COMMENTARY | The UFC implemented a ranking system for its weight divisions in Jan. 2013, but that hasn't stopped the company from releasing fighters who were ranked highly in its own system. Yushin Okami became the second mixed martial artist, the first being Jon Fitch, to lose his job with the UFC despite being considered one of the company's ten best fighters in his weight class.
There are some important similarities between Fitch and Okami at the time of their releases. Both had a grinding style that many casual fans didn't appreciate; neither was a big draw; they each won fights at a high percentage rate; they had fallen to the champion of their weight class, and were unlikely to ever battle for the belt again.
Okami, a longtime middleweight standout, went 13-5 in his UFC run, and 3-1 in his last four fights with the company. UFC president Dana White explained the release as necessary due to a limited roster, and Okami's lack of a signature win.
The UFC middleweight division has never been viewed as particularly stacked, and the company's desire to part with a top ten fighter seems questionable for a number of reasons. This release directly contradicts its own ranking system, and is in opposition to the UFC gathering all of the best fighters in the world in one organization.
The reality is Okami, as well as Fitch, were not valuable enough to put in feature spots, where they would have the opportunity to eliminate potential title contenders. Their contracts were also probably a lot higher than other fighters who had stronger drawing power. Business is business, but MMA is also a sport.
No legitimate professional sports league would release top talent because they weren't marketable. This is essentially what the UFC did. It wasn't a cost cutting measure necessary like when an NFL veteran is cut by a cash strapped team. The move eliminated one of the company's better fighters pretty much because he wasn't best for business, with no regard for what was best for the sport. The UFC's own ranking system tells its fans that he deserves to be with the company.
The UFC has increasingly been blurring the line between sport and entertainment, Jon Jones vs. Chael Sonnen being the biggest recent example. Moves like this make one question why they even have a ranking system if they're not going to adhere to it when making decisions. There's a line between sports and entertainment, and the UFC sent a message with this move that they're willing to cross it.
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