Historic MMA Rivalries, part 4: UFC vs. Fighters

Throughout history management and labor have always butted heads. When it comes to the UFC and their fighters, they too hold a history of disagreements.

While no UFC contract dispute may come close to having an impact on society like the Homestead Strike, the contract fighters are asked to sign with ZUFFA, LLC are constantly making the news. “Zuffa” is an Italian word meaning “brawl”, however some of the UFC’s biggest and nastiest brawls have actually been outside the Octagon over their now somewhat infamous contracts.

Randy Couture and Jon Fitch’s quarrels with Dana White and the UFC became front page news this year. Tito Ortiz and Dana’s public war of words appeared in MMA discussion forums as much as UFC commentator, Mike Goldberg uses his “Pedro Rizzo 85 mph baseball bat” reference.

However, these instances represent merely a few of the more recent public squabbles that the UFC has endured with their fighters.

When you become the biggest game in town, you have the luxury of running your business with a “My way or the highway philosophy.” Matt Lindland and B.J. Penn both suffered from this business practice in 2004 and 2005.

At the UFC 54 weigh-ins “The Law” wore a T-shirt featuring an unauthorized sponsor logo on the front. Sportsbook.com had not been listed as one of Lindland’s sponsors for the fight and he threw on the shirt after he weighed in.

A few weeks following UFC 54, Lindland was cut by the UFC. It appeared one of, if not the, world’s top middleweights received his walking papers due to a T-shirt.

Lindland believed his release stemmed from the UFC’s agreement with casinos to prohibit gambling sponsors. However, the Team Quest guru stated that there had been nothing in his contract that forbids the sponsor at weigh-ins.

After he upset Matt Hughes for the UFC Welterweight crown in January of 2004, B.J. Penn’s next battle would be in the court room. The Hawaiian native signed a contract with K-1 and the UFC stripped him of the belt. A legal battle ensued with both parties claiming the other had been in the wrong.

Penn claimed his contract with the UFC expired after he fought Hughes and filled an injunction to prevent the UFC 50 Hughes vs St. Pierre bout (made to determine a new champion) from taking place. The UFC argued that after winning the title, Penn’s contract should had been automatically extended. As a result of signing with K-1 the UFC declared Penn vacated the belt and breached his contract.

The motion to stop the Hughes vs. St. Pierre fight was denied and Hughes won the vacant title. Penn went on to fight for K-1 and cut ties with the UFC.

However, Penn and the UFC came to an agreement at the end of 2005 and in March of 2006 Penn was back in the Octagon facing GSP for a shot at Matt Hughes’ title.

While Penn, Couture and Fitch mended fences with the UFC, Matt Lindland remains on the outs with the Las Vegas based promotion.

What can we take from this? Could it be that the UFC usually comes out the better in these situations? Do the fighters eventually prove a point they may be trying to make? Who knows? No matter how fans and critics shape, digest and critique these clashes, the final diagnosis always tend to be subjective at best.

In the end the question that constantly seems to linger over these situations would be this: Is this a legitimate complaint made on one’s behalf aimed toward the other or just a glorified pissing contest between the two?

Just know that no matter what anyone’s opinion may be, this rivalry never loses any steam.

Editor’s note: This article is part 4 of a 5-part series entitled: Historic MMA Rivalries written by PRO MMA staff writer and host of THE INFO, Matt De La Rosa. To view parts 1-3 of this series go HERE.

-Matt De La Rosa

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