Damned If You Don’t: Rich Attonito Fired by UFC for Backing Out of Gunnar Nelson Fight

Rich Attonito

(He beat the crap out of Jamie Yager, so he’ll always be a legend in our book. Photo props: Justin M. Bowen/ Las Vegas Sun)

When UFC matchmaker Joe Silva calls you to fight on short notice as an injury replacement, sometimes it’s better to not even answer the phone. That’s the lesson we’ve learned from a contradictory pair of recent firings that seem to define the phrase “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

As confirmed by MMAFighting.com, welterweight contender (and former CagePotato guest-blogger) Rich Attonito has been released by the UFC. Attonito had an official record of 3-2 within the Octagon, and last competed at UFC 140 in December 2011, where he was TKO’d by Jake Hecht. Here’s the sequence of events that led to Rich’s firing, from the MMAFighting report:

When [Pascal] Krauss pulled out of UFC on FUEL TV 5, [Joe] Silva offered Rich Attonito the fight against [Gunnar] Nelson via Attonito’s manager Dan Lambert. Lambert spoke to the American Top Team fighter, who agreed to take the welterweight bout. The next day, Lambert called Silva to tell him Attonito said he would not be able to make the 170-pound weight limit on short notice. Silva then offered him the opportunity to take the fight at a 175-pound catch weight, which both Attonito and Nelson, through his manager and father Haraldur Nelson, agreed to. The next day, Lambert called Silva back again to inform him that Attonito would not be able to make the 175-pound catch weight either. As a result, Silva decided to release Attonito from his contract.

Here’s the deal: When the UFC offers you an opportunity to come in as a replacement fighter, you generally don’t get a day or two to think about it. Attonito’s crime was speaking too soon — agreeing to a fight before he realized that making weight would be impossible. But at the time the fight was offered to him, saying “no” to Joe Silva probably seemed like the bigger sin.

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Anyway, Attonito changed his mind and got fired for it. And you probably remember what happened next…

DaMarques Johnson was then offered (and accepted) the fight against Nelson, and as we previously told you, he was swiftly cut by the UFC following his first-round submission loss. We figured it was because he missed the 175-pound catchweight by a full eight pounds, and we weren’t wrong. Here’s what Joe Silva had to say about it:

I thought it was incredibly unfair to Gunnar Nelson to fight someone that much larger than him,” Silva said. “Johnson told me he could make the weight. He’s not doing me a favor if he missed weight because I could have gotten someone else who would have made the weight. I never pressure anyone to take late notice fights. I got a bunch of guys who want to fight. If one says no, I will find someone else. No problem.”

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So in other words, don’t accept a short-notice fight unless you’re 100% certain you can make the weight, at the moment the fight is offered to you. Otherwise, you could be fired if you take the fight, or if you end up not taking the fight. And as Ben Fowlkes points out in his latest MMAJunkie mailbag column: “If the UFC has ‘a bunch of guys who want to fight,’ why was Johnson, whose medical suspension ended less than two weeks before the Nelson fight, No. 2 on the list of possible replacements?…[The UFC] should have known that Johnson – who’d been medically suspended for 45 of the 56 days between his knockout loss to Mike Swick and his submission loss to Nelson – might not have been in tip-top fighting shape just then.”

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With so many UFC fighters getting injured lately, Joe Silva has had to scrape the bottom of the matchmaking barrel to find warm bodies. That’s what led him to DaMarques Johnson, who simply would not have been an option under ideal circumstances. The truth is, Johnson was doing Joe Silva a favor by saying “yes” to the Nelson fight. And that favor was repaid with a pink slip. Let that be a message to the UFC fighters who want to improve their standing in the promotion by taking short-notice fights that are against their best interests: Just say no.