Fighter pay, the hot topic of the moment in mixed martial arts, heated up a little more on Thursday when fired-up UFC president Dana White sat down to discuss the topic following the UFC 162 pre-fight press conference.
Many feel that for a company allegedly worth as much as it claims, the UFC is underpaying the majority of its athletes. In a 2011 story in the New York Times, UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta was quoted as saying, “I feel pretty comfortable saying we’re the most valuable sports franchise on the planet, more than Manchester United, more than the New York Yankees, more than the Dallas Cowboys.”
Forbes recently put Manchester United’s worth at $2.23 billion, the Yankees at $1.85 billion and the Cowboys at the same value.
The UFC is a privately owned company, and it doesn't disclose financials, so it’s hard to tell if Fertitta’s statement is accurate.
One way White said the UFC could change the pay scale is to get rid of fighter bonuses.
“It wasn't just the fight of the night bonuses, it was all bonuses. There are a lot of bonuses that fly around this company, and the reality is that the bonuses that are given are bonuses that are deserved,” White said.
White then blasted those he sees as complainers:
The guys that are complaining about this are the guys that don't matter. That might sound [expletive] mean and harsh and 'Why would nobody matter, everybody matters.' We're in a society now where everyone should win a trophy. No, everybody shouldn't win a [expletive] trophy. The guys who stand out and the guys who deserve bonuses, the guys that make it exciting, and the guys that rise to the top are the guys that deserve the money.
White proceeded to point to two fighters he feels the system has really worked for, Joe Lauzon and Sam Stout. Fighters White feels fans want to see and make a good living in the middle of the pack, delivering the type of exciting action that benefits them via bonuses. He had some harsh words for those who do not fit that description:
If you're not that guy, and boo [expletive] hoo, you don't matter. I'm sure that [expletive] sucks, and I'm sure that hurts. I'm sure you want to scream that from the rooftops. 'I'm pissed, and this isn't fair, and this isn't right.' This is [expletive] life, dude, get ready, because every day, life is standing right there to kick you in the [expletive] face, and you better be ready to do something about it.
White’s speech, while interesting, missed the point. White took the question of fighter pay and made it about the bonus aspect of the UFC pay structure. No one is saying they aren’t thankful for the bonuses, but they are saying the base pay is low, a subject that was not addressed.
By threatening to remove bonuses, White is looking to create a rift between the fighters. As someone who has sat on both sides of the table during collective-bargaining sessions, I can tell you that White’s statement on removing the bonuses is one of the oldest tricks in the book from the management side. There’s always the implication (or is that a threat?) that a certain benefit will disappear for all when higher wages are sought. In this case, that threat is the removal of the bonus program.
Are UFC fighters underpaid?
Every sport has gone through this growth period, where the ink turns from red to very, very black. At that point, the owners have been forced to loosen the purse strings a bit. Most of the time, it was done very reluctantly through collective bargaining. The NHL is the most recent example of this growth. Between the 1984-85 and 2010-11 seasons, the average player salary grew from $149,000 to $1.93 million.
No one is saying the UFC salaries should reflect those of the NHL, NFL or MLB or that the fighters will unionize, but for what the promotion asks of these fighters, the salaries do need to increase. This has zero to do with bonuses and everything to do with base pay.
The pay issue is not going away for the UFC, and it will be interesting to see how the promotion handles things. Putting down the fighters and trying to create tension between the haves and have-nots in the UFC isn’t the solution.
When you keep telling everyone who will listen that the promotion you represent is bigger than the NFL, well, don’t be surprised when the fighters hear that and wonder when they will get their share of that growing pie.
All quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report unless otherwise noted.