UFC middleweight Tim Kennedy made a splash earlier this week when he sounded off about fighter pay.
This is nothing new. Kennedy wasn't the first to do such a thing, and he certainly won't be the last. Anyone who has followed the declining career of Quinton Jackson over the past two years has at least a passing familiarity with pay complaints.
The difference between Kennedy and Jackson—aside from the fact that Jackson was allegedly paid $15.2 million over the course of his UFC career while Kennedy has yet to make his promotional debut—is that instead of complaining about being treated poorly without giving specifics (that's Jackson), Kennedy actually went into a bit of detail when discussing the $70,000 he will potentially make for his upcoming UFC 162 fight against Roger Gracie.
Here's what Kennedy told the GrappleTalk podcast:
Kennedy revealed that he was due around $55,000 to show up at UFC 162, with the purse potentially increasing to $70,000 with a win bonus – but that after the expenses of his camp, medicals and fight team, he would only pocket around $20,000, even before taxes. After the interview, Kennedy sent a detailed breakdown of how his fight purse would be divided up: 13% on gym fees, 12% for nutrition, 10% to his manager, 10% to his coach, 8% on his camp lodging, 3% for fight medicals and 3% on equipment. In total, that’s 59% of his fight purse before tax is deducted.
As you can see, competing at the highest level requires more than just drive and determination; it's also going to take a hefty chunk out of the paycheck you get from whichever promotion you're fighting for.
Kennedy apologized for his comments on Thursday. I can't imagine a scenario in which the UFC did not call and pressure Tim to reverse course after his initial comments.
Having fighters on your roster talk about how they'd rather haul garbage because it pays better than the world's most successful mixed martial arts promotion? That's not the kind of publicity they want. Not by any measure.
I'm sure there are plenty of fighters, fans and media out there who agree with Kennedy's initial stance that fighters just aren't paid enough for the job they do.
You can count me in that group. The UFC does a masterful job of promoting fight events. They assume all costs for production and marketing, and thus they're due a big percentage of the profits from each event.
But nobody in their right mind will tell you that fighters on the UFC roster are receiving their fair share of the profits, either. Athletes from the main event all the way down to the opening bout on the preliminary card deserve more than they're currently getting.
Of course, there are plenty of folks who wouldn't be happy even if the UFC turned over 100 percent of their profits. You can't please everyone.
Travis Browne trains with Kennedy at Jackson/Winkeljohn's in New Mexico, but he has a slightly different take on pay; according to Browne, once you sign your name on the dotted line, you are obligated to fight for what you agreed to:
"If you want to fight, this is what's promised to you," he said. "If you agree to it, then I don't feel like you have the right to go back and say, 'They're not paying me that much.' You agreed to it. This is your job. I think that some guys may forget about that a little bit.
"Tim isn't the first guy to ever say that. Look at (heavyweight) Todd Duffee. … He basically got cut for what he said. I don't agree with it. I'm not going to complain after I'm the one that signed on the dotted line. They're not twisting my arm to sign with them."
To me, both sides are correct.
Fighters will always deserve more money. The UFC brand name all by itself doesn't sell events. Sure, that brand is good for 150,000-200,000 pay-per-view sales, but the UFC can't vault into the financial stratosphere without a little help from name-value stars in the main event.
I've become numb to "Rampage" complaining about this or that, but the truth of the matter is that, even at $15.2 million over the course of his UFC career, Jackson was still drastically underpaid considering how big of a pay-per-view draw he was before his career flat-lined.
In a perfect and just world, Anderson Silva would make $15 million for each of his fights.
But he doesn't. He makes what he makes because he signed on the dotted line, agreeing to take a set amount of pay to fight professionally in a cage.
And what Browne says is true: You aren't required to sign that contract. You don't have to do anything. You can go be a garbage collector or a graphic designer or a Subway sandwich artist.
You can be anything.
You don't have to be a cage fighter, but you are. And once you've agreed to come to work for a certain price, it's up to you to fulfill the terms of that deal.