Fighter Compensation Could Be The Catalyst That Helps Reshapes The Fight Industry
By Justin Collins
Starting in this issue of Word On the Street we’ve decided to follow and report on MMA the sport, rather than focusing on a single organization such as the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). This will be the beginning of a two-part article revealing some of the highlights and lowlights of fighter compensation.
For all the things the UFC has done to elevate the burgeoning MMA industry, the company has had a hegemonic stranglehold-like monopoly over the mixed martial arts market for the better part of a decade and fighters are finally starting to abandon ship. Fighters such as Rory MacDonald, Wanderlei Silva, and Chael Sonnen, who once spawned fame through the UFC vessel, are now signed with alternatives like Bellator MMA. But, why?
At the forefront of the fighter movement is the parity in fighter compensation. Fight promotions such as Bellator are progressing towards giving the fighters what they deserve – a proper payday to reward them for putting their bodies through such rigorous paces.
In the last 10-years as the UFC gobbled up other MMA promotions such as WEC, Pride, and Strikeforce, fighters had little choice but to take whatever scraps were being given to them. For most fighters, it could very well have been a one-sided conversation: “Here’s who you will fight next, and here’s how much we are offering you, take it or leave it” the UFC might say.
Sure, some negotiating would go on behind the scenes, but the fight game itself doesn’t lend well to carrying other jobs around in order to earn extra cash. One doesn’t abandon their day job to become a fighter if they can’t afford to put meat on their table, so to speak.
Could you imagine if a fighter had to maintain a regular job as an insurance salesman just to support his family, all the while training for hand-to-hand combat? It would put him at a huge disadvantage over those who could afford to train full time, with the best teammates, coaches, specialists, and amenities alike.
By buying up its competitors, the UFC not only absorbed a long list of quality fighters and champions, but they were also able to dictate an overwhelmingly large share of the global MMA market.
Don’t get me wrong; it was definitely an exciting time to be a spectator because of the match-ups being made that couldn’t have been made had the organizations not come together. We might not have seen a semi-regular visitor to Angeles City, fighter Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, in the ring versus Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell at UFC 71.
Until recently those who were the products of this industry, the fighters - often felt that they had no other place to go when negotiating their own personal value within the sport. Of course it should go without saying that any fighter would naturally want to go where the biggest fights were, and therefore have the possibility of catching the largest payout possible in exchange for his or her craft.
Perhaps this particular topic is so fresh due to the UFC being sold to WME-IMG for $4 Billion in May of this year. That’s definitely a large chunk of change. Or, maybe this a combination of that and the fallout of the sponsorship deal that the UFC struck with Reebok in 2015. The deal, which took away individual fighter’s ability to generate extra income by carrying their own sponsors into the ring with them, has been bemoaned by just about everyone.
Sure, average fighter pay has gone up recently but that completely negates the fact that fighters were basically told “you will wear Reebok, or else.” Can you imagine if Michael Jordan was told by the NBA, “sorry MJ, but you must wear Adidas now because we said so.” I don’t think it would have gone over very well.
Not long ago, fighters were able to pull in additional endorsement revenue by wearing branded clothing on their walkouts, and sponsorship logos on their fight attire. These deals – however aggregate as they may have seemed, were the butter to the proverbial bread for a majority of unknown or up-and-coming fighters looking to make a name for themselves. After all, the money in this sport is at the top – where a co-main or main event throw down is a potentially humongous financial windfall for a fighter.
Herein lies the problem: at the recently showcased UFC 203, you have someone like former WWE star CM Punk come in and fight for the first time only to get annihilated inside of 3-minutes of the very first round. He still walked away with a massive $500,000 payday, and meanwhile, the 20-year old kid who “punked” him (for lack of a better word), earned $15,000 as his compensation, and took home an additional $15,000 for his win bonus.
That’s right. The winner received $30,000 and the loser, $500,000. Go figure.
To Be Continued Next Month in Volume 011 of Word On The Street...