Mark Coleman is a member of the UFC Hall of Fame and is widely considered the Grandfather of Ground and Pound. He is a former UFC Heavyweight and Pride Open Weight Grand Prix Champion.
"The Hammer" is one of the few fighters to bridge both eras of Mixed Martial Arts. He competed in the early days of the UFC against legends like Dan Severn and Don Frye, while also fighting stars of today like Fedor Emelianenko and "Minotauro" Nogueira during his time with Pride.
Since the earning potential of a champion during Coleman's time at the top was far less than it is today, the 44-year-old fights on, feeding his competitive fire and evening out some of those early small paychecks with larger lump sums for his more recent performances.
Coleman is not alone; some are in the same position and others still are worse off.
With the emergence of the sport into the mainstream, Mixed Martial Arts might be ready for a fighters union now more than ever.
There is nothing that can be done to improve the poor pay fighters earned in the early years of building the sport. However, taking care of current stars and improving things for the future is very much a possibility.
Equality of pay is one major issue to address when thinking about establishing a fighters union, but I'm going to stay away from it in this particular article.
Not that I don't have opinions on the matter, because let's face it, I have an opinion on everything. Instead, because there are other things a fighters union can provide that exceed the benefits of putting more money in fighters' pockets right now.
For starters, a union could help educate fighters about how to ensure they have money in their pockets when the spotlights fade and their careers are over.
Only a select few fighters make the kind of money that offers financial security in the future. Hundreds of thousands of dollars per fight with a share of the pay-per-view money isn't something that is available outside of the upper echelon of fighters.
Everyone else needs to be smart about their money, and a union can help educate fighters in that regard, teaching about investment, future earnings potential, and alternate ways to earn income outside of the ring, like sponsorships and endorsements.
Additionally, a fighters can help prepare these modern day gladiators for life after fighting. While some like Kenny Florian and Frank Mir look to have opportunities in broadcasting once they put away the pads for the last time, those opportunities are few and far between.
Even fighters that currently operate their own gyms and have additional sources of income outside of the ring would benefit from advice and guidance that comes from someone with their best interest in mind.
We see this with a number of professional sports; why should MMA be any different?
The NFL, NBA, and NHL all run rookie symposiums where they do their best to educate the latest class of millionaires on these very issues. These week-long sessions are non-negotiable; just like home room, attendance is mandatory...unless you've got a note from your mom.
If the NFL is proactive enough to sit down first-overall selection Matthew Stafford and talk to him about his $64 million guaranteed income, couldn't Mixed Martial Arts be doing the same with fighters who are making far less?
The Mark Colemans of the world are a declining population: guys who missed the financial windfall while breaking their backs to help build the sport into the money-making machine it is today.
As the sport continues to grow and the financial opportunities improve for stars and non-stars alike, there needs to be someone or something in place to help guide them towards a financially-secure future and life after fighting.
Managers and agents help, without question, but a union would help even more. After all, not everyone is blessed with a Shari Spencer like Georges St. Pierre.
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A big shout out on this one to my man Nate Double from Bleacher Report.
Having a back-and-forth with him yesterday about the retirement issue brought this idea into my head.