DJ: In no other sport is the best athlete not paid the best
The greatest fighter in the UFC spoke recently with ESPN‘s Brett Okamoto for ESPN The Magazine‘s May 29 issue. In his last fight, Demetrious Johnson tied Anderson Silva’s successful defense record of 10, by outstriking Wilson Reis 135-18 before tapping him in the third. Mighty Mouse plans to defend the title 18-20 times successfully before retiring.
In the meantime, he is speaking frankly.
“MMA has the rudest, most negative, dumbest, ignorant fans in the world-but it also has the most passionate fans in the world,” he said. “I hear that I should move up in weight all the time. I was at the gym the other day, and some guy was like, ‘Man, you need to fight Conor McGregor!’ I’ve been getting that for years, and I’m over it. I want to focus on my division and just smash that record. Just destroy it.”
“I would never go up to Usain Bolt … and say, ‘You need to run the 400-meter because you’re just going to win the 100-meter anyway, and it’s not fun to watch you anymore.'”
“There is not another sport in the world where you can be the best at it but not get paid the best. I never wanted to say this before, but I don’t care anymore, and it’s just facts: When CM Punk signed with the UFC, people asked me how I felt about it, and I said, ‘CM Punk will probably make more money than I do on his very first fight.’ And he did. I think his payout was $500,000. I have nothing against CM Punk, but if you look at the sheer nonsense of that, it doesn’t make sense. I know you have to look at the business standpoint, that he’s going to sell a lot of tickets, but he can’t fight! That’s why I’ve said the UFC should just try to sign that ‘Cash Me Ousside’ girl, because she’ll talk s*** and probably outsell everybody.”
“I don’t want to say there’s blame on anyone, but it’s a combination of everything. At one point, the media was saying that Ronda Rousey was the greatest fighter of all time and that she could beat Floyd Mayweather [in MMA], and I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ She never threw a single kick, and the public and media were saying she was the greatest mixed martial artist ever. And I’m not taking anything away from Ronda. She’s a great athlete and did very well, but she had one move. And the media said she was the best fighter in the world, the UFC got behind her and pushed her brand. I’ve never been on Conan O’Brien or Jimmy Fallon. I do think the UFC can make someone a star if they really want to.”
Johnson indicated he was paid about $400,000 to fight and win. That’s terrific money, but far from the best pay in the UFC. The simple, sad fact, is that MMA is part sport, part entertainment. You don’t get to play in the SuperBowl or the World Cup just because you sell the most jerseys, but in MMA, sometimes you do. Given that the new UFC owners need to realize a return on a 4 billion dollar investment, this sport-entertainment balance is only going to tilt further towards entertainment.
UFC events are often described as being “part rock concert.” The business side is too. The highest paid figures in music are only rarely the greatest musicians. But they connect better with asses in seats.
The fault does not lie with the UFC. They are a business trying to legally make money, just like every other business. MMA fans respond to trash talk, they respond to “fun fights,” they do not protest with their wallets when the #1 middleweight contender won’t get a shot for years, and they won’t open their wallets when the best fighter in the league defends his title.
I have met the enemy and he is us.