By Adam Martin
Since the beginning of 2017, a number of high-profile free agents have left the UFC and have since signed on with other rival promotions. In some cases, the UFC opted to release fighters, but in other cases other promotions offered the fighters big-money free agent deals that the UFC chose not to match.
Let's take a look at fighters the UFC has lost so far this year, many of whom were ranked in the Top 15:
The biggest name the UFC lost to free agency was Ryan Bader, who signed a big free-agent deal with Bellator. Bader was a top-five-ranked light heavyweight in the UFC, and after winning seven of his last eight fights, found himself in a great position to get paid well on the free agent market. Bellator MMA made signing Bader a priority, and according to Bader, he had great conversations with Bellator president Scott Coker and Bellator matchmaker Rich Chou, which eventually resulted in a offer sheet from Bellator.
The UFC decided not to match the offer sheet, although according to Bader, new UFC matchmaker Mick Maynard really wanted to keep him around. But ultimately it was UFC President Dana White's decision to let him go. Bader said on The MMA Hour that his deal with Bellator features a unique show money clause with no win bonus and a finish bonus, and that's what ultimately got the deal done. Bader doesn't have a fight announced with Bellator yet, but he's expected to fight Phil Davis in his debut.
Horiguchi signed with Rizin FF. It's unclear just exactly why the UFC chose to release him, but reports indicate Rizin made Horiguchi a huge offer to go home to Japan and the UFC decided it wasn't worth matching the contract, especially considering Horiguchi is a flyweight, a division that historically hasn't drawn well. Horiguchi was on a three-fight win streak in the UFC and was a top-five-ranked flyweight. In his Rizin debut in April, Horiguchi will fight Yuki Motoya.
Larkin said the UFC made one last offer in the days before signing with Bellator, but at the end of the day he chose Bellator's superior offer, and the UFC decided not to match it. Larkin was a top-10 welterweight in the UFC and will get an immediate welterweight title shot against Douglas Lima in his Bellator debut in June.
Krylov signed with Eurasia Fight Nights after being released by the UFC. According to numerous reports, the decision to part ways was mutual from both the UFC and Krylov. In his last fight, Krylov was submitted by top light heavyweight Misha Cirkunov, but prior to that Krylov had reeled off five straight stoppage wins. At the time of his release from the UFC, Krylov was ranked in the Top 10 by the promotion at light heavyweight.
Gunnar Nelson and Leon Edwards, which he deemed "unacceptable." At the time of his release, Tumenov was outside of the UFC’s Top 15 welterweight rankings.
McDonald asked for and was granted his release from the UFC, and subsequently inked a contract with Bellator. According to McDonald (via ESPN), he felt the UFC was "dishonest" in the way the promotion did business with him, and he wanted a fresh start with another organization. Despite a loss to John Lineker in his last UFC bout, McDonald was still ranked in the top 10 at bantamweight by the UFC at the time of his release. He's a former bantamweight title challenger and figures to be put immediately into the title mix in Bellator.
As MMA evolves, it will be interesting to see what other fighters become free agents and how that aspect of the sport further to evolve as time goes on. So far, though, it looks like the UFC’s version of “survival of the fittest” is leading to more and more of its top-ranked fighters deciding to eat better elsewhere.