It was jarring to wake up Monday and see Jake Shields' name on the UFC's waiver wire. Shields has long been one of the most respected fighters in mixed martial arts and has beaten a who's who of some of the world's toughest guys.
But the UFC unceremoniously dumped him Monday, setting him free to sign with the promotion of his choice.
It's not much different than what happens to so many NFL veterans at this time of the year. Guys such as former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley had bloated contracts, and when their production dipped a bit, their teams had difficulty finding space for them under the salary cap.
The Steelers couldn't keep Woodley at what he was making with the level of production he'd shown the last three years, so they cut him. He signed with the Raiders not long after he was given his release, and now has a chance to make the Steelers regret their decision.
And, in essence, that's what happened with Shields. The UFC looked at a variety of factors and came to the conclusion that his time had come.
Many of UFC president Dana White's critics will paint it as strictly a financial decision, and to a degree, finances played a role. White told Yahoo Sports on Monday that Shields was due to make $120,000 in his next fight.
"We look at everything," White said. "Everything. Money has something to do with it. I'd be lying if I said it didn't. But that wasn't the only reason or the main reason. It was a part of the piece of the puzzle as we were doing our evaluation of him."
That kind of pay will hardly bankrupt the UFC, but it is on the high end of the scale for someone with little hope of getting into the title picture any time soon.
He's 35 and clearly on a downward trend. He was manhandled by Hector Lombard at UFC 171 last month, the first time that had ever happened.
He looked like he was going to be a gate keeper, and the UFC isn't too interested in gate keepers. It would rather give those jobs to young fighters it believes might develop into stars.
"Mixed martial arts is a young man's game," White said. "I like Jake Shields a lot. But let's be honest here: Where was he going in this [welterweight] division of animals we have? He's on the downswing, and he's never going to be the guy. His stand-up never improved. He hasn't really shown anything in his last couple of fights to make you go, 'Holy [expletive].' Right now, at this point, he's just another guy.
"All of the people who had been [expletive] and moaning to me about Jon Fitch when he was fighting for us and were complaining that he was so boring, they all got outraged when we cut him. And it's like the same thing now with Jake. Well, the media didn't even think he was good enough to be in the Top 10."
Shields is ranked 11th in the UFC's welterweight ratings, which means he's 12th when champion Johny Hendricks is included.
He won the two fights he had before losing to Lombard, though he would have gone into that bout on a four-fight winning streak had he not tested positive for a banned substance after a bout with Ed Herman at UFC 150 in 2012.
Shields won that bout on the cards, but it was turned to a no-contest after the PED test failure.
When the UFC looked at Shields, though, it saw the way Lombard beat him easily, throwing him around in the early part of the fight like had never been done before. Shields beat Demian Maia on a split decision in October, and that's a quality win, and he won a match over Tyron Woodley before that.
A win over Woodley is impressive, except many, including White, didn't feel he deserved the decision.
The point is that veterans with lengthy histories of success are no longer sacred cows immune from being cut, as they once were. It is, if you will, the NFL-ification of the UFC.
There are plenty of guys ranked in the welterweight division who Shields still could beat, but it's unlikely at this stage that he would be able to make a championship run. And given that, and given the chances he'd had, the UFC opted to let him go.
"We have 500 guys under contract, which is a lot more than we really need, and after each show, we really, really need to take a close look at what we do with guys," White said.
The bottom line in all of this is to win and, if possible, to look exciting doing it. Make people want to see you fight.
Because the minute the public becomes apathetic about you, you're gone the first time you give management an opening.
Shields gave them an opening with a series of lackluster fights and then a loss.
His pink slip should serve notice to the many 30-somethings in the UFC that it is no longer about what a fighter has done, but rather what he can still do that will have the biggest impact on his future.
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