When the UFC released 18 fighters last week with names like former welterweight title contender Jon Fitch on the list, the message was clear to all of the competitors currently under contract to the promotion.
There is no tomorrow, only today.
With the influx of numerous Strikeforce fighters including an entire women's division, plus 14 competitors from this season of the Ultimate Fighter who were all promised at least one more shot in the Octagon, UFC President Dana White said that their roster was bloated by more than 100 fighters under contract.
That means at the drop of a dime, a bad loss or just a poor performance and a fighter could be sent packing from the UFC.
Just days after the cuts were made, UFC 157 took place in Anaheim, Calif., and while there were plenty of fighters who didn't have to worry one ounce about their job being safe or not, there were a few certainly sitting on the bubble hoping it didn't pop.
Brendan Schaub headed into the weekend for his fight against Lavar Johnson coming off of two straight knockout losses. The former Ultimate Fighter finalist happens to be a heavyweight, one of the UFC's shallowest weight classes, but still a third loss would have been devastating and almost certainly going down by knockout would have found him waking up on the unemployment line.
So Schaub did what he had to do to get a win by any means necessary.
Time and time again, Schaub took Johnson to the ground and while he did aggressively look for a submission finish in the first round, the rest of the fight looked like a carbon copy of the initial five minutes—Schaub with the takedown and Johnson struggling to do anything from the bottom.
The crowd in Anaheim booed relentlessly, and Schaub was panned by just about everybody on Twitter for playing it safe and grinding out a three round decision, instead of giving the fans a show on Saturday night.
“I had to win tonight," Schaub said after the fight. "The last two fights I lost, I fought with my guts rather than my brains but tonight I needed to win this—so I used my brain. I know people were expecting a slugfest—but I’ve been working hard on my BJJ and thought I could sub him."
During the fight, Schaub and Johnson could be seen talking to one another and after it was over, the former NFL practice squad player revealed their conversation backing up his desperate need for a victory.
"At one point he was talking to me on the ground saying “Come on, dog, let’s stand and give the fans a show” and I said “Sorry, bro, I gotta win this fight” and he said “I hear ya”," Schaub stated.
There may not be a clearer case of the message being sent and received by a fighter in the UFC than what Schaub said in those two quotes. He didn't want to win—he had to win—and that made all the difference in his performance.
White didn't praise Schaub's strategy in the fight, but he also understood why the fight went down the way it did.
"Not the fight I expected, but Schaub's been knocked out a couple of times too and he was in there with a big puncher. He ain't going to run in there with his chin out," White stated after the conclusion of UFC 157. "I guarantee that was their game plan going in. Let's take this guy down, I'm sure they hoped they'd do more damage on the ground than they did, but it didn't work out that way."
Prior to Schaub's "win at all costs" performance, two featherweights battled it out on the same FX preliminary show with former Ultimate Fighter finalist Dennis Bermudez, defeating Matt Grice in a wild, three-round slugfest.
Bermudez and Grice battered each other back and forth for 15 full minutes, and the third round saw as much heart and determination as any fighter has shown in UFC history. Bermudez attacked once he saw an opening after tagging Grice with a good punch and proceeded to blast away at his opponent's head trying to get the finish.
Grice refused to go down, and with everything he had left he fought back winging punch after punch, trying to back Bermudez off. When the final horn sounded, Bermudez and Grice were both exhausted, but had nothing to be ashamed of after leaving it all in the cage that night.
Bermeduz walked out the winner, but following the event Dana White assured Matt Grice that his performance did not only win him a $50,000 "Fight of the Night" bonus, it will absolutely keep him in the UFC for another fight.
"When these guys came back after that fight, obviously (Matt Grice) was really upset, I said that's one of those fights that there's no loser," White explained at the UFC 157 post fight press conference. "There is no loser in that fight. When you turn on your TV set, or you put down your money, or you buy a ticket—that's what you expect to show up and see! As a fight fan, those are the kinds of fights you want to watch. Those are the kind of fights guys won't get cut. It's pretty simple."
Since the night ended, Grice has received continuous praise from fans and media alike for his gutsy performance while Schaub has had to listen to unrelenting criticism for "playing it safe."
The UFC job market is a tough place right now, and both Schaub and Grice understood that going into the night. The sad truth is both did exactly what they needed to do to make sure they'd be back in the Octagon again.
The cost of doing that?
Well for Schaub it means likely being relegated to a preliminary fight for his next bout because the UFC rarely rewards a fighter who grinds out a three round decision for his following trip to the cage. The win guaranteed Schuab will be back, but does it actually put him on a shorter leash now to perform big in his next fight?
Matt Grice had to sacrifice his body to make sure he'd be back again in the UFC, and that's obviously no small price to pay. Grice is now 1-2 in his last three fights in the UFC, and another loss would be devastating if he wants to stick around any longer than that.
Both Schaub and Grice live to fight another day, and that's all any UFC fighter can ask for right now. There is no way to plan for two fights down the road, or a five fight master plan—it's about right now, this moment and nothing else.
If they don't perform today, they won't be around tomorrow, and that performance to get a call back from matchmaker Joe Silva can come in many different ways. Brendan Schaub and Matt Grice are shining examples of that philosophy.
Damon Martin is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report and all quotes were obtained first hand unless otherwise noted.
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