Matt Riddle Retires from MMA, but Is Money Really to Blame?

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Matt Riddle Retires from MMA, but Is Money Really to Blame?
Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Matthew Riddle announced his retirement from mixed martial arts on Monday at the ripe old age of 27. 

Riddle, who debuted on the national scene on Season 7 of The Ultimate Fighter, said via Twitter that he can't fight as scheduled on September 20 because of a cracked rib and that his newest employer Bellator can't give him a fight this year.

Thus, he can no longer afford to train in mixed martial arts. It's a sad story to see such a young fighter forced to stop pursuing something he's good at because his employers don't pay him enough money and can't find him enough fights to live on.

And you know Bellator is telling the truth about being unable to find Riddle a fight, because it's featuring former UFC talent anytime it possibly can. Especially if a fighter is coming off a drug test failure in his last fight (Riddle and Lavar Johnson), or if he's mentally unbalanced and generally regarded as a terrible human being (Jon "War Machine" Koppenhaver). 

So I started feeling bad for Riddle, because again, it's never fun to see such young talent walk away before he realizes his potential. And then I started thinking: I wonder how much money he made over the past, oh, two years or so, when he was fighting regularly in the UFC? Why is he living in poverty?

I decided to take a look at reported salaries for the last five Riddle fights, which would take us back to September 2011. 

First, a few notes:

1. Salaries for international events, whether held under the auspices of the UFC or a local sanctioning body, are generally not released to the public. In these cases, however, it's easy to estimate a fighter's win/show money based on previously reported fights.

For instance, Riddle went from earning $12,000/$12,000 to earning $15,000/$15,000. That signifies that he either signed a new deal with the UFC or that escalator clauses in his previous contract changed the number from $12,000 to $15,000. 

2. These numbers are simply reported earnings and do not include sponsorships. 

So, let's take a look at Riddle's last five fights, with his reported earnings:

Matt Riddle: Last Five Fights
Date Event Opponent Result Earnings
Sept. 2011 UFC Fight Night: Shields vs. Ellenberger Lance Benoist Loss $12,000 + $55,000 FOTN Bonus
Feb. 2012 UFC 143 Henry Martinez Win $15,000/$15,000
July 2012 UFC 149 Chris Clements Win $15,000/$15,000 +$65,000 FOTN Bonus
Nov. 2012 UFC 154 John Maguire Win $15,000/$15,000
Feb. 2013 UFC on Fuel: Barao vs. McDonald Che Mills Win $15,000/$15,000

Wikipedia

Note: the two highlighted rows denote results that were overturned due to drug test failures.

Let's do a little math, shall we?

You'll note that Riddle had two of his five fights overturned due to drug test failures for marijuana. Despite my firm belief that marijuana is not a performance-enhancing drug and that the regulations restricting its usage in mixed martial arts are stupid (for lack of a better term), the fact remains that they're still the rules and must be followed.

If you can't exist without marijuana, and you know that allowances will not be made that enable you to smoke pot, then you cannot smoke pot. It's that simple. Follow the rules (stupid as they may be), or find something else to do.

Without those two drug test failures, Riddle would have earned approximately $252,000 in 17 months.

With the failures? The number drops to $157,000. 

Both of these estimated earnings do not include taxes, which Riddle would have to pay due to his status as a contractor.

But still—$157,000 before taxes? That's a salary many independent contractors would kill for, even with the taxes involved.

Again, these estimates do not include sponsorships. Given Riddle's placement on each fight card, it is reasonable to expect that he earned a minimum of $25,000 to $50,000 over the duration of the five fights I've listed above.

These numbers also do not account for whatever percentage his manager and gym took from each of his fight purses. Knowing the industry, that number could range from 10 percent (for good management) 50 percent (for sleazy management).

So, to recap: Prior to failing two drug tests in three fights, Riddle was on a course to make somewhere between $250,000 and $300,000 over the course of 17 months, before paying taxes and management and gym fees. After failing two drug tests, he earned somewhere in the neighborhood of $150,000 to $180,000.

Now, I'm not a financial planning expert. This is just a surface look at the numbers, and you'd need someone far more intelligent and experienced than me to break them down.

But with just this surface look at Riddle's earnings, I can safely say there's no way he should be so financially destitute at this point in his career that he's forced to retire from mixed martial arts because he can no longer afford to train. And if he is broke, then it might be time to visit with a financial planner or someone else who can help him figure out where his money went and why his money doesn't need to go there anymore.

I know plenty of fighters who make far less than what Riddle has reportedly earned over the past two years, and all of them survive. They don't have the coolest rides or the nicest houses. They don't eat in the finest eateries money can buy. But they live and survive because they want to train another day all in the hopes of someday reaching the level Riddle did before two drug test failures forced the UFC to ditch him. 

Mixed martial arts isn't the most honest sport in the world, and it doesn't always feature the most upstanding citizens of humanity. But you can't blame this one on the sport, and you can't blame this one on Bellator. 

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