No matter how you slice it, the death of EliteXC is a horrible thing for the mixed martial arts industry. While I firmly believe the company deserved to go under for attempting to fix the Petruzelli/Slice fight, it should still be very clear to everyone that fighters are going to suffer as a result of it.
The UFC now has complete control over the salary structure of the entire industry; they can dictate what they're going to pay and when they're going to pay it, and contracted fighters don't have much choice in the matter. They can either sign a deal on Zuffa's terms, or they can go out and try to get as much money as possible from one of the smaller companies around the world.
There will be fewer jobs available, which means that people who aren't in the UFC (and even non-stars who ARE in the UFC) will have a tough time making rent every month.
There are bright spots to Elite's demise, though.
First and foremost is the death of the notion that Kimbo Slice is an excellent mixed martial arts fighter. Seth Petruzelli likely ended this argument with his knockout win over Slice at the final EXC show, but the fact that nobody else in America will promote Slice as a legitimate mixed martial artist will be the final nail in that coffin. This is not to say that nobody will sign Slice, because someone assuredly will; I'm simply saying that nobody else will try to promote him the way that ProElite did.
Secondly, we now have a chance to see a few more "dream fights". Any time a promotion folds, there's an abundance of talent being released and signed by other companies, and this is no exception. As of this Friday, all talent under contract with EliteXC will be free agents, and they'll be ripe for the picking.
I've talked to a few people associated with fighters from EliteXC, and I've got a pretty good grasp on who Zuffa is interested in and who they aren't. All I can say at this point is that you're going to see a lot of guys sign with Zuffa who you never thought you'd see in the UFC.
In the spirit of this new free agency season, I thought I would take a look at the top five soon-to-be-former EliteXC fighters who Zuffa should target. Inclusion on this list isn't an indicator of a deal being done or even close to being done. These are simply the five fighters who I'd personally like to see in the UFC and who, if signed, could help expand Zuffa's bottom line.
1. Gina Carano
It's obvious that the Kimbo Slice freak show won't be finding its way to the UFC any time in the near future, which means that Miss Carano is the biggest EXC asset that Zuffa could possibly sign.
Dana White has been adamant about not using female fighters in the past. Before EXC opened up, White believed that female fighters were unproven, that they couldn't draw. Carano has proved that theory wrong, but she (and the rest of the good female fighters) have been under contract to ProElite, so there was no point in even attempting to launch a women's division.
Now that Gina Carano is available, launching a UFC women's division is an absolute no-brainer.
Not only is Carano a proven ratings draw and television star, but Zuffa has also been handed a ready-made PPV fight: Carano vs. Cyborg. This fight was the "ace in the hole" that EliteXC officials were holding while attempting to put on their first PPV event in early 2009, but that ace in the hole is now available to anyone who wants it.
Dana White needs to overcome his notions about female fighters, because Carano is a genuine star and she will draw money for his company.
The Ideal Debut Fight: Gina Carano vs. Christiane Cyborg
2. Frank Shamrock
There are few men in this industry with as much understanding of how to draw money in combat sports than Frank Shamrock.
All it takes is just one glance at one of his YouTube videos hyping up his fight with Phil Baroni to see that Shamrock understands that, first and foremost, mixed martial arts is a business. There's no point in putting a fight together that fans won't pay to see, and Shamrock is an absolute master at making you pay to see him fight.
The idea of Frank stepping into the octagon to take on his fake brother Ken probably isn't appealing to hardcore fans, but it most certainly is with casual viewers. Both men understand the fight-selling mentality of pro wrestling, where you either exaggerate an existing story or create an issue out of thin air that will make fans want to buy your fight.
There are few greater stories than two brothers with a heated past meeting in a fight to settle the score. Casual fans likely don't know that Frank and Ken aren't really brothers, and I wouldn't expect Zuffa to tell anyone who doesn't already know. The hype for this fight will be so strong with mainstream fans that it will be able to easily main event a pay per view show.
Not only that, but a victory over his brother on a UFC pay per view would make Frank an instant superstar and a contender for Anderson Silva's belt in the eyes of mainstream fans. The company is desperate for people who can main event a show with Silva, and Shamrock is the kind of guy who can help elevate Silva even further up the ladder because of his ability to sell a fight.
The Ideal Debut Fight: Ken Shamrock
3. Nick Diaz
Like his younger brother Nate, Nick Diaz is grating, arrogant and has the personality of your local high school bully. But like his brother Nate, Nick Diaz knows how to be a superstar. He understands that fighting is only 50% of the game, and in order to truly be great, you have to be able to sell a fight. You have to be someone that people either want to see succeed, or you have to be a guy that people want to see beaten and humbled.
Diaz has embraced the role of the bad guy, which makes him a valuable addition to the UFC's welterweight division. A Nick Diaz vs. Georges St. Pierre fight would do massive business in Canada.
I realize this one is a long shot, but I'd like to see a season of The Ultimate Fighter with The Diaz Brothers coaching opposite teams. The two brothers would utterly terrorize every single fighter in the house regardless of the team they're on, and a fight between the two would be awesome. And by "awesome," of course, I mean "a complete and utter train wreck."
It would be loads of fun, though.
The Ideal Debut Fight: Matt Hughes
4. Robbie Lawler
I include Robbie Lawler on this list mostly because of the exposure he receieved on CBS. He's a good fighter, but I can't imagine that anyone would consider him a real threat to Anderson Silva.
The CBS exposure, however, makes Lawler a no-brainer, because he's more well-known than at least 75% of the UFC's current middlweight division. I think the same goes for Jake Shields, but only to a certain extent; Shields comes off as vanilla and boring, and there are enough boring personalities on the UFC roster already.
With Lawler, you're getting a good talent and former UFC fighter who has enjoyed fantastic exposure on network television. He's also the EliteXC middleweight champion. Depending on what happens with the assets of ProElite, you could bill this as yet another title unification match, a chance for Anderson Silva to aquire another belt and prove his dominance once again.
The Ideal First Fight: Anderson Silva
5. Antonio Silva
If Brock Lesnar defeats Randy Couture to become the UFC Heavyweight Champion and then overcomes Antonio Rodrigo Nogiuera to solidify the top of the UFC heavyweight division, it will mean more much than just a pro wrestler coming into the MMA world and dominating.
A Lesnar victory would signify a changing of the guard, a movement towards larger, athletic heavyweights. The division has long been dominated by guys weighing 225 pounds, but we're now seeing guys like Lesnar and Shane Carwin on the rise, men who must cut weight to make the 265lb top-end weight limit.
Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva is a heavyweight in that mold. He's a guy who, like Lesnar, should technically be a superheavyweight. Since the superheavyweight division is non-existent in North America, Silva is required to cut weight to make 265 pounds, which means that he'll step in the cage at anywhere from 275-290 pounds. That weight gives him a weight advantage of 40-70 pounds over your average heavyweight fighter, and that kind of weight advantage cannot be discounted.
Silva didn't enjoy the same kind of CBS exposure as Robbie Lawler and other champions did, so he'd need to be given a few journeyman fights before put up against upper level talent. I'd love to see him fight Shane Carwin, for example, but Silva beating Carwin only serves to stop Carwin's rise before it really begins, and Carwin beating Silva means nothing money-wise because Silva isn't a known commodity. If you bring him in and put him against a guy like Cheick Kongo, for example, a win would mean quite a bit more without damaging another prospect you are about.
Silva is currently suspended for a year due to a positive test for the steroid Boldenone. I've spoken with many people in the industry who believe that Silva is actually innocent, although few believe the decision will be reversed. Regardless, I believe Dana White will attempt to sign Silva as soon as he's allowed; the UFC heavyweight division is considered to be one of the weak points of the company, and White do everything in his power to shore it up. Signing Bigfoot would be a great first step.
The Ideal Debut Fight: Cheick Kongo