Nate Quarry, like so many other young men, once had a dream to compete under the bright lights of the UFC, but he soon learned that all of the glitz and glamour was just a facade to mask a business that cares more about the bottom line than its employees.
The former UFC middleweight contender has long been considered one of the true good guys in MMA. He was a company man who tiptoed around controversial issues, always careful not to rock the boat.
However, recent power moves by former UFC welterweight champ Georges St-Pierre and top UFC contender Gilbert Melendez seem to have flipped the script for fighters all over the world.
St-Pierre, who is arguably the greatest fighter in MMA history, vacated his title and is currently on an indefinite hiatus until the UFC addresses some of his concerns.
After a contractual dispute with UFC President Dana White, Melendez recently agreed to terms on a contract with rival promotion Bellator.
More and more fighters, past and present, are beginning to speak up. Quarry joined the growing list of disgruntled UFC veterans when he took to MMA Underground (h/t BloodyElbow.com) and posted a detailed description of what life was really like as a UFC fighter:
People have no clue from the outside what it's like to fight for the UFC. After spending 10-15 years chasing your dream only to see that the company it's been your dream to fight for cares nothing about the fighters and only cares about the bottom line. ...
I fought for the world title for $10,000. Not a penny more. No bonus. No cut of the PPV. The gate alone was 3.5 million dollars. The third highest gate in UFC history at the time. And they must have loved the fight cuz they show the final punch at the start of EVERY UFC PPV. :-)
Perhaps the most frustrating part about being a UFC fighter lies in the company’s handling of sponsorship money. According to Quarry and various other fighters, sponsors are required to pay hefty tax fees just to sponsor a fighter.
The fee alone discourages many low-end sponsors from doing business with the UFC. Sure, this doesn’t affect fighters like Anderson Silva or Jon Jones, who rake in more money from high-end sponsors than the totality of the average fighter’s purse. It may not even affect mid-level fighters frequently featured on UFC main cards.
But for newcomers and undercard fighters, every single dollar that can be squeezed from a sponsor counts. As Quarry aptly puts it, “If you're fighting for $6,000 to show and fighting three times a year, even $500 makes a big difference.”
When I signed with the UFC this is what I was told...We can't pay you much but you can have any sponsors you want. Then: We need to approve your sponsors. Then: You can't have any conflicting sponsors. Then: You can't thank your sponsors after fights. Then: We are not approving any sponsors that we don't like their product. Then: Your sponsors have to pay us a fee of $50,000 for the pleasure to sponsor you. Then: Your sponsors have to pay us a fee of $100,000 for the pleasure to sponsor you.
If a sponsor has a budget of 10k to sponsor a fighter, they are then out. If there are 5 shorts companies in the UFC you can only go to them for a sponsorship. If they have spent their budget or don't want to support an up and coming fighter they give you shorts instead of money.
The UFC is synonymous with MMA, like the NFL is synonymous with football or the NBA with basketball. It is every fighter’s dream to one day compete in the UFC.
With no union in place, it’s difficult for fighters to have any real bargaining power or leverage when negotiating with the world’s largest MMA promotion.
Quite frankly, it’s the UFC’s way or the highway.
The vast majority of fighters are willing to put up with just about anything as long as it guarantees them a coveted spot on the UFC roster.
But change could be coming.
With Bellator on the board, negotiations won’t always end with fighters facing a checkmate from the UFC. Fighters now have another viable option that offers both competitive pay and an opportunity to compete on a nationally televised network.
When negotiations sour, the UFC will still have the option to pick up its ball and go home, but from this point forward, the MMA mecca will likely think twice before letting world-class talent slip into the waiting arms of its ever-growing competition.