In the past couple of years, MMA fighters becoming “free agents” have become more and more common. In the past, before the influx of TV networks signing contracts with MMA organizations, it was either you made it to the UFC, or you fell by the wayside. With Bellator and WSOF making moves on the regular, and even Glory Kickboxing getting into the mix a little, that is no longer the case. Fighters now have options and can control their own destiny as to where they want to go.
We have already seen one elite fighter use his free agent-like status to his advantage. Gilbert Melendez agreed to a contract with Bellator in February, showing he wasn’t necessarily afraid to move on to another organization if the UFC didn’t give him what he wanted. Ultimately, Melendez re-signed with UFC.
Recently released UFC veteran Melvin Guillard actually expressed some relief after being cut by the UFC. He made a comment on The MMA Hour, saying that it was the best thing that could have happened to him at this point in his career. Why is that? Because now he can go sign with another company that suits his career needs.
It wasn’t too long ago that Bellator lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez made an attempt to sign with the UFC once his contract ran out. The battle became ugly and required some litigation before Alvarez finally returned to Bellator (pretty much against his will).
On the other side, there are multiple fighters (most released by the UFC) who had the chance to shop themselves around to other MMA organizations. Fighters like Jon Fitch (WSOF), Yushin Okami (WSOF), Cheick Kongo (Bellator), Rampage Jackson (Bellator), Pat Barry (Glory) and many others who are still upper-tier fighters have now found a new home to showcase their skills. These fighters are also using their notoriety to help build these rising organizations.
Now, the UFC will more than likely always be the premier organization in MMA. The thing is, now fighters don’t have to bank their career on making it to the UFC. They can now shop themselves around, find out what role they will play in the organization, and select the one that best fits their career needs.