The UFC is in the fight business, but is also in the business of making money.
Although the topic of fighter pay routinely comes up, one level of fighter that's almost never discussed as being underpaid are the UFC champions. That is until UFC featherweight champ Jose Aldo made some comments about feeling devalued.
Aldo is one of the top pound-for-pound fighters and is universally regarded as one of the most complete fighters in MMA today. Yet, the Brazilian doesn't feel he's being paid as much as he should be.
At first glance he does have some reason to complain.
Looking at the salaries of UFC 169, the last time Aldo competed, the featherweight champion made a cool $240,000 in disclosed pay. By comparison, both Alistair Overeem ($407,143) and Frank Mir ($200,000) made almost as much or more than the UFC champ. Both of those men were also in a "do or die" type of fight and are nowhere near relevant in their divisions.
But while Aldo has a point in that other fighters who are nowhere near the same level of him make just as much or more, he misses the mark with his complaints.
For one, the UFC has a focus on the bottom line and despite his success inside the Octagon, Aldo hasn't found success outside the cage. (Source: MMA Payout)
|UFC 169||UFC 163||UFC 156||UFC 142|
|230,000 buys||180,000 buys||330,000 buys||215,000 buys|
These are the past four events in which Aldo either headlined, or was the co-main event. As you can see, Aldo has struggled mightily at the box office. By comparison, UFC heavyweight champ Cain Velasquez was able to pull 380,000 buys in a lopsided match-up with Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva.
Heck, even Ronda Rousey was able to drum up 450,000 pay-per-view buys in her first appearance as the headliner on a UFC card. Benson Henderson's title defense against Anthony Pettis at UFC 163 scored 270,000 pay-per-view buys.
Even perhaps the most lopsided main event in UFC history, Anderson Silva vs. Stephan Bonnar, was able to take home 410,000 buys.
Whether you consider this a cause for concern about Aldo or the smaller weight classes in general is up for interpretation. The lighter weight classes have failed to become the highlight-reel attraction the UFC had in mind when purchasing the WEC, but Aldo hasn't exactly burned the house down in his performances, either.
Buyrates aside, Aldo also brought up the idea of English-speaking versus fighters who can't speak English in terms of marketability.
"We can feel that it can be bad for guys like me, Renan Barao and "The Spider" Silva because we can't speak English fluently," Aldo said (Bloody Elbow).
While I certainly understand that learning another language can be difficult, especially when you spend hours upon hours honing your fighting skills each day, the ability to speak English does matter when it comes to marketability.
After all, if you, the average American, worked at a French or German company, you'd be expected to learn the language (or at least some of it). Now is that fair to hold back fighters like Aldo and Barao due to their inability to speak English?
What should matter most is the level of talent a fighter has inside the Octagon, not their linguistic talents. But it's clear that's not the only thing that matters in today's UFC. It may not even be the most important thing.
One need only look to fighters like Chael Sonnen and Nick Diaz as evidence that fighters can talk their way into championship fights.
If the audience can't relate to you as a fighter, there's little hope they will back you in terms of buyrates or merchandise sales. Aldo certainly has the skills to be one of the most popular fighters in the UFC, but the sad reality is that there's a large selection of fans who won't connect with Aldo based on his size or English-speaking ability.
The UFC featherweight champion has the right and reason to want a bigger paycheck; that's not going to happen until he starts making the UFC a bigger paycheck.