Nate Quarry isn't a household name, but he's become a source of insight into the MMA world. A former fighter who can articulate and speak well about the sport is a rarity these days, but Quarry fills the bill nicely.
With fighter pay in the UFC becoming a hot topic of debate, Quarry spoke to John S. Nash of Bloody Elbow about the situation. He offered not only some great insight but also some new viewpoints as to the root of the issue.
Well, they're very unsatisfied. They have next to no negotiating power whatsoever. One big organization basically dictates whatever happens...It's a catch-22, because without the UFC where would I be? Where would the sport be? I consider myself ridiculous lucky because of all the things Dana White, the Fertittas, and the UFC have done for me - and all the athletes - is amazing. But on the flip side, what all the athletes have done for Dana White and the Fertittas is amazing.
Quarry went on to explain a situation where he required back surgery just to be able to train, and White helped him with his medical issues. This is the kind of story that doesn't get a lot of press because it's behind closed doors, but I'm sure it's not an isolated incident of White and the UFC going out of their way to help their fighters.
Quarry also described how competition is affecting what's going on at the negotiating table.
Look at Lombard. He gets all this money even though he's never fought in the UFC and no one really knows who he is and then comes in and has a terrible performance. The reason he gets paid ten times as much as Stephan Bonner is because the UFC had to buy him away from Bellator. You see that in boxing all the time because there are multiple promoters and companies all trying to get a guy because they know he's valuable and they can make money with him.
He also brought up Dan Henderson as a guy who suffered from a lack of competition in MMA. Henderson originally left the UFC due to finding a better deal from Strikeforce. After Zuffa bought out Strikeforce, "Hendo" had little choice but to return to the UFC.
Quarry also brought up sponsors and sponsorship money as well. As most MMA fans already know, this is where fighters, and athletes in general, make most of their money. The payouts we see released represent only what the UFC pays the fighters and doesn't include sponsorship money, which can be more than what the UFC dishes out.
When I started fighting for the UFC, I was told, well we can't pay you very much, but you can have any sponsors you want. Then it became you can't have conflicting sponsors. Then it became we need to approve your sponsors. Then it became your sponsors have to pay a tax so they can sponsor you and the UFC. Now these small companies that could pay a fighter $5,000 can't afford it anymore.
It's clear the UFC wants to rid themselves of low-end sponsors by creating the sponsorship tax. But as Quarry explained, it can lead to some serious loss of income for fighters.
Quarry has always supported the need for sponsorships and has stated that he wouldn't be where he is without companies paying to put their logo on his shorts. Nike and Burger King aren't going to spend advertising dollars on lower-tier fighters, so those guys need all the small sponsors they can get.
While he brought up some valid points, none was bigger than the lack of competition in MMA.
The UFC is it when it comes to a major promotion. Bellator is in second place, but the bargaining tools in terms of financial gains are far from close.
Competition would not only lead to increased fighter pay but also increased production value. Would White and the UFC be as comfortable cancelling an event or showcasing a dud like UFC 161 if Bellator were a true player in the MMA game?
However, Quarry's argument about competition in MMA does have a fault as well. It could lead to fighters becoming even more glorified than they are now and elevate salaries much like what has happened in the major sports leagues.
We could see the day where guys are paid more just to join the UFC than fighters who have been scrapping their way through the rankings—similar to how some rookies are paid exorbitantly compared to some veterans making chump change.
Ultimately, so many factors go into fighter pay that it's hard to focus on just one item. It also doesn't help that the UFC is a private company, which means we never get a clear picture of final payouts.
So long as the UFC is a private company and doesn't release its full financial details, this debate will continue. Seeing as how the UFC doesn't have to look over its shoulder to remain atop the MMA world, don't expect anything to change.