If Zuffa's recent releases tell us anything, it's that determining who stays and who goes is not a simple formula. Sometimes it's all about wins and losses, others it's more about how you won and/or lost, and occasionally it's all about which management team you're working for.
It's a strange alchemy, and one most fighters don't want to test.
At UFC 133 on Saturday night, as with any big UFC event, there are a few who need a win worse than the rest. Who are they, and what are the chances that they'll end up unemployed by this time next week if they don't get it?
Yoshihiro Akiyama (13-3, 2 NC, 1-2 UFC)
Who he's fighting: Vitor Belfort
Why he's in danger: Akiyama is one defeat away from the dreaded three-fight losing streak in the UFC, which will usually get you cut faster than signing a deal with Golden Glory (too soon?). He lost a decision to Michael Bisping in October, and before that he was triangled by Chris Leben after one heck of a scrap at UFC 116. That leaves his narrow decision victory over Alan Belcher in his Octagon debut at UFC 100 as his lone victory since bringing his act stateside. In the plus category, he has yet to have a fight in the UFC that wasn't deemed Fight of the Night by his employers, so even if he hasn't been coming out on the winning end lately, at least the brass is happy with his performances. Still, Belfort's a tough opponent, particularly in the first three minutes of any fight. How many times can you lose in entertaining fashion before it's one time too many?
Odds of getting cut: 5-1. It's not just his track record for fun fights. We also have to consider that the UFC is planning its Japanese invasion soon, and in Akiyama it has a genuine Japanese celebrity of sorts. If people will pay to hear the man sing, you better believe they'll pay to see him fight. Plus, he has the classiest walk-out in the business, so it'd be a shame to lose that just yet.
Constantinos Philippou (7-2, 1 NC, 0-1 UFC)
Who he's fighting: Jorge Rivera
Why he's in danger: What's worse than losing your first UFC fight? Following it up with a loss in your second UFC fight. It doesn't help that Philippou first got his name in Dana White's ear when he was selected for TUF 11, but got submitted in his elimination fight by a guy who went on to be a non-factor in the show's competition. If he loses this, that will be three times that White has sat cageside and watched him lose. Forget first impressions. Third impressions are when you really establish a pattern. The good news is that he agreed to move up the card and take a tougher fight when Rivera lost his opponent, so he's got those team player marks in his favor. The bad news is, oh yeah, that whole tougher fight thing. While a win over a name guy like Rivera on the main card would be huge, a loss could spell doom for the fighter whose name is so hard to spell.
Odds of getting cut: 2-1. On paper, Rivera should beat him. If that happens, and if Philippou doesn't at least surprise some people with how well he does in defeat, it's probably back to the Atlantic City boardwalk for him.
Mike Brown (24-8, 0-3 UFC)
Who he's fighting: Nam Phan
Why he's in danger: As likable a guy as Brownie is (and seriously, he is), the former featherweight champ hasn't won a fight since the UFC absorbed the WEC's little guys. It's not like he's been getting run over by vastly superior competition, either. He lost a decision to Diego Nunes, then one to Rani Yahya before taking some time off to address injuries and lingering physical problems. Now he's back, he's healthy, and he needs to win. Savvy vet that he is, Brown knows what the stakes are here. If he loses three in a row, it's probably not going to matter that he was once the WEC 145-pound champ. This business is all about what you've done for us lately, and the 35-year-old Brown hasn't done much worth talking about over the last couple years. Was that the result of injuries that are now behind him, or have the hard years in a hard sport finally caught up to him? Hard to say, but Phan aims to help us find out.
Odds of getting cut: 3-1. That's based entirely on my belief that Brown will win this fight. If he doesn't, well, as painful as it is to admit, he probably deserves to get dropped. Even nice guys have to win one now and again.
Rafael Natal (12-3-1, 0-1-1 UFC)
Who he's fighting: Paul Bradley
Why he's in danger: Natal dropped a decision to Rich Attonito, then fought to a draw with "Water" Bongfeldt (redundant nickname alert). He's not on the verge of a three-fight skid. Not technically, anyway. At the same time, if they were animals we were trying to classify, I think we'd have to admit that a draw is closer to the loss family than the win, especially in the eyes of the UFC. Natal has caught some tough breaks. After being shuffled around against so many different opponents, you couldn't blame him if he had given up trying to learn anything about the guy he's supposed to fight. Now he gets the newcomer Bradley, and nobody wants to lose to a guy making his Octagon debut. Draw or no, if Natal goes three fights in the UFC without a win, he may have himself a serious problem.
Odds of getting cut: Even. Natal's best hope might be that Bradley gets the Octagon jitters and doesn't perform. Otherwise, this one's a toss-up.