Benson Henderson (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

MMA Free Agency: How to Determine a Fighter’s Worth

Free agency has undoubtedly been one of the top stories of the past year or so. Fighters like Benson Henderson, Alistair Overeem, Matt Mitrione, Phil Davis and, most recently, Bellator lightweight champ Will Brooks have all tested free agency in hopes of maxing out their worth.

Now, we can add Rory MacDonald to the list of high-level fighters who are testing the free market. MacDonald’s contract is officially up after his hard-fought, five-round loss to Stephen Thompson. MacDonald heads into one of the most important phases of his career after losing back-to-back fights. The talk around town is that he took a gamble and it didn’t pay off.

However, this is not exactly how we should view the situation MacDonald finds himself in currently. His worth should be based on the accumulation of everything he has accomplished while competing inside the UFC’s Octagon.


There are a lot of things the UFC can do differently if it wants to be compared with all the other major sports leagues. This free agency thing is easily on that list. When most athletes in other major sports become free agents, the teams that show interest in that particular player usually evaluate that player by their overall stats and career performances.

Obviously, when a player’s ability to perform starts to deteriorate and it becomes evident that their performances aren’t as dominant as they once were, it affects how much money is offered to them during negotiations. Yet, still, the contract reflects the entirety of a career. It takes into account recent showings, but this is not the sole driving force behind the numbers found in the contract.

In this crazy world of mixed martial arts, though, fans and media seem to put so much emphasis on the fighter’s last performance as a measuring stick of how much money that fighter will get or deserves. And that’s a shame.

MacDonald is the perfect example of this phenomenon in the new free-agency era we have entered. Yes, he has lost his last two fights, but it is not that simple. Take a look at his opponents in those fights and the circumstances surrounding his losses. He fell to current welterweight champ Robbie Lawler last July in a fight he was winning on the judges’ scorecards until his body couldn’t take any more punishment. Lawler ended up taking the fight via fifth-round TKO in what was deemed the “Fight of the Year” by many media outlets around the world. MacDonald was less than five minutes away from becoming champion in a classic, brutal fight, and this should be considered when any promotion sits down with MacDonald and his team to talk contracts.

MacDonald’s latest setback was a loss to the aforementioned Thompson, who by virtue of the win rises to No. 1 contender status in the welterweight division. Now, it was not a close fight, nor could it have gone either way on the judges’ scorecards. However, MacDonald did go five rounds with a guy many are touting as the next eventual champ of the division. At no point did MacDonald look out of his league in there against “Wonderboy.” He was more competitive than all of Thompson’s previous opponents except for Matt Brown, who is the only fighter to hold a win over Thompson.

The UFC, Bellator and any other organization that is interested in MacDonald’s services should not completely ignore his last two outings. However, that short sample size shouldn’t make or break the type of deal a fighter of MacDonald’s caliber should receive. Fans and media tend to have a short-term memory. They’re bound to ask, “What have you done for me lately?” It’s just that type of world. But maybe it’s time we sit back and take a look at the entire picture.