By Raphael Garcia
One of the strengths of the Ultimate Fighting Championship is the fact that the promotion has many of the best fighters in every weight class on its roster. However, this has slowly begun to change, as fighters like Rory McDonald, Lorenz Larkin, and Ryan Bader made the jump to Bellator MMA, weakening their respective divisions. And soon, the UFC could be facing a similar situation in the middleweight division, as Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza will soon join Gegard Mousasi in free agency.
The middleweight division is one of the deepest weight classes in the promotion, featuring a number of fighters that have the potential to claim the championship as their own. Michael Bisping’s surprise win over Luke Rockhold at UFC 199 last year created a groundswell of opportunities for nearly every man in the Top 10. While Yoel Romero waits patiently for his elusive title shot, Mousasi himself earned a valuable win -- albeit a controversial one -- over former champion Chris Weidman this past Saturday night at UFC 210. Then there’s “Jacare,” who is facing Robert Whittaker this coming Saturday night at UFC on Fox 24. All of these men are viable contenders to Bisping’s 185-pound title.
And yet, once this weekend’s event is over, both Mousasi and Souza will be without UFC contracts. During the UFC 210 post-fight press conference, Mousasi made it very clear that he wants a higher value contract:
“I am one of the best. I should get paid like one of the best. There’s nothing wrong with me, just pay me what I’m worth. I’m a fair guy. I’m not asking more than what I deserve.”
It will be interesting to see what comes out of the contract negotiations, but the UFC has to contend with “Jacare” at the same time. The former Strikeforce champion is pushing for a bigger contract as well, and defeating Whittaker on Saturday night would go a long way towards building leverage in that direction.
It’s hard to believe that both Mousasi and Souza will be fighting outside of the Octagon after their recent runs of success in the UFC. Fans want to see both men contending for the title in the promotion’s wide-open middleweight division. However, as Bellator continues to make an aggressive push for valuable fighters who enter free agency, the organization is expected to make a play for both of these fighters. This is much to the delight of “The Dreamcatcher” and “Jacare,” as this will immediately drive up their prices. And the UFC will be forced yet again to consider just how much it is willing to pay to keep the best fighters in the world under its roof.