This article is part of our MMA Barometer series.
Over the last year, the competition to sign talent has heated up between Bellator MMA and the UFC. Each promotion has gained notable talent from the other, and it is difficult to determine who has the negotiation advantage at this point. Historically, the UFC has been the elite promotion which all fighters desire to join, but recently this has not been the case.
Ever since Quinton "Rampage" Jackson opted to move to Bellator, it seems that Bellator is much more of a threat to steal talent from the UFC. "Rampage" opted to move to Bellator because he said the money and incentives were better than what he was being offered by Dana White and company, and other fighters took notice of what he said. However, Rampage changed his tune after a few fights in Bellator and decided to rejoin the UFC, citing contract breaches by Bellator management. Even though he did not stay there, Jackson planted the seed for other fighters on the UFC roster to consider separate promotions.
The main issue that has closed the gap between the two promotions is the initiation of the UFC's exclusive Reebok sponsorship deal. Fighters are not allowed to wear other brands or logos on their clothes for the entire week leading up to a fight in the UFC, and they only get between $2,500 and $40,000 from Reebok for wearing the Reebok uniforms. This can cost some fighters a lot of money, as it has been well documented that certain fighters make in excess of $100,000 on individual sponsorships alone during a fight. Bellator does not have this rule, so some fighters see Bellator as a way to continue making their sponsorship money. Along with the sponsorship money, Bellator also has the ability to overpay mid-tier fighters because they have the financial backing of Viacom. This was the case when top-ten light heavyweight Phil Davis chose to sign a new contract with Bellator instead of staying with the UFC. Money is obviously a huge issue in where a fighter decides to sign a contract.
The major advantage the UFC has is their brand recognition. For most people, mixed martial arts is synonymous with UFC, so fighters are able to gain more fame by fighting in the UFC. Former Bellator champion Eddie Alvarez likely made the jump to expand his personal brand. Also, due to this brand recognition, the UFC is able to focus more on being about fighting instead of trying to make a spectacle of every event. This was a big reason Tamdan McCrory made the jump back to the UFC. McCrory said, in an interview with MMAMania.com, "I want to be back in the sport of MMA, not the MMA entertainment business." This is a big advantage for the UFC, and something Bellator probably hopes to mirror once they achieve more brand recognition.
A major change Bellator made in an effort to lure more talent is firing Bjorn Rebney and hiring former Strikeforce boss Scott Coker. Coker has built up a rapport with most former Strikeforce fighters, many of whom are now with the UFC. A lot of fighters prefer to deal with Coker instead of the brashness of Dana White, as was reportedly a factor in Josh Thompson's decision to leave the UFC to go to Bellator. At the same time, some fighters probably prefer White over Coker, but it is part of Bellator's efforts to get the upper hand on the UFC in negotiating with fighters.
Ultimately, the UFC is probably still the preferred destination for most fighters. It's "the big show" and the place all fighters have dreamed of ending up since starting their mixed martial arts careers. However, the gap is closing and it will be interesting to see if Bellator begins to have even more success in luring fighters away from the UFC.
As always, below is your MMA barometer with rising, falling, and check status fighters.
Newly signed middleweight prospect Tamdan McCrory reenters the UFC with a lot of momentum. The former Bellator fighter spurned the Bellator promotion for the UFC, opting to bypass a shot at the Bellator middleweight title in order to come to the UFC. After a five-year hiatus from mixed martial arts, McCrory signed with Bellator and won two fights in a row, both within the first round, before being granted his release to sign with the UFC. McCrory last competed in the UFC in 2009, when he was released after alternating wins and losses en route to a 3-3 record in the promotion. When he returned to mixed martial arts in 2014, McCrory resumed his old barnstorming fighting style that is fitting for a man nicknamed "The Barn Cat." McCrory has said he only returned to the UFC because he believes he can come back and "wreck house." Considering his last two fights in Bellator, that is a real possibility and it will be interesting to see how McCrory fares in the competitive UFC Middleweight division. Expect him to enjoy success early on against lower-tier adversaries, and eventually get to the point where he can compete against a top-10 or top-15 opponent.
Next Fight: Josh Samman, UFC on Fox: Dos Anjos vs. Cerrone 2 (December 19th, 2015)
They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and this is certainly the case with former UFC Lightweight title challenger Nate Diaz and the UFC. Diaz last fought in December of 2014 against current UFC Lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos, where Diaz lost a lopsided unanimous decision after weighing in about five pounds over the lightweight limit. At that point it was unclear which direction Diaz's career was headed, but it seemed to be the wrong one. However, after a year without a fight, Diaz has been thrown into a high-profile lightweight tilt against Michael Johnson (No. 5-ranked UFC Lightweight) on the December 19th card in Orlando. A win against Johnson will catapult Diaz back into title contention in the lightweight division. If Diaz shows up on fight night both motivated and in shape, he could be a difficult matchup for Johnson. Johnson has recently shown a propensity to keep the fight standing, which could be a problem against Diaz, who is known to have a suffocating volume-based approach to his boxing, Just ask Donald Cerrone, against whom Diaz landed 238 strikes in three rounds. If Johnson decides to go back to his wrestling roots, he will have to deal with the slick Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Diaz has showcased again and again over his career. Diaz has finished ten opponents in the WEC/UFC by way of submission, and Johnson could find himself in trouble on the ground whether Diaz is on the top or the bottom. Diaz finds himself in a great position to get back into title contention after a year away from the Octagon, and he has a good chance to defeat Johnson on December 19th.
Next fight: Michael Johnson, UFC on Fox: Dos Anjos vs. Cerrone 2 (December 19th, 2015)
Diego Sanchez finds himself in a similar situation to Nate Diaz where a long layoff seems to have put him in a better position than he was in after the last time he fought. Sanchez last fought in June 2014, where he won a controversial split decision over Ross Pearson that snapped his two-fight losing streak. Due to injuries, Sanchez has not competed since his contest with Pearson. In his return, Sanchez will drop to 145 pounds to pursue the UFC Featherweight title. The unranked Sanchez will have his first fight at featherweight against fourth-ranked Ricardo Lamas, and a victory could springboard him into title contention at the top of the division with the likes of Conor McGregor, Chad Mendes, Frankie Edgar, and Jose Aldo. This will be the fourth division Sanchez has competed in during his time with the UFC. He has competed at middleweight, welterweight, lightweight, and now finally featherweight. The big question mark is how Sanchez will react to the weight cut. He has expressed confidence in making the weight by pointing to Conor McGregor, who is much bigger than he is, and "The Nightmare" insists he will be more effective than usual with his size, reach, and wrestling come fight night in the featherweight division. His fight with Lamas will be in contention for Fight of the Night, as both fighters push forward and neither has any qualms about getting into a firefight in the Octagon. Plus, when is a fight with Diego Sanchez not exciting?
Next Fight: Ricardo Lamas, UFC Fight Night: Brown vs. Gastelum (November 21st, 2015)
Olivier Aubin-Mercier has looked dominant in his last three fights in the UFC. Since his loss to Chad Laprise in The Ultimate Fighter Nations Finale, Aubin-Mercier has won three fights in a row, with two of those wins coming by submission. Aubin-Mercier uses effective takedowns to enable him to utilize smothering top control which opponents find difficult to deal with. He grinds down the opposition and possesses a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu brown belt which becomes problematic for opponents as they tire from his top control. In his last fight against Tony Sims, Aubin-Mercier was able to secure six takedowns over the course of the fight. This talent will pose a problem for many lightweights especially because he is so athletic and technically sound. Look for Aubin-Mercier to get a chance to prove himself against top-fifteen competition in his next fight. At the young age of 26, it seems like Aubin-Mercier will only improve in the near future.
Next Fight: TBA
Junior dos Santos
Junior dos Santos will have been absent from the Octagon for over a year when he steps in to fight Alistair Overeem on December 19th. However, he is still the No. 2-ranked UFC Heavyweight after a close unanimous-decision victory over Stipe Miocic in December 2014. Dos Santos' only two losses in his UFC career have come against former UFC Heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez, so it is fitting that he has maintained his ranking. His fight against Overeem has been anticipated ever since "Cigano" was able to capture the heavyweight championship from Velasquez in 2011, but injuries and failed drug tests have derailed the fight on multiple occasions. This should be a thrilling fight between two of the most powerful and skilled strikers on the planet. Each fighter can end the fight in the blink of an eye, and the winner might only be one fight away from a title shot. Some people say dos Santos is not the same fighter he was before being mauled for five rounds on two different occasions by Velasquez, so this fight will be a good barometer of where dos Santos stands in the heavyweight division.
Next Fight: Alistair Overeem, UFC on Fox: Dos Anjos vs. Cerrone 2 (December 19th, 2015)
Ever since Cain Velasquez lost his title to Fabricio Werdum in Mexico, his camp has insisted the main reason for the loss was the elevation in Mexico City. It is well documented that Velasquez went to Mexico City only about two weeks before his title defense, and Werdum lived and trained there for months. Velasquez is famous for his limitless gas tank and his ability to push harder than any other heavyweight in the world for an entire five-round fight. Early on in the fight, it was obvious he was tired and facing a fresh opponent. Velasquez was ultimately submitted in the third round. His coach, Javier Mendez, maintains that Velasquez was in typical great shape before leaving for Mexico, but he says after the first takedown by Velasquez it was obvious the elevation was having a significant effect on his stamina. The UFC seems to believe this narrative as Velasquez will get his rematch with Werdum, most likely not at elevation like the fight in Mexico City. For now, nobody has reason to doubt the camps reasoning for his sub-par performance, so expect the Cain Velasquez of old to show up to regain his heavyweight title.
Next Fight: Fabricio Werdum, TBA
Erik Silva has a bizarre fight history in the UFC. He is 6-5 in his UFC career, but the oddity in his record is every one of his wins has come in the first round. This is a significant problem for Silva because every fight that has made it past the first round has resulted in a loss. Silva's lack of a gas tank will make it very difficult for him to find success against top-tier opponents. He has shown flashes of brilliance, like when he dropped Matt Brown twice in the first round, but ultimately Silva has fallen short against opponents ranked in the top fifteen. Most recently, he had a two-fight winning streak snapped when lost a unanimous decision to Neil Magny while looking sluggish in the final two rounds. Silva must make changes to his training to increase his cardio, or he runs the risk of his opponents strategizing to take him into deep water in order to defeat him when his conditioning fails. Perhaps Silva should adjust his strategy and take a more measured approach in the first round. He has enough experience where he should know how to conserve his energy in order to be effective at the end of a fight. If Silva's next fight is against an opponent with above-average cardio, he will almost certainly find himself in a similar position as the Magny fight.
Next Fight: TBA
Even though he lost a controversial split decision to Chris Kelades in his most recent fight, Beal's stock is falling as he continues to fight in the featherweight division. Beal was undefeated as a bantamweight, and then he made the curious decision to drop to featherweight where, presumably, he believed his size would give him an added advantage. However, the weight cut has not been kind to Beal and he has lost his last two fights by decision, while looking noticeably sluggish and less effective as the fight progresses. In his last contest against Kelades, Beal dominated the fight in the first round. Even though it seemed like he won the second round too, he was noticeably slower and it seemed like Kelades was still fresh. This could have influenced the judges to score the second and third rounds for Kelades. Beal did not have a history of gassing out at 135 pounds, so that points to the weight cut affecting his cardio. It would be in Beal's best interests to move back up to the bantamweight division, where he possesses an undefeated record. Beal is on a two-fight losing streak, and if he stays at featherweight there is a good chance that streak will continue. The only way to remedy the negative effect of the weight cut would be if Beal made changes to his nutrition so he did not have to cut as much weight during the week leading up to the fight. However, Beal's nutrition may be immaterial, as it will be difficult for fighters making big cuts to rehydrate once intravenous rehydration is outlawed at the beginning of October.
Next Fight: TBA
The performance-enhancing substance saga is finally over for Anderson Silva. The Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) finally handed down his suspension for his positive tests leading up to and following his bout against Nick Diaz. Silva is now suspended for a year, retroactive to his last fight. This makes it so Silva will not be eligible to fight until January 2016, and because of this suspension he has been removed from both the pound-for-pound list and the top fifteen of the UFC Middleweight division. Along with losing his ranking, Silva will be on the wrong side of the age of 40 if he returns to the Octagon. Silva is undoubtedly still a top-ten fighter in the middleweight division, but he probably no longer has the physical ability to be the middleweight champion. Along with age, the question has to be raised of whether this was the first time Silva has used performance enhancing drugs. If he has used them more than once, then it will be very hard for Silva to even come close to being as effective as he used to be as a fighter (see: Vitor Belfort), but as fans of mixed martial arts we all like to believe the greatest UFC mixed martial artist ever only used PEDs in order to speed up recovery from the broken leg he suffered against current middleweight king Chris Weidman. Hopefully Silva comes back and makes me eat my words by capturing the middleweight strap, but at this point in his career it is unlikely that will happen.
Next Fight: TBA