Jake Ellenberger (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)Long-Term UFC Contracts: Investing in the Future Brian McKenna April 18, 2014 Spotlight Business owners across the world will tell you that it is important to protect your assets. When it comes to mixed martial arts promotions, that means that they have to make sure that their fighters are securely under contract so that those fighters can’t go off and make money for someone else. Imagine if Jon Jones’ contract ran out after his upcoming fight at UFC 172 and he went off to sign with Bellator immediately afterwards. It would be a crushing move for the people at Zuffa. The promotion has put so much time and effort into making him the superstar and big draw that he has become. Jones’ departure would be devastating. All the time and effort spent would be wasted if he were to fall into the hands of the opposition. Likely with this in mind, the UFC has been signing elite fighters to big, long-term deals. Recently, however, the trend has changed. It’s no longer just the elite fighters who are receiving these lengthy deals. Now, it’s the guys who are on the fringe of the elite ranks. They, too, are being locked down to these deals. Take Jake Ellenberger, for example. The No. 5-ranked welterweight is on the outskirts of the elite class, and he just inked an eight-fight contract with the promotion. “The Juggernaut” joins Diego Sanchez, Tyron Woodley and Nate Diaz, a trio of fighters who flirt with title contention but don’t represent the same level of talent as many of the UFC’s earlier long-term signees like Anderson Silva and Ronda Rousey. The rationale for these moves from the company’s standpoint is comes in the form of the low risk, high reward potential of the deals. Should the Nebraska native Ellenberger lose several fights in a row, the UFC can decide that it wants to part ways and release him without penalty. But if the UFC locks him down and he explodes to become the next big thing, the promotion will likely still have him for a several more fights and gain a long window of time for negotiating an extension. Unlike football or basketball, MMA doesn’t feature a salary cap or big penalties for releasing a contracted athlete. The uniqueness of the situation makes it a clear win-win scenario for the UFC. It takes about two and a half to three years for these fighters to fight eight times. That’s more than enough time for the promotion to truly evaluate exactly how it wants to handle each fighter. It would be destructive for the UFC to prematurely release its talent or simply have short contracts for potential stars, just to watch those fighters walk away and sign with the competition when they’re capable of demanding more money. Most mixed martial artists want to spend their careers fighting inside the Octagon. That’s a luxury that the promotion has created for itself over time. Why not take advantage of this and sign fighters for the long-term future instead of just short-term gains? Although historically it has been the best of the best who have received the long-term contract treatment, the rapidly changing scene that is the world of mixed martial arts is forcing the UFC to offer these contracts to more guys like Ellenberger. With Bellator and the World Series of Fighting featuring ex-UFC fighters like Cheick Kongo, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Jon Fitch and Yushin Okami, the last thing the UFC needs is to be haunted by fighters who exit the Octagon and pop up with a competitor that elevates the fighter to the next level after the fighter made his/her name fighting under the UFC banner. Zuffa’s key to maintaining its reign at the top of the world of mixed martial arts revolves around protecting its investments. The promotion goes out and spends a lot of time, money and effort and puts it into the fighters. Gone are the days where the elite are the only ones to receive these long-term contracts. Expect more and more fighters like Ellenberger to surface over the next year, as the UFC does its best to keep its assets nice and safe.