UFC FOLLOWING NFL BLUEPRINT, OVEREEM HAS TO PLAY BALL

UFC FOLLOWING NFL BLUEPRINT, OVEREEM HAS TO PLAY BALL

–Kenny Rice

If there is any football player thinking if he is cut by the NFL there is another place to earn a good living, gain notoriety and possibly parlay this into a job outside the gridiron someday, it ain’t going to happen. Simple as that. And with the United Football League dicey at best to kick off a third season, even marginal players or veterans trying to hang on, know they have to go all out for that last coveted roster spot in these next few precious days after the lockout ended.

Bottom line is just that, the bottom line. The NFL is the example for all pro sports. They rarely suffer foolish behavior– goofy yes, hello Ochocinco¬† and TO– but they don’t have to tolerate prima donna attitudes. Even those with something still to offer like future Hall of Fame receiver Randy Moss, can find themselves looking for a team if they become or are perceived to be difficult and on the decline.

More than baseball, certainly more than the NBA, the UFC seems to have followed an NFL blueprint in setting up their game plan. I don’t know that Zuffa ever discussed these things with say Jerry Jones, and it’s doubtful they would, but look at how they have handled recent situations so, well, NFL-esque.

Nate Marquardt gets fired from the UFC for failing a drug test with an overload of testosterone. Now the Strikeforce Heavyweight Champ Alistair Overeem was sent packing, as he tells us this week on Inside MMA for a conflict over wanting to delay his next fight in the Grand Prix Tournament because of injuries.

But wait there’s more, and this is the most glaring bit. He only has one fight remaining on the contract and this is the semi-final round, obviously a championship fight could take place with a negotiation coinciding. Enter the power of the UFC. It is doubtful this would’ve come to the forefront if Strikeforce was still a separate entity, but since being absorbed by Zuffa this year one can only imagine what UFC boss Dana White said behind closed doors when he saw this kind of deal.

And it is more than happenstance that this week Overeem’s brother Valentijn and former Strikeforce champ Marloes Coenen, all Dutch based Golden Glory teammates, were all fired, released, let go–pick the semantic. Clearly a message fired not just over the bow but taking out the mast with it. The ship has sunk if you play head games with the UFC, there is no other organization in MMA with the money and prestige, just as it is with football and the NFL.

Perhaps watching the fall of Fedor Emelianenko, who did everything in the sport but ever fight in the UFC, incited Overeem to tell us on Inside MMA that he wants to fight in the UFC where the best fighters in the world are. Given that Zuffa is running the Strikeforce show now, it’s surprising he hasn’t put it together and that he apparently has closed all doors there. Then again, maybe he too is sending a different message to White and Zuffa that his problem is with Scott Coker, still the man at the top of the Strikeforce letterhead.

Overeem is a sharp guy. He can make good money by continuing to fight in Japan and Europe in MMA and K-1, but during the interview there is the feeling he knows for a real legacy it comes back to what Fedor’s camp never understood–the UFC is the watershed. I believe him when he says he wants to be at that level. And looked at how the UFC was setting records for attendance and TV without Fedor when he was at his peak.

What has been learned, or should be by fighters in the organization now, is there is a zero tolerance policy that isn’t all about drug use, it’s about not being able to fulfill an agreement to participate. That can mean a failed drug test, or a quirky contract loophole in the middle of something big, both deny fans a chance to see the fighter and that just doesn’t fly in the UFC, just like in the NFL. It’s about being able to perform, guarantees are numbered.

In 2007 one of the true pioneers in establishing the UFC and MMA in the U.S., Randy Couture had to go through a self imposed year of exile after clashing with Zuffa over a contract. That alone should have been foreshadowing to anyone in the world not to push the envelope with an operation so entrenched in the sport most of the world refers to all of MMA as the UFC, the tissue paper to Kleenex, so great has been the branding.

It can be debated about how much fighters are worth in the UFC, that some are limited in their earnings, etc. But there is no getting around how well-oiled the machine is that has made it a pay-per-view giant that has been the only sports organization with rapid growth in the last decade to make their own deal in licensing and video distribution without benefit of a major TV network, unlike the NFL or anyone else.

If Overeem and his United Glory mates hope to ever have a shot in the UFC perhaps they can make a plea, that in their country football means soccer, and now that they are learning about this American NFL, they understand one has to play ball on their terms.

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