Roundtable: Should UFC fighters take fights with short notice?


To paraphrase UFC President Dana White: “Pardon me, sir or madam, but might I kindly inquire if you would you like to participate in a fight?”

That question has served as the mission statement for White’s organization since he had to make that fateful speech to a cast on The Ultimate Fighter 1 that included future UFC stalwarts Forrest Griffin, Diego Sanchez, Josh Koscheck, Chris Leben, Mike Swick, Nate Quarry and several others (spoiler for a 16-year-old TV show: As it turns out, many of them did want to be f****** fighters!). It lingers now even in the modern ESPN era, with a roster that numbers in the hundreds.

It’s the question that every fighter likely asks themselves when the opportunity comes to take a short-notice fight, something several notable names have done over the past few months to mixed results. Here are some examples of fighters who stepped up and lost:

  • Bobby Green (lost to Islam Makhachev at UFC Vegas 49)
  • Renato Moicano (lost to Rafael dos Anjos at UFC UFC 272)
  • Terrance McKinney (lost to Drew Dober at UFC Vegas 50)
  • Jennifer Maia (lost to Manon Fiorot at UFC Columbus)

There have been several recent short-notice winners though, including Miranda Maverick, Ilia Topuria, Brendan Allen, and Sergey Spivak. Plus, there’s at least one famous instance where a certain British veteran capitalized on a short-notice booking in a big way. So you can see why fighters are so eager to sign on the dotted line, sometimes just days away from fight night.

MMA Fighting’s Jed Meshew, Alexander K. Lee and others are discussing the benefits of short notice opportunities. While there can be a lot to lose for fighters, it is also possible to take on a great deal.

Join the conversation below, we would love to hear from you.

Let Them Beat Face

Meshew: I was prepared to start my portion off by noting how the above introduction specifically names fighters who lost short-notice bouts while only generally admitting to the number of people who have won their bouts, but then I looked at the list of fighters who have lost and, frankly, I think they make my point even stronger. Although Bobby Green, Renato Mocano, Terrance MacKinney and Jennifer Maia may all have lost their fights they are all objectively winners because they got an additional paycheck and earned some gratitude from UFC. Maybe even a little shine from fans for showing up. The fights were their only loss.

People want to denigrate short-notice fights for the obvious risks they incur, but the reality is that for most fighters, these bouts offer substantially more benefits than risks. The money is first and foremost. Fighters have a short window of opportunity to earn whatever they can, and so getting in for an extra fight you weren’t planning on is essentially grabbing an extra paycheck (or maybe two if you win). Everybody reading this will be able to imagine the joy of snagging an additional paycheck every now and again. Add in that fighters receive additional sponsorship dollars from Venum based on how many fights they’ve had and fighters are strongly incentivized to get to 21 fights inside the UFC as quickly as possible.

In the absence of an organization to protect and promote fighters, it is important to keep your employer satisfied. The UFC has frequently looked kindly upon those who have helped them out of tight spots, and conversely, they’ve been pretty unkind to those who have been unwilling to eat crap for them (just ask Islam Makhachev, who supposedly lost a title shot because he wouldn’t step in for them on less than a week’s notice). UFC fighters don’t have the luxury of an overnight unionization. They need to make their best decisions, and that generally means being best for themselves.

Accepting short notice fights has very few downsides. If you lose, you have a built-in excuse for why, and if you win, you look like twice the hero for doing so. Did you remember when Nate Diaz jumped off a boat and beat Conor McGregor with just a week notice? That was a star-making performance regardless, but he certainly got an extra boost because of the circumstances. Conor is he really going to look back at that fight? This fight produced the two biggest UFC pay-perviews, which will probably give Conor another before his career ends.

Now I will admit, there are some exceptions to the rule. If you are a legitimate title contender in a deep division — someone like Arnold Allen — stepping up on short notice is a risky proposition. Allen is likely to fight for a title in the next year, but given the logjam at 145, any loss could derail those plans by years, if not ruin them entirely. For a guy like Allen, a short-notice fight is a liability. This logic is only true for a few fighters. For the rest of them, they’re never going to make a real title run, and thus they should run towards any opportunity to put a little bit more space between themselves and the street.

At the end of the day, the one undeniable truth in MMA is that fighters should always, always: Get. The. Bag. Bag. Donald Cerrone basically made a career out of doing so, and aside from being one of the most beloved fighters of all-time, he’s also done exceedingly well financially. In MMA, the only way to get paid, unfortunately, is to get your ass into the cage and go to work. If the UFC has called to inform you that someone didn’t turn up at work, and they have a shift vacant, cancel your plans for Saturday and come clock in. Your children’s college funds will thank you.

Look Out For No. 1 — And I Don’t Mean The UFC

Lee: Fighters, put yourselves first.

In a business that is more individualistic than any major sport, somehow the UFC has managed to foster an unwavering “put the company first” mindset that has permeated for years, from seasoned veterans to prospects scraping for a chance to be booked on the Contender Series. It is partly because fans love fighters that live up to the “I’ll beat anyone anywhere” image. Another part of it is that fighters want to stay in the good graces of the bosses.

All that’s great and all that, however, there is a time when the risk of taking advantage of a short-term, risky opportunity is too much. The examples in this blurb show that that risk is becoming far too high. And for different reasons in each instance.

Bobby Green theoretically had nothing to lose, but his drubbing at the hands of Islam Makhachev was so definitive that he lost any heat he had coming off of a tidy two-fight win streak. Renato Moicano was able to win Rafael dos Anjos’ former UFC champion title, but it ended up causing a great deal of damage that left us all wondering what the long-term effects will be on him. Terrance McKinney took calculated risks and, while Drew Dober gave him a great start, he ended up losing in less than optimal circumstances. Jennifer Maia is a bit of a head-scratcher.

Yes, Maia is a year and a half removed from her title fight with Valentina Shevchenko, but she was holding on firmly to a top spot and was actually No. 6 in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings before agreeing to fight white-hot prospect Manon Fiorot on less than a month’s notice in what was essentially a replacement booking (Fiorot was supposed to fight Jessica Eye at UFC 272 on March 5, and when that fight fell through, Maia stepped in to face Fiorot three weeks later). Maia was defeated, suffered a major hit in the rankings and is now closer to the cut than any of the other contenders.

So why do this?

It’s not just about the fighters. UFC should pay its athletes more, so they have the ability to afford time off between fights. They need to give them assurances that declining an offer won’t be held against them. Managers need to read the tea leaves and help their clients make informed decisions. Fighters need to learn to put their foot down and say no.

Again, there are always exceptions. Title fight being offered? Take it. Top-5 opponent on the way down who is ripe for the picking? Pounce. Do you have a legend that you want to be in the Octagon with? Put pen to paper. However, you should make sure that your career is as well-supported as the UFC’s money-making machines. For goodness sake, be sure to get an additional fat check in return.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t take short notice fights. We’ve all seen great performances under such circumstances. I only want fighters to put a greater emphasis on self-interest and self-preservation, even if it’s tempting to leap without looking for the sake of the company and the fans. ESPN and the UFC will be able to survive if they cut an hour off their fight nights.