UFC Fighters Say They Are Getting Underpaid
UFC fighters are among the toughest athletes competing in sports. Fiercely competitive, they enter the octagon knowing they could be cut, bruised or placed in submission holds that could render them temporarily unconscious. With each fight, they run the risk of suffering career-ending injuries.
But mentioning “fighter pay” to this same group of men brings forth a completely different side. They become consumed with fear. Flight instincts take over.
“Career suicide,” one current fighter said when approached by “Outside the Lines” for comment.
“It would be the end of my career,” said another current fighter, a former champion, when asked for an on-the-record interview about the UFC’s fighter pay scale.
The men who run the Ultimate Fighting Championship are benefiting from unprecedented revenue growth — the company purchased rival Strikeforce in March for $34 million, further tightening its stranglehold on the mixed martial arts industry. Recently, the UFC inked a seven-year deal worth a reported $100 million annually with FOX, its first significant broadcast agreement with a major network.
The UFC, $44 million in debt as recently as 2005, according to chief executive officer Lorenzo Fertitta, is today widely believed by industry insiders to be worth north of a billion dollars.
While paydays for top draws like Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre can run into the millions (St. Pierre recently told Agence France-Presse he earns between $4 million and $5 million per fight), entry-level fighters who compete under the banner of the UFC do so for as little as $6,000 if they fail to win their first match.
“We’re basically fighting for crumbs,” said one current UFC fighter, a veteran of more than a dozen years in the sport who also asked that his name be withheld for fear of reprisals from UFC management.
“The top 5 percent [of fighters] are definitely making good money, but you’ve got to look at the guys at the bottom of the card,” the fighter said. “They can’t fight anywhere else. If they make $10,000 a fight and fight every six months, they can’t make ends meet.”“We’re definitely not getting our fair share of the cash,” said another fighter currently under contract with the UFC. A fan favorite, he, too, refused to be named, citing concerns about the reaction from UFC management.
“Any opposition, they [expletive] crush it,” said the fighter. “Until somebody starts a union, we’re all sort of at their mercy.”
Fertitta, CEO of Zuffa LLC, the parent company of the UFC, said dissent among fighters is not only commonplace but tolerated.
“Anybody can talk about anything. We’ve had plenty of situations where fighters have come out and made statements. … Have they been blackballed or banned? Absolutely not,” Fertitta said.
UFC management has had public disagreements in the past with some of its top fighters over the issue of compensation and image rights — former heavyweight champion Randy Couture and top welterweight contender Jon Fitch to name just two.
Both were eventually welcomed back into the fold; Couture after a bitter legal fight with the UFC, Fitch after he was cut by UFC management and then reinstated a day later.
“Outside the Lines” recently conducted a wide-ranging interview with Fertitta about the issue of fighter pay and other aspects of the UFC’s business.
Among items Fertitta noted:
• Since 2005, the first year the UFC became profitable, the company has paid more than $250 million to its fighters.
• 39 UFC fighters have become millionaires as a result of their earnings from the company.
• 29 fighters on the current roster receive a cut of pay-per-view profits.
• Since 2005, fighter pay has grown at twice the rate of revenue growth.
Dana Whit has said: “Rumble Johnson did the damage to himself. To be that unprofessional to not come in on weight and that far off when you used to fight at 170, now you went to 185 pounds so you wouldn’t have trouble making weight and this is your worst weight cut ever? It’s a detriment to himself.a
To be honest with you we are probably going to cut him after this event. Three strikes and you are out. This is his third time that he hasn’t made weight. He’s the co-main event in a huge fight down here in Brazil and this one was a bad one.”
UFC 142 Preliminaries: http://www.firstrow.tv/watch/102162/1/watch-ufc-142-:-preliminaries.html
UFC 142 Main-Card: http://www.firstrow.tv/watch/102164/1/watch-ufc-142-:-aldo-vs-mendes.html
After Anthony Johnson weighed in at 197 for 185-pound bout at Friday’s official weigh-ins, Johnson was told he could weigh no more than 205 after rehydrating. Today, at a follow up weigh in, Johnson came in at 204.2 and he will be allowed to face Vitor Belfort in tonight’s event.
There is a penalty for him coming up over weight initially, though, he must surrender 20 percent of his purse to Belfort.
UFC President Dana White calls it “complete and absolute unprofessionalism.” White also says that Johnson’s contract could be in jeopardy regardless of tonight’s outcome.