by Damon Martin – MMAWeekly.com
Shockwaves were sent through the world of mixed martial arts on Wednesday night with the news that top welterweight fighter Jon Fitch had been dropped from the Ultimate Fighting Championship following a contract dispute.
Just hours after learning of his release, Jon Fitch spoke exclusively to MMAWeekly.com about the situation that led to the events that have now made him a free agent.
“This is like over the course of two days, three days,” Fitch explained about the release. “It had to do with Dana (White) calling my managers and immediately saying, ‘we need to get him to sign this contract’ and ‘it’s a big favor to me.’ Then we asked him, ‘Why do you need this contract signed?’
“Then we finally asked, after reading through the contract, why can’t we negotiate for different terms? Because it asked me for a lifetime contract for the video games, so they would have exclusive rights to use our likeness for these video games and we couldn’t go and do any other video games ever again in our lifetime.”
Before anything was decided, Fitch says his managers tried to re-negotiate a different deal from the lifetime contract, but an ultimatum was soon made.
“So basically we said we weren’t cool with that deal and why can’t we do it for five or 10 years? Why does it have to be a lifetime deal? Their next response was, ‘either you guys are in or you’re out’ and ‘sign this or you’re going to get dropped from the UFC,’” said Fitch. “So we hear that and we didn’t even think they were serious. Why would you want to release fighters at our level over something like that? Doesn’t make any sense.
“Within two phone calls, it got to ‘sign this or you guys are out.’”
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,” he explained.
He 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,” Fitch stated. “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.”
The Indiana born fighter went on to talk about his confusion following a tenure with the UFC that included nine fights, eight of which were wins, and a hard fought five-round decision loss to Georges St. Pierre that has garnered talk for “Fight of the Year.”
“This is seriously how they’re trying to treat fighters? Especially me? ” Fitch questioned. “I’ve never complained about them. I’ve always done my best for the UFC in a positive way. I’ve fought my ass off. I’m arguably the second best welterweight in the world. Yet they are still willing to release me, especially after my last fight?
“Just because I lost, it sure as hell wasn’t because of lack of effort or poor performance.”
The day started with Fitch confirming his next fight in January against Akihiro Gono, but just as quickly, he received a rescinded contract from the UFC for the bout agreement, and shortly thereafter, a voided promotional contract effectively releasing him from his fight contract.
“We got the bout agreement returned today and then later tonight they released me from my promotional contract. So at the moment, I’m no longer with the UFC. I’m unattached right now,” Fitch commented.
While the deal to sign a lifetime contract didn’t necessarily appeal to Fitch, he says it was the manner of which the deal was brought to the table that ultimately angered him the most.
“Honestly the contract wasn’t even that big of a deal,” he said. “We’re not getting paid for it anyways, and it’s not a deal where I’m actually going to get another deal with a video game agency. I don’t have that kind of pull, most guys don’t. It has nothing to do with that. It’s that they brought this contract to us and basically kicked in our front door, came in guns blazing, and said ‘sign this contract or you’re dead.’”
Regardless of the contract situation, Fitch feels the mistreatment is simply unacceptable and he is willing to move on if that’s what has to happen.
“I am the UFC’s bastard son,” Fitch said adamantly. “I mean, from the get go. I don’t even know how better to explain it. They didn’t have any regard or care for me whatsoever. There’s nothing more I want than to be the UFC champ, but something like this and they’re going to throw me away?
“I also have confidence in the fact that I’m one of the best fighters in the world. I’m going to find a home, and I’m going to find a way to make money no matter what the deal is. I will not be treated and talked to like a dog.”
A fighter with the talent of Jon Fitch will likely be snatched up by another promotion very soon, but still he is just shocked at the way everything happened.
“It’s not like I’ve been bad mouthing them or doing anything negative toward the UFC at all. All I’ve done is go out there and fight my ass off. I’m at a loss. I don’t even know what to think right now. I’m still kind of in shock.”