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Former UFC Fighter Cody McKenzie Retires from MMA, Cites Poor Pay and Treatment

December 14, 2013; Sacramento, CA, USA; Cody McKenzie (blue gloves) fights Sam Stout (red gloves) during the lightweight bout of the UFC on FOX 9 at Sleep Train Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports
Hunter HomistekCorrespondent IDecember 18, 2014

Cody "The AK Kid" McKenzie (15-6) retired from the sport of mixed martial arts Thursday evening. 

The former The Ultimate Fighter competitor and UFC lightweight/featherweight was 2-3 in his past five contests, most recently losing to Beslan Isaev via first-round knockout at M-1 Challenge 54. 

McKenzie cited poor fighter pay and unfavorable working conditions, extending back to his time with the UFC, as the primary impetus behind this decision.

In the wake of his retirement, Bleacher Report caught up with him to gather his thoughts and hear the reasoning behind this career choice. (Warning: The following interview is NSFW and contains graphic/vulgar language.)

 

Bleacher Report: Hey, Cody, thanks for taking the time to chat. Obviously, you just tweeted that this is the end. This is it for your career. Is that a hasty decision, or are you sure about it? 

Cody McKenzie: I just don't see the point in fighting anymore, you know? This fight I made $7,000, but I got knocked the f--k out, and I owe about $10,000. So there's no point in even continuing with this s--t, you know? I never made a penny in the UFC. I fought for them for years. I just don't see a point in continuing. I like martial arts, but there's no money in it, and we all have to grow up some time.

 

B/R: So just to be clear, this is totally a financial decision? You would still fight if the money was there for you?                                                                                                              

CM: I'd compete if the money was there. I got into it not for the money, but at the same time, you hit a certain age and you have to grow up. I want a real house and property and all that, like everybody else. And you can't have that in the fight world unless you're a top-10 guy.

 

B/R: To create that, what do you do? Do you go back to commercial fishing? 

CM: I never gave up the fishing. I was fishing all throughout my career. I always had to make ends meet. I was only averaging about $50,000 a year in the UFC. All the years I fought for them, I averaged $50,000 a year, and they never paid for medicals, they wouldn't help out with bringing out cornermen and s--t.

They'd bring out one cornerman, but when you have a whole team that needs to go, at the end of the year, you pretty much made about $10,000 fighting for the UFC after paying for medicals and paying for everything and factoring in the expenses of training and all that s--t. You don't make s--t, and it's f-----g b------t. I'm over it.

 

B/R: A lot of fans were quick to point out the bonuses you made with the UFC. You won Submission of the Night once and Fight of the Night once, so that had to help financially, right? 

CM: Oh, yeah, those bonuses. I never made that much first of all. Like I said, I averaged $50,000 a year, and that's before expenses. After expenses, I didn't have s--t.

When I fought in New Jersey, it cost me $4,000 in medicals just to get to the damn fight, and the UFC doesn’t pay for a penny of that. They don't help out with any medicals, they don't give a s--t. They're just a big corporation selling merchandise.

People come up all the time wanting autographs, they got cards of me and s--t, but I haven't seen a penny of anything. I'm broke. I've been broke my whole career, and I'm sick of it. I'm sick of fighting because of it. I got to go to Russia and fight a tough guy, and if I would've won, I would've broken even, but I didn't even win, so I'm over it. I'm sick of it.

The UFC is the pinnacle of the sport, and unless you're kissing their ass and f-----g s-----g (UFC President) Dana's (White's) d--k, you're not making any money. I see these chumps in the UFC with 4-5 records or 3-0 records, and I'm like, "Who the f--k are these people?"

They never paid their dues, but I see how they act around Dana. They kiss his ass. I never did, and at the end of the day, I lost some ground because of it.

 

B/R: Looking back now, do you wish you had "played the game" more, so to speak? I feel like I already know the answer to this question, but do you wish you had kissed their toes a little more while you were there? 

CM: I am who I am, and I ain't no little punk like that. I'm not going to kiss anybody's ass to hold a job like that. I know I'm a hard worker and I know I bring in fans and I put on great fights. The whole time, win or lose, I lay it out.

There are plenty of haters out there, but I know what I am, and anybody who sees it differently can come say it to me. But no one ever has. I have a lot of haters, but no one's ever said s--t to my face or I'd f-----g put them in their place.

Apr 27, 2013; Newark, NJ, USA; Leonard Garcia (white shorts) competes against  Cody McKenzie (green and black  shorts) during UFC 159 at the Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

This is nothing against M-1. M-1 treated me good, they took care of me, they helped me out and paid for everything to get to the fight. M-1 took care of me. That was my first fight ever for them, and they paid me $7,000.

My first three fights with the UFC, they expected me to fight for free while locked in a s---y-ass house. The UFC is a joke to me. They're a multibillion-dollar company, and you have to sign a three-year contract to get one fight with them? What? What kind of s--t is that?

I paid 40 percent of my purse in New Jersey to fight Leonard Garcia. I paid 40 percent of my purse before I even got to it. Forty percent. And that's before paying for coaches, paying for everything else, you know?

So there's just no money in the sport, and I'm to the point in life where I want to grow up, and this is some kid s--t it almost seems like unless you're a top-tier guy, which I wasn't born with that athletic ability. They're either on HGH or they were just born super-athletic. I know that a lot of guys I compete against are a lot bigger and stronger and faster than me, you know?

 

B/R: That's a point that's been brought up a lot recently as well, the HGH and the steroid use. Is that something you've seen personally, that you know to be a fact? 

CM: I believe that most athletes are on it. If you can afford it, you're on it. Fighting is becoming a rich kids' sport. That's the bottom line. It's becoming a rich kids' sport. When I got into it, I could fight and not have to pay $4,000 in medicals. Now, just to do a fight in North America, I have to pay hella money in medicals. It's a f-----g joke.

They try to watch every little thing we do, and the bottom line is that it's for rich kids now. If you have the money to pay for all the supplements and all the s--t to make you bigger, faster, stronger, then you're going to do good. But if you're just a martial artist anymore, you're done.

 

B/R: Now to back up, when you say you're $10,000 in debt right now, is that all from fighting expenses? Is that debt you've accumulated by chasing this dream? 

CM: That's just life, and that's nothing, that's $10,000. When I went into The Ultimate Fighter house, I was like $23,000 in debt. I remember in The Ultimate Fighter they had that coaches' challenge where they were giving the two rich coaches $10,000 to hit some baseballs, and they were paying all the fighters $1,500.

And most of the fighters were stoked on it! They're like, "Oh my god! We're going to win $1,500!"I'm like, you guys are scrubs! I come from Alaska, where $1,500 doesn't get you through a week. It's all about where you're from.

I've always made good money in Alaska and my career. I commercial fish, but I'm to the point where I gotta go get a job and start building a real life. The martial arts, I'm sure I'll always do (them). I'm sure I'll train and work out and train people, but anymore, in order to hang in the sport, you have to be able to afford the supplements, the HGH and all the good s--t they're pumping into their systems.

Look at all the athletes today. They're bigger, faster, stronger than they ever were. Everybody's all ripped out of their minds supplementing and whatever.

It's just time to grow up. If there was work and time to keep doing it, I would keep doing it, but nobody's going to pay me. M-1, maybe I'll go back to fighting for them, but I just got knocked out cold with them, so I doubt they're going to want me back.

But the UFC, I don't ever want to work for them again. I made more at the end of the day with M-1 than I probably ever made with the UFC. I'm sure I probably could make more with M-1.

So I might be going back, but I really doubt it. I think I'm done with this, I'm done training, I'm done wasting my time. If I spend my time making money like I do how much time I spend training, I can form a life. I'm ready for that. I'm ready to f-----g grow up.

 

B/R: Now, just for comparison, can you say how much you make commercial fishing in a typical season? 

CM: I've had seasons where I made $80,000 in three months, and I've had seasons where I made $5,000 in three months. Fishing is a flip of the coin, but that's only three months out of the year, and at least I'm out on the boat.

Training costs money. That's what people don't get. When you're training, you have to pay for gyms. You have to pay for training. It costs money. I've been pretty fortunate that I came up to Spokane and don't have to pay that much to train there, but, still, just living each day, day-to-day, costs money.

I'm to the point I'd rather go make money so I can actually come up in life. In the fight world, unless you already have money, to me, all these people who do it already have money. All these new people coming in, they have money.

All these girls coming into the UFC and s--t with no records, and even the guys. I watched two 3-0 guys fight each other on TV the other day. I'm like, "Why the f--k am I watching two 3-0 guys fighting in the UFC? They're f-----g 3-0. That's not even a record."

Or this CM Punk guy. It's all politics, and I'm just sick of it. I know I can fight. I'll beat CM Punk's f-----g ass, but nobody cares because he's famous and rich, and that's what people want to see, this guy.

And I don't have anything against him personally, but it's just the politics of it.

 

B/R: There's a fun hypothetical. Let's say the UFC asks you to fight CM Punk. Do you take the pay day, or are you that checked out of fighting right now? 

CM: I'm sure Dana hates me, and I'm sure the UFC hates me, but, yeah, I would fight CM Punk in a heartbeat at middleweight, no problem. Is that what he is, a middleweight?

 

B/R: Yeah, I think that's what they're thinking, middleweight, but maybe welterweight if he can make the cut. 

CM: Yeah, I heard that guy talking. He's a f-----g joke. He's like six months out and he's like, "I'm really nervous." I'm like, come on, you p---y. You're nervous and you're six months out? I don't get nervous until they close that cage door. That's when I get nervous. You better shake that nerves s--t off or you're going to freeze in there, you big f-----g girl.

I don't even know why that guy's doing it. I kind of do, like a lot of guys try to do it, but he'll do it once and quit. It's not a fun thing, fighting people.  People think it's so great, but they've never done it. Those people have never f-----g done it. Fighting's not fun, you know?

The training is fun. The martial arts, learning the martial arts is fun. But when it comes fight night, nobody has fun with the fight. No, it's nerve-wracking as f--k. You're getting your f-----g head punched in and your body kicked to s--t. It's not fun.

But the UFC's a joke to me, anymore. This WMMA (women's MMA), I watched some girl fight the other day. She was 4-5, she had a losing record,  but she was ranked No. 13 in the world. I was like, "Oh my god, are you kidding me?" I won like 28 in a row, amateur and pro, before I even got a chance, then they made me fight for free in the TUF house, you know?

A bunch of dumb fans are like, "Those aren't real fights." Oh, they're not? They felt like real fights.

Fighting for me anymore is just...there's no money in it. I mean, there is money in it if you're a promoter or if you're putting on a show, but there's no money in it if you're a non-athletic athlete who doesn't have the money backers to support you and bring you up and take care of you, get you all your exposure.

I have one coach I hired, he's a boxing coach. But besides that, I can't afford a bunch of world-class coaches and be down in the mecca of California where it costs a lot of money to live, you know?

 

B/R: So, Cody, I just want to be totally clear on this. It's a big decision for your life and your career, obviously, so I just want to jump back to the point people are making with your bonuses. Where exactly did that money go? Was it just taxed or what's the deal there?

CM: My first fight in the UFC, I won $30,000, and most of it, I'm how in debt with the IRS right now? I'm in debt. At the end of the day, after you pay for your medicals, pay the IRS, pay your gym fees and pay for life and eating right and all that s--t, you're broke.

Like I said, $50,000 a year is what I averaged, and that's before expenses. After expenses, I'm averaging about $10,000 a year. That's s--t money when you're traveling, you're on the road, you have to eat out.

I remember when they put me up at the MGM to fight Chad Mendes, I was broke as a joke. I had to jog six miles off the strip just to find a cheap place to eat. I couldn't eat anywhere on the strip because I didn't have any f-----g money, and I'm fighting the No. 2-ranked guy in the world. It's a f-----g joke.

 

B/R: That's crazy, man. They couldn't get you food? Did you ask? 

CM: I'd ask. I'd ask all sorts of s--t from those guys. When I first showed up, they were all, "We got you, we got you." I remember I asked for a hotel room once because I brought my full team. That was the last time I ever brought a full team with me. They always wanted three people in my corner to look professional, you know?

So I finally brought a full team to one of my fights, and one of my cornermen was snoring and sleepwalking and s--t and keeping me up all night, so I asked the UFC for another room. It was like $500 for a room at this place we were staying. I couldn't afford another room. But they wouldn't get me another room.

They said, "No. Look, we can't get you another hotel room." I'm like, "I'm not getting any f-----g sleep." It's like, thanks a lot, d--k heads. You guys are a multibillion-dollar corporation, and you can't afford another hotel room when you're already renting the whole hotel out probably?

I got story after story like that. I always felt I was mistreated in the UFC. They take care of certain guys, and they take care of their guys who will kiss their ass and b--w them, but that's not me. ...I never respected Dana White, and I still don't. I think he's a greedy a-----e, and I'm glad they're getting sued.

 

B/R: And do you think that's the answer for some of these problems, the lawsuit right now. Is that a good first step? 

CM: At this point, I don't even care. I'm out of the UFC, and I'm not going to see a penny of it. At the end of the day, I'm sure if a bunch of lawyers sue the UFC, it's going to be a lot of lawyers who get richer and not a bunch of fighters, you know?

Fighters never come up in my opinion. There will be one or two of them, maybe, and that inspires the rest of them, but at the end of the day, fighters don't come up. And I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but that's just how it is.

I haven't seen many fighters get rich, and I've been in the game for a very long time. Most of them just struggle, and they all say the same thing, they all do it because they love it. They do it for the passion of the sport. It's too bad to me when there is millions and billions of dollars floating around. It's ridiculous how much money is flowing in, but it's not going to the right people.

 

B/R: There had to be a point in your career, though, where you did love the sport and you were happy, or I don't think you'd have kept with it. Do you remember the time it started to shift, the time it started to become a burden to you? 

CM: Oh, for sure. It happened right when I got to The Ultimate Fighter house. As soon as I got where I thought I should, where I thought I should be making money, and I wasn't making anything? I mean, they're trying to give us $1,500. The box boy was getting more money than I was doing the TUF reality show. At the end of the day, I was $23,000 in debt, and they're paying me like $500 a week to be in this house and fight the best guys out there. 

And they're like, "You gotta earn your way in." It's like, m----------r, I'm 11-0 with all first-round finishes, like, what do you mean I have to earn my way in? I've been doing this for years. I've earned my way many times over, in my opinion, and it didn't make a difference because I wasn't a kiss-ass and I didn't look the way they wanted me to look. 

I know plenty of fighters who are way better than the guys in there, but they're ugly, you know? The bottom line is the UFC is about beauty. If you look good and if you're a pretty boy or a pretty girl, you're going to make a lot more. It's show business. It's not the fight game. It's show business. 

 

B/R: And when you look back, man, if this is your last hurrah, if this is it for you, what did you like about fighting? Obviously, you're really disgruntled and negative right now, but what do you look at as a high point in your career? 

CM: All the friends, the athletes I met. I made a ton of good friends in the sport who I'll always be friends with. I respect all the fighters tremendously, even the ones who suck, even the ones who are fighting on national television with s--t records. I still respect them more than the people running the shows who are ripping the fighters off, you know? The athletes, I respect every fighter, no matter what I say about fighters. I even respect this CM Punk who's never had to go to the very top. I respect him for wanting to do it, for stepping up and fighting somebody. I think he's a putz for going to the No. 1 organization without even doing any work to get there, but at the end of the day, I still respect him for wanting to try a fight.

I look back and I'll always appreciate all the athletes who helped me out, like the Diaz brothers and people like that. They'd let me come stay at their houses and learn good martial arts. I was just some Opie from the country, and they'd let me stay with them and learn good s--t. I respect all those guys. At the end of the day, I had a lot of good times, but I'm done chasing this f-----g dream. I'm to the point where it's not worth it to get knocked out for pennies.

 

Hunter Homistek is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. 

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