It’s a brave—and somewhat bewildering—new world of mixed martial arts.

Last week, in a move that blindsided the MMA community, the UFC severed ties with 16 members of its fighting roster. The resulting shockwave is still being felt as we try to make sense of the unprecedented decision. One can only imagine the surprise and dismay of the fighters who were tapped out, especially those we all felt had performed at or above the UFC’s standard. The big question, of course, is: what will become of these 16 castoffs?

It’s a rare time in MMA, one in which a wide variety of opportunities exist for displaced fighters. However, none of these opportunities is without a mark of uncertainty, complicating the decisions of the unemployed, even those with a high market value. No matter what, all 16 are in for a big pay cut along with their move to smaller shows. But in which direction should these newfound free agents look to minimize the damage and reboot their careers toward a promising future?

Just hours after the big cut, Cage Warriors CEO Graham Boylan rolled out the welcome mat to these jobless fighters via social media channels, saying, “Any fighters needing a new home after todays news contact me I can keep u busy keep the faith guys its a work in progress. U know where I am.” The obvious choices to land with the successful overseas promotion are Che Mills, Terry Etim and Paul Sass. These three fighters all hail from the United Kingdom and began their careers there. European fighters Vladimir Matyushenko and Simeon Thoresen might also entertain the Cage Warriors proposal.

For fighters in the United States, there are a number of possibilities. The World Series of Fighting has already expressed an interest in Jon Fitch, and he’d certainly give the new promotion some star power on which to build. Since WSOF offers some of the best non-Zuffa competition around, other high-level fighters like Jacob Volkmann and Mike Russow might look to fall in with the Las Vegas upstart. However, there’s some risk involved here, as WSOF hasn’t yet stabilized as a viable promotion. After taking over a year to get off the ground, the promotion has now gone almost four months without an event, a less than comforting thought for prospective fighters.

There are some more established options, but they are not without a downside. Most regional promotions offer limited competition and even more limited fight purses. However, fighters like Jay Hieron, Josh Grispi and Jorge Santiago, who’ve struggled lately in their careers, might be inclined to consider one of these regionals. Hieron could revert to Legacy Fighting Championship if Bellator doesn’t take him back into its fold. Grispi might consider resetting his career with a newer promotion like Resurrection Fighting Alliance. And the fast-rising Championship Fighting Alliance would be a nice fit for the Florida-based Santiago.

A couple long-distance relocations are probable. Motonobu Tezuka may look to bid on a spot in the ONE Fighting Championship’s bantamweight division. If that fails, he should certainly have his old job with Pancrase on which to fall back. Finland’s Thoresen might consider a return to his own neck of the woods as well, assuming he doesn’t opt for Cage Warriors. The nordic scene has become an MMA hotbed with burgeoning promotions like Royal Arena, Botnia Punishment and Superior Challenge providing a nice stage for rising talent.

At least two fighters from the list could take a big step backwards: Tachi Palace vet Ulysses Gomez and southern California’s C.J. Keith. If Gomez is willing to move back to bantamweight, both he and Keith have a shot at WSOF, with its 135-pound division still featuring a rather shallow pool of talent. If not, the 5-foot-5 bouncer, Gomez, could find himself struggling for competition in a lesser regional—or looking internationally. Keith, with his flimsy resume, could fall even farther down the ladder to a local promotion, should WSOF pass him by.

Last but not least for these fighters, there’s the toughest tournament in sports—Bellator MMA. Nearly all of these sixteen UFC castoffs are within reach of a Bellator contract, and this certainly marks their best chance of staying relevant while minimizing the financial impact of the cut. It would be surprising if Bellator hasn’t already put some kind of offer in front of Jon Fitch, though the promotion claims its not interested in him. And given Bellator’s recent inclination toward eastern Europe, Vladimir Matyushenko—barring retirement—can expect a call as well. A shortage of submission artists in Bellator could see fighters like Paul Sass and Mike Stumpf being worth Bjorn Rebney’s time of day. And the still young Wagner Prado could become competition for guys like Emanuel Newton, Attila Vegh and Christion M’Pumbu in Bellator’s light heavyweight division.

The UFC releases still seems so drastic, and according to most sources—and UFC President Dana White—there’s no end in sight. Future UFC downsizings could be on an even larger scale. It’s difficult to imagine a net benefit from such sweeping executions, but we can hope that at least some of these ousted warriors will find new fortune in a new promotion, be it rival, regional or international.

As the orphaned 16 attempt to find their places in the ever-changing picture of mixed martial arts, they have at least one thing going for them. They’re fighters. They already know that cuts heal and that there are no sure things in life, as in the cage. Adversity truly is their best sparring partner.

Who knows, maybe a couple of these guys will take after Brock Larson and start promotions of their own. Or make a run in politics. After the smoke clears and the dust settles, it’s nice to know there are options, however uncertain they may be.

Update: It was recently revealed that Jacob Volkmann has signed with World Series of Fighting.

Photo: Jon Fitch (Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog)

About The Author

Robby Collins

Robby Collins considers himself a johnny-come-lately to the sport of MMA. He was introduced to it less than three years ago but has since delved into the sport at all levels. As an aspiring fiction writer, Robby adapted his skills to promote his latest passion and landed with The MMA Corner by way of personal initiative and auspicious timing. Robby has dabbled in karate and wrestling, and is currently learning to kickbox.

  • Chris

    The WSOF just signed a deal with NBC Sports, that’s where I would want to go if I was a fighter. National TV exposure, and Ray Sefo actually knows what it’s like to fight for a living. Jacob Volkmann signed today, and Ray said they were in discussions with Jon Fitch, so I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of these fighters make their way over there.

    • Chris, WSOF is a promotion with potential and I’ve been following them since day one. But myself and others were disappointed after they finally got out of the gates only to stumble in getting a 2nd show put together. That said, WSOF has a lot of talent signed on and that side of things is promising.