook and AKA’s management company, Zinkin Entertainment. Apparently, the UFC and Zinkin Ent. have been butting heads for years, which is ironic since loyal UFC stars Chuck Liddell and Forrest Griffin are also managed by Zinkin. In fact, White told Kevin Iole that he once asked Chuck to tell Zinkin “back off.”
Why It Happened
If you ask Jon Fitch why it happened, he’s not entirely sure. He’s still in shock that it even happened at all, as many of us still are.
Dana White, on the hand, has a myriad of reasons why, including certain fighters and managers not willing to be “partners,” their lack of understanding how the UFC is trying to grow this sport, and the horrible economy.
In Iole’s story, White began by lashing out at Fitch.
“We’re looking for guys who want to work with us and not against us, and frankly I’m just so fucking sick of this shit it’s not even funny…Affliction is still out there trying to build its company. Let [Fitch] go work with them. Let him see what he thinks of those [expletives]. Fuck him. These guys aren’t partners with us. Fuck them. All of them, every last fucking one of them.”
He quickly changed his tune though regarding Fitch and the video game agreement in a radio interview with Carmichael Dave on 1140 KHTK in Sacramento.
“No, no, no. It has nothing to do with an agreement. It doesn’t have to do with Jon Fitch either. I like Jon Fitch. I’ve never had a bad word with Jon Fitch. The problem is with the idiots that run AKA. I won’t use any names; the idiots know who they are.”
He then shifted to the economy and their efforts to build the UFC.
“The economy is changing by the second. Every day when you wake up tomorrow, bad things are happening. Not just in the United States but all over the world. Television networks are in trouble. The sponsors who used to sponsor them are in trouble. Some of them are going out of business and the rest of them are cutting their sponsorships big time.
“Companies that have been around for hundred years are going out of business. It’s crazy. Banks are going under. And I’m in a situation now where I’ve got these guys — I’m trying to run a business — bro, I live on a plane 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That’s all I do is fly everywhere to try to build this company. And these guys think this thing is so big and these guys start negotiating all this stupid stuff like they’re Mel Gibson. No disrespect to Jon Fitch — I like Jon Fitch — (but) like we’re going to be doing the Jon Fitch swim line sometime soon? And then the clothing line.
“It’s insane. What I try to do — is we put together all of these things and we try to make everyone money. That’s the way that it works. But I’ve got these guys from AKA, these idiots, that don’t want to play. Listen, at the end of the day it’s not a big deal. The problem is because when something goes wrong in the UFC all the idiots from the media like to jump out and go, ‘Yeah, there’s something negative with the UFC. Let’s get out there and talk about it!’
Of course, the lifetime clause was sticking point in the negotiations that allowed this situation to quickly escalate from dispute to parting ways. Dana’s reaction to that? Look how much money he’s making now.
“What’s with this whole lives? Do you know how much Jon Fitch made for the Georges St. Pierre fight? Where the hell else could Jon Fitch go right now and make the money he made? He made $169,000 for that night for that fight. Where’s he going to make that kind of money in one night?”
Back to his interview with USA Today, Dana claims the video game had nothing to do with the release, since he doesn’t need Fiitch in the game to sell it. All the big names he needs have already signed on.
The video game deal? Yes, we have asked guys to sign an exclusive video game deal. And I haven’t had a problem with that at all. All the guys that I’m concerned with and care about — there’s only a certain amount of guys that make a difference in a video game. All those guys have done it; it has nothing to do with that.
Are people not going to buy the video game because Cain Velasquez, Josh Koscheck or Jon Fitch aren’t in the video game? No. All the guys that I needed to sign the deal, the guys that are my partners, have signed the video game deal for me.
Q: It’s the whole lifetime thing that seems to grate on some people. That’s an awfully long time to sign away your video game rights.
What people, though? I just told you two seconds ago the people that I needed have done it already, so it’s not an issue at all. If you hear Chuck Liddell coming and going, “They made me sign a video game deal,” I didn’t make him do (anything). I called and asked him and he did it. I don’t know who else would have a problem with it, when all the guys that I approached that I needed have already done it.
However, White may need Fitch in the game more than he’s letting on. Remember from a while back when news surfaced that Randy Couture was in discussions with EA Sports to develop a mixed martial arts video game to compete with the UFC’s? Since Randy has signed back on with the UFC, it’s unlikely he’s still in discussions with them, but that doesn’t mean EA isn’t going to move forward with the project. Recent rumblings point to Frank Shamrock possibly being attached now.
How does that game factor into this story? Fitch thinks his dismissal has a lot to do with it.
The American Kickboxing Academy welterweight standout explained that the situation for the urgency of the contract from the UFC might have stemmed from another company, EA Sports, putting out an MMA video game of its own. Apparently the UFC had promised all of its fighters exclusively to THQ, the makers of the upcoming UFC Undisputed 2009 game scheduled for release in spring of 2009.
“We were already promised to THQ by the UFC, even though none of us were under contract (for that), in order to save face, they had to force us to sign this thing.”
The bottom line is that the dispute appears to be stemming from the merchandising agreement.
[Fitch] also states that the new video game contract was partially due to the fact that competitors in the UFC were originally given a “merchandising” contract that was shot down after many fighters did not want to sign that either.
“It started with the merchandising agreement. The original merchandising agreement they sent out, it encompassed all avenues of all this stuff and everything that falls under merchandise, and they wanted to force us to sign that a while ago. (They wanted) all the guys in the UFC to sign these contracts blindly that gave them all of our rights, image, everything that they could find anyway to market or sell us.”
It doesn’t look like Fitch and Wellisch will be the only ones who are cut. Basically, all AKA fighters, except one, are on the outs with the UFC, and that includes Cain Velasquez and Josh Koscheck. White said Koscheck will still headline UFC Fight Night 16 since he gave Kos his “word” when Josh stepped in on short notice to fight Thiago Alves at UFC 90.
The exception? Mike Swick. Apparently, Swick called White personally to tell him he’s with him, as Dana told USA Today.
The only fighter that called me from AKA was Mike Swick. Mike Swick called me from AKA, that was it. And Mike Swick said, “Listen, I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t care what’s going on. I’m with you, I’m in business with you guys. You guys are my partners.” And I said, “I appreciate that, Mike. We look at you the same way.”
White did mention that if Fitch came to him personally, he would be willing to work things out, but it’s likely Fitch would still need to sign the agreement in order to do so.
AKA might not be the only camp on the outs with the UFC though. White wouldn’t mention names, but I’m quite certain will be finding out soon enough.
And you know what? This is more than just AKA. There’s other camps out there that we’re having trouble doing business with. And at the end of the day, this is a business. We run a business just like any other business. You come in, you do your job with your company and you get paid.
I’m not going to air that. We’ll see what happens in the future, and if the stuff comes out, it comes out. That up to them. I’m not going to out and air dirty laundry that’s all business stuff that we can handle behind closed doors.
At the end of the day, Dana White can have all the reasons in the world to explain why they’re taking this stance. He can spin it however he wants, but nothing he says makes someone signing the rights to their name and likeness away in perpetuity right, especially when it’s clearly not in that individual’s favor. Period. It’s unethical. Just because everyone else made the poor decision to sign it doesn’t mean the ones trying making the smart decision should have to.
I’m certainly not a lawyer, and I’m doubtful that someone would get a fair shake in court if they challenged the UFC on this without some sort of united front, but I find it really hard to believe that this agreement and ones like it could be deemed legal in the United States of America.
Not to get all patriotic on everyone, but this is the land of the free. How is it acceptable in such a place for someone to own someone else’s rights forever?
“Working for free and selling our rights away for lifetime, that’s a little different. We tried to negotiate five- or 10-year deals with them, but it wasn’t good enough. It was all or nothing. He wanted our lifetime. He wanted our souls forever.”
[UPDATE 11/20/08 4:35PM ET] – Sherdog.com is reporting talks have reopened between AKA and the UFC, although no further details are known.
Jon Fitch was released from the UFC on Wednesday, but a discussion has reopened with the promotion.
Bob Cook and Zinkin Entertainment, who manage Fitch and other fighters from the American Kickboxing Academy, told Sherdog.com on Thursday afternoon that talk has resumed with the UFC, but they would not comment on the exact nature of the discussion.
We’ll keep you posted on that. Also worth noting is that Jon Fitch appeared on Fight Network Radio today. Five Oz. once again pulled some interesting quotes.
Fitch on what really happened with Mike Swick.
“Dana is saying ‘Oh Swick said he doesn’t care what his manager said’ or whatever,” began Fitch. “No Swick has a special deal with the video game agreements and a some of this other stuff. A lot of these guys that he says he doesn’t have a problem with are guys that got special contracts along the way. They don’t have the same contracts as everybody else. They get special things, which is fine, and I’m not even asking for those things… The only thing that we stated and stated over time is that we don’t want to sign lifetime contracts.”
Fitch on the UFC’s strong arm tactics.
“(Dana White) said in the process of the threats that they were making about us signing this video game agreement,” he said. “He made those threats. ‘What are you going to do? Where are you going to go? Good luck trying to fight somewhere else.’ This was in the process of the negotiating. This is what he was saying to us.”
Fitch reveals his own management advised him to sign the agreement. (Wow, really?)
“He tries to blame this and put this off on management but my management was telling me to sign this video game deal. But out of principle, I didn’t. It’s on me, not on my management.”
Good for Fitch. Good for him standing up for what he believes in. I have a great deal of respect for that.