The issue of fighter compensation is a hot topic, with several fighters (Jon Fitch, John Cholish, Jacob Volkmann, and Tim Kennedy) very vocally advocating for higher pay. In an extensive piece, Yahoo Sports' Kevin Iole, who is regularly at odds with the UFC, argues that fighter compensation in the UFC matches up very well with fighter compensation in its closest competitor - boxing.
Biggest boxing shows this year in Vegas:
•HBO card, headlined by Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado, March 30
•Showtime pay-per-view card headlined by Floyd Mayweather and Robert Guerrero, May 4
Biggest MMA shows this year in Vegas:
•UFC 160 pay-per-view card headlined by Velasquez and Antonio Silva, May 25
•UFC 162 pay-per-view card headlined by Anderson Silva and Chris Weidman, July 6
The source of the complaints against the UFC - pay for lower end fighters - is very competitive with boxing, even looking solely at reported pay. Undercard boxers are paid what is on the Nevada State Athletic Commission's payout sheet. Undercard MMA fighters are paid what is on the payout sheet, plus are frequently paid discretionary bonuses, plus may win $50,000 'OTN' bonuses, plus typically have sponsors income generally unavailable in boxing.
•Mayweather-Guerrero show undercard totalled $1,147,250, an average $81,946 per boxer.
•Rios-Alvarado undercard totalled $301,200, an average of $18,825 per boxer.
•Undercard compensation ranged from $375,000 to $1,200.
•19 boxers earned $5,000 or less.
•UFC 160 undercard totalled $1.258 million, an average of $62,900 per fighter.
•UFC 162 totalled $1.167 million, an average of $64,833.33 per fighter.
•Undercard compensation ranged from $290,000 to $8,000.
•Only one fighter, Kazuki Tokudome, earned less than $10,000.
In short, undercard MMA fighters do better than undercard boxers. In fact, fighters like John Cholish and Jacob Volkmann aren't selling tickets and are net losses to the promotion, because the promotion spends money marketing them to see if they might hit it big and become stars and doesn't realize a return.
At the top of the scale, where there have been no complaints about fighter pay, the best UFC fighters do not make Mayweather money.
Mayweather was guaranteed $32 million to fight Guerrero, who earned $3 million. Rios made $1.25 million and Alvarado earned $625,000.
UFC main event disclosed pay was lower:
Silva made $600,000
Weidman made $98,000
Cain Velasquez made $400,000
Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva made $75,000
UFC main event fighters regularly get a cut of the PPV, discretionary bonuses, OTN performance bonuses, and are believed to sign a second contract that pays them for promoting the fight. Still, no fighter in MMA ever made over $30,000,000 for a fight.
Because of the money the UFC invested in building its brand – UFC has almost become generic for mixed martial arts, just as Kleenex has for tissues – advertisers are more willing to spend money sponsoring its fighters. The UFC only permits fighters to wear logos of company-approved sponsors, though that is no different than what is done in major team sports.
"We get grief all the time from media and fans when we cut a guy because we want to bring in a new guy and give him a chance," said ZUFFA CEO Lorenzo Fertitta. "But there are only so many fight cards and so many slots and if a guy isn't doing it, we need to cut him and move on and give someone else a turn.
"But even though everyone cries and tries to paint us as the bad guys when we cut someone, the truth of the matter is, is that they're far more valuable in the marketplace when they are able to say they're an ex-UFC fighter. These other promotions pay them more because of it, no doubt."
The UFC also bears costs that fight promoters do not.
"We have to pay to get the satellite trucks here and we have to pay for the satellite time and for all of the people who work on a show," said Fertitta. "When a show is over, we have to write a thousand checks."
No one knows the economics of fighter compensation as well as managers, and managers Iole spoke to did not have an issue with fighter pay.
"Dana is no big fan of mine and he hasn't been for years," said the sport's first super manager, Monte Cox. "But that said, I believe they're really fair with the guys, I really do. Guys who are making eight and eight and who have the opportunity to win a $50,000 bonus, man, believe me when I tell you, that's more than fair and that's a lot better than what they could get anywhere else."
Another super manager, Ed Soares, offered similar remarks.
UFC president Dana White cited the number of fighters who are appreciative of the compensation structure, said the UFC had done more for fighters than anyone in the history of combat sports, and addressed Tim Kennedy directly.
"Tim Kennedy has a right to his opinion and he said what he said," said White. "I would have preferred that he'd gone out there, beat the s--- out of Gracie, then grabbed the mic from Joe Rogan, and then called me out: 'Hey Dana, I told you I deserved more money and then I went out and beat the s--- out of this guy.'
"Move the needle, man! Make someone care. Make someone give a s--- about you and your fight. But when you have fans doing the wave during your fight, I know one thing and that means you aren't moving the needle. Did anyone in that building that night give a s--- about Tim Kennedy? Not if they were doing the f---ing wave during the fight. I wish he would have had a great fight and then stuck it in my face, because that would have made him a star. But it was obvious he wasn't moving the needle an inch."
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