ESPN investigates UFC fighter pay

source: The Underground

"Outside the Lines has spoken with more than 20 current, former and potential UFC fighters, as well as agents and promoters," ESPN's John Barr charged. "To a person, they say UFC fighters have not received their fair share of the company's rapidly increasing revenue."

In short, the show charges that UFC pay is not fair. This is an extraordinariy claim to make in a free-market economy.

With the advent of recycling, there are now countless thousands of people employed to stand by moving lines of refuse, separating the garbage from the recycling. How much would you have to be paid to spend eight hours a day picking through garbage? Is the near minimm wage that scut line workers are paid fair? Best way to determine the answer might be to spend a day doing it, for 50 bucks.

The show established unequivocally that UFC main event fighters make far, far more than do first time prelim fighters, who can earn as little as six or eight thousand dollars if they lose. However, equally unequivocally the UFC is paying main event fighters vastly larger sums because so many more fans pay money to see the main event and main card fighters than they do the undercard fighters.

One need only see the extraordinary swings in PPV buys with roughly equal undercards to understand that main event fighters bring in the money. That may not be "fair" to the undercard fighters who may train just as hard as a Rampage Jackson, and often hold down a full time job simultaneously, dreaming of the day when all they have to do is train. But it is what it is in a free-market economy.

One needs only a passing familiarity with sponsor money figures to understand that the relative sums paid are roughly equivalent to what the market will bear. If sponsors were paying undercard fighters multiples of their purse, then the argument could be made that something was out of balance. But that is not the case.

The show charges that "Nearly all of (20 current, former and potential UFC fighters, as well as agents and promoters) also refused to speak on camera, for fear the UFC would blackball them." This was presumably their excuse for trotting out Ken Shamrock to denounce the company. Shamrock has been ordered by Nevada courts to repay $175,000 in court costs to UFC parent company Zuffa LLC over a dismissed lawsuit brought by Shamrock.

Whatever Shamrock's contributions to mixed martial arts - and they are profound - if ESPN had even even a shred of journalistic integrity, they would not ask a man to assess the fairness of a company's pay structure when that same man has been ordered by a court to pay the company $175,000.

Fighters at all levels of the UFC have tested the waters elsewhere, and invariably seek to return.

Low-level fighters are released by the UFC on a weekly basis, and invariablly vow to put together a string of wins in smaller shows, in an (often successful) attempt to fight their way back into the UFC.

When mid-tier fighters like Paul Daley, Jon Fitch, Nate Marquardt, or Miguel Torres are released for extraordinary reasons, again, there is invariably a statement that their intention is to fight their way back to a UFC contract.

Although it is highly unusual, even top tier fighters like Tito Ortiz or Randy Couture who separate from the UFC in the end re sign the contact. All this suggests that a UFC contract is not unfair and burdensome, but rather is what the entire industry aspires to.

A few top fighters have left and found bigger paydays elsewhere, but not for long. Heavyweights Andrei Arlovski and Tim Sylvia departed the UFC and signed with Affliction for large amounts of cash, but Affliction MMA lost millions and died after putting on just two shows, which suggests their model was fundamentally flawed, and not something upon which the viability of the sport could possibly rest.

In an undisclosed and almost stupeyingly ironic turn, Shamrock's failed suit was an attempt to force the UFC to let him fight for the organization. And when he was unsucessful, and saw the courts demand he pay back court costs, he asked the UFC if he could pay off the debt by fighting for the UFC. The man ESPN put front and center to criticise UFC contracts actually sued to try to get one.

Also undisclosed in the piece, Shamrock earned millions from the UFC, and was released not over a contract dispute, but because he could no longer win in the organization, hsving gone 1-4 with his sole victory an early KO over a troubled Kimo Leopoldo.

The argument further falls apart on their inability to find even a single retired fighter other than Shamrock to back up their claims. Is the UFC so terrifying that no retired fighter is willing to say publicly "Geeez, they are doing great, I wish they had paid me more." Lastly, former UFC 170 pound champion Matt Serra paints an entirely different picture of the interview process, saying the reporter was uninterested in positive comments about the UFC pay structure, and that other fighters had a similar experience.

Monte Cox, the sport's most prolific promoter and with nine former world champions its most successful manager, appeared on the show and spoke his mind. If Zuffa follows a vindictive management model, then Cox would be either stupid or ignorant to have said what he said on the record, and Monte is neither. To the contrary, there is no one on Earth with a broader knowledge of the sport's business side.

Shortly before his retirement, Mirko Cro Cop, who has fought for Pride, K-1, and the UFC, predicted his actions should he lose his next fight. "(If I lose I will) apologize, and (say) 'I'm sorry I wasted your time.' ... I will disappear from the UFC and I will apologize, first to the headquarters of the UFC, because I was treated like a king, I was paid well, and unfortunately I didn't justify the treatment."

Cro Cop's remarks are an extraordinary testament to the character of athletes in MMA - when was the last time a pro athlete in any major sport apologized for being paid too much for his or her performance? As well, it is not the kind of remark one would expect to hear about an organization in which the athletes characteristically feel they are unfairly underpaid.

The ESPN piece also contains flat out mathematical error.

It was initialy claimed that median annual income for UFC fighters was $17,000 to $23,000, an amount barely above minimum wage. The problem is, it isn't true. ESPN later explained the figure was not per year, but per fight, but that sum does not cover bonuses, sponsorships, PPV percentages, and other standard sources of fighter income.

Just as MMA has remarkable athletes, it has remarkable fans, too. While fans of all other major sports bemoan the amounts paid to the athletes, MMA fans wish the fighters were paid more. From the first timer who loses and earns only $6,000 to GSP who said he makes four to five million per fight, there is a widespread desire on the part of fans to see fighters paid more.

The piece spoke about mainstream sports paying roughly 50% of gross to the athletes, and claimed that the UFC pays only a miserly 10%. Fertitta flatly contradicted the figure, calling it "completely innacurate" and saying that the UFC pays in the neighborhood of 50%. Fertitta also pointed out that since 2005 the UFC has made 39 milllionaires and paid out over $250,000,000 to fighters.

The issue of compensation is a legitimate topic of inquiry in this, or for that matter any industry. And there are multiple places to look at the issue, some of them not as sexy as calling out the UFC. For example, there are fighters competing on television for other promotions for 500 or 600 dollars, with no health insurance.

In sum, the video below does not do the topic justice. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and this piece, with as its centerpiece a man who recently sued to try to get into not away from the UFC, fails to deliver.

As former UFC heavyweight champion Ricco Rodriguez said in a follow up program, "The UFC gives you the best opportunity."



tags: UFC   Dana White   Lorenzo Fertitta   video   

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Recent Comments »

MyPenisIsLongerThanYoursSucker site profile image  

1/17/12 9:19 PM by MyPenisIsLongerThanYoursSucker

Sport is fun, being mail man also perhaps. Getting paid for doing what you love is great. Want to get top dollar, be talented and/or work harder. It might seem unfair because it is a bit, fighting for thousand bucks. But work your way up or be a douche like Chaeldiss Sonnen so people tune in to see you lose. Say what you want however, but their salary system works. You want fighters to earn more, we can all start a new organization, power in numbers you know.

TheRaider site profile image  

1/16/12 11:52 PM by TheRaider

Considering the UFC's age under Zuffa, I think you would probably want to look at a player on the 1952 Cleveland Browns and see what the pay was. Then take in to account what the dollar buys back then and now.

SinCityHustler site profile image  

1/16/12 11:51 PM by SinCityHustler

 Ridiculous.  What expertise does Melvin Guilard posess?  World class wrestler?  Not a chance.  World class striker?  Don't make me laugh?  Black Belt in BJJ?  HaHaHaHa and Melvin was 1 fight away from top comtendership just months ago.  Gray Maynard who foguth twice for the championship just months ago.  World class BJJ?  nope.  World class striker?  Guess again.  World class wrestling?  You have no clue what world class is if you answered yes.   Uriah Faber?  Dominic Cruz? Jake Ellenberger?  chris Leban? Mark Munoz  Chael Sonnen?   How about the #2 pund for pound ranked fighter in the world, Jon Jones, what world class discipline does he posess?  

SinCityHustler site profile image  

1/16/12 11:42 PM by SinCityHustler

 ESPN is doing apiece criticizing the UFC for paying their fighters too low of wages when ESPN is showcasing boxers on their network making 1/10 the amount that their UFC counter parts make.  It's not that they're the ones paying the boxers that deplorable wage, it's that if they're going to criticize the UFC for only being 10x better than what they showcase, they ought to clean their own house first.  Complicated to follow, I know but read it over if you need to, it will sink in eventually.    Oh and those fihters aren't UFC employees either.  Those are independant contractors that they hire for the evening yet they still give every single one of them health insurance.  Does ESPN do that?  Didn't think so.  

Eric Bloodaxe site profile image  

1/16/12 2:03 PM by Eric Bloodaxe

I haven't read most of this thread, so perhaps someone made this point. But I'm a believer in the free market. If you're worth $ 10.000 per fight, then someone is gonna pay you just that. If no-one can make money paying you ten grand apart from the UFC, then your value isn't ten thousand.A greater problem is the contracts IMO. As it is, it seems the UFC can cut a fighter any time they choose to. That's whether you are on a one, two or ten fight contract. The fighters on the other hand can NOT just walk out of the UFC if they are under contract, and the UFC have even stalled when fighters have wanted out (Arlovski) or worked against them (Couture).Where I live, contracts that one-sided would literally be invalid due to legal reasons.

TheUltimateLurker site profile image  

1/16/12 1:31 PM by TheUltimateLurker

Pretty ignorant post here. Not hating on you, just saying. You should edjamakait yourself on the topic of discussion before posting. ESPN is not being an "old prude". They are in direct competition with FOX. Besides HD net(that most people do not get) ESPN was the only other cable outlet for televised MMA news coverage. The observant viewer might notice that John Anik's MMA LIVE stopped airing shortly after the FOX contract.

Pork Sword site profile image  

1/16/12 1:16 PM by Pork Sword

 ESPN grasping at straws. The sooner they just fucking embrace MMA and stop being the old prude of the sports media world the sooner we can move the fuck on and watch more epic fights.

Chiron site profile image  

1/16/12 1:12 PM by Chiron

Not sure where I stand in the whole Zuffa vs ESPN pay thing, but this is a pretty poor piece. It's poorly written and tries to make some really weak points.

TheUltimateLurker site profile image  

1/16/12 1:06 PM by TheUltimateLurker

Not "hurting for money at all" and fair compensation are two different things entirely. I could "live" off of less than $5,000 a year. You can't. Most of this forum wouldn't be able too. I own a farm though. I am not "hurting for money". The sport has grown at a faster rate than the paychecks. These guys deserve fair compensation.

Pride Rules site profile image  

1/16/12 1:01 PM by Pride Rules

 1 more example is omigawa sat night.  who cares what his past credentials are, tell him to go make $ doing that because watching him fight saturday night was sad. i respect anyone who gives it a shot, but damn son...tell me you dont think he deserved $100k for that? id say $6k and all travel expenses covered is pretty damn good for some shit he did