Matthew Riddle announced his retirement as a professional mixed martial arts fighter the other day, an event that may have been overlooked had Riddle not left without making some compelling comments about his former employers.
And one of those former employers, UFC president Dana White, had plenty to say about Riddle's comments.
Riddle spoke to MMA Junkie's Ben Fowlkes after announcing his retirement and expressed his frustrations with the sport. He noted he's unhappy with the criticism he gets from the fans and said it is difficult to get fights to make a living.
He blasted Bellator for not getting him a fight, and said the pay is not enough to raise a family. Riddle, 27, is married with three children.
I've had multiple surgeries. I get cut open, I'm in pain, and I can't even pay my [expletive] bills. People know who I am and I'm on TV all the time, but I can't pay my [expletive] bills, so who cares? What kind of sport is this? What's the point of being in it if you can't even make money? Especially a sport where you get torn open, get brain damage and bleed? And then people give me [expletive] because I'd rather retire and get a real job. At least that way I'll get a check every week and not worry about someone trying to cut my face open or knock my [expletive] teeth out.
Riddle said he made an average of $50,000 a year during his career with the UFC. UFC president Dana White told Cagewriter that in his last six fights, covering two years, Riddle made $323,000, which is an average of $53,833 a fight. At three fights a year, White said, that is $162,000 a year.
White angrily disputed that Riddle was treated unfairly in any way.
"The first thing you have to understand is that in no way, shape or form is Matt Riddle a game changer," White said. "He's an undercard fighter. He is not selling tickets. People aren't buying pay-per-views to see him. He's a guy you put on undercards to hopefully build into something.
"Since 2011 (actually December 2010), we've paid him $323,000 in six fights. That's $162,00 a year. Go make that in the real world, Matt Riddle. And they drug test at regular jobs, so good luck getting a job. If you can't pass a drug test in the UFC when you know you're fighting three times a year, how are you ever going to pass a drug test to get a real job?"
Riddle tested positive for marijuana twice during his UFC stint and was released by the company after the second, a win over Che Mills in February that was overturned to a no contest after the positive test.
Riddle wasn't happy about the treatment he got from fans online. People who have anonymity on the Internet love to hide behind that and blast those with even a small amount of notoriety.
Riddle is correct in that it's a low-rent move, but it is the way of the world and he needs to have a lot thicker skin. But it can be difficult to take and Riddle let his heart pour out to Fowlkes.
People think it's for glory, but the glory isn't there. I like to fight. That's who I am. But getting stitches isn't glorious. Not getting paid isn't glorious. Watching other people drive Ferraris isn't glorious. So [expletive] it. I don't need it.
You get hurt and can't fight? Nobody cares. They just stomp on you. People get on their keyboards and talk [expletive] about you. Even if you're in the top 10, top five in the world, people talk [expletive] about you. It's a trash sport, people trash us all the time, we don't get paid [expletive] and it's like you lose one fight and people say you should quit fighting anyway. Why would I want to be a part of that? I'm tired of it.
After his release from the UFC, Riddle signed with Legacy FC. But Bellator purchased his contract from Legacy and promised him a spot in its upcoming tournament.
But Riddle injured a rib and had to pull out of Bellator 100, which is set for Sept. 20. He said he asked for another bout later, but Bellator wouldn't give him a fight until next year.
That, he said, prompted his retirement.
When Bellator bought out my contract they said, 'We're family, we take care of our own.' But then I crack a rib two weeks out from a fight and ask for an extension, like Joe Warren got, and I get told no. Then I ask if I can fight before the end of the year and I get told no on that. I've got three kids, man. When they bought me out of the Legacy contract, that was back in May. They kept me on the bench from May until September. I got hurt for September and now they say they can't get me a fight until January or February. The bottom line is, I've got a wife and three kids. I've got bills I have to pay.
[Bellator] knew that for a fact [that I would retire without a fight before year's end]. I said it to them [Monday]. I told them that if I couldn't get a fight by the end of the year, I need to retire and get a full-time job. They were like, 'Well, we can't [get you a fight].' Really? Viacom can't? Bellator can't? OK, I guess I need to retire then.
Bellator president Bjorn Rebney could not be reached for comment.
Perhaps it was frustration speaking for Riddle, and that is understandable. Fighters are independent contractors and they aren't paid unless they perform. It's not easy until one makes it to the top, similar to guys like UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre.
But Riddle told Fowlkes he was sick of dealing with "scumbags" and said he'd soured on the sport as a whole.
I'm just tired of the unethical people, the scumbags, all that. Maybe that's how all businesses are run, but in MMA I've been in the UFC, Legacy and Bellator. The UFC was the best, and even they didn't treat you that well. It just gets [expletive] on the way down. I'd rather get a real job, do some [jiu-jitsu], get my black belt and compete in some tournaments. And maybe I will fight in a year or two. But right now I'm so fed up with the people that run this sport, I don't want anything to do with it.
White, who said he thought Riddle had a lot of talent, clearly wasn't happy with Riddle's description of MMA people as unethical and scumbags. Though Riddle was signed to contracts with Legacy and Bellator, all of his fights were with the UFC.
"How exactly was this guy treated poorly, in any way, shape or form?" White said. "Is he upset that I didn't call him every day and say, 'Good morning, Sunshine. Have a wonderful day.'? He had health insurance when he was in the UFC and he made $162,000 a year, which is a lot for the level of fighter he was. Is that what you call treating him badly?
"And like I said, he was so mentally weak that he couldn't stay away from that drug [marijuana] so he'd be able to fight in the UFC three times a year. Good luck passing drug tests in your real world job, Matt."
A fighter's life, particularly for the lower-tier fighters, is a very difficult one. As Riddle said, there are the slings and arrows the fighters take from fans and, occasionally, the media. The pay isn't great to start and the risk of injury is high.
But in all sports, fighter pay is low for beginners. The PGA Tour is the highest-level of golf there is, and golfers aren't allow to be paid appearance fees to enter a tournament. Their only income comes from what they earn.
Minor league baseball players, particularly at Class A and Class AA, make next-to-nothing and often have to rely on family and friends to help them. But they do it because it's part of trying to make it to the big leagues, where the big money comes.
The Angels' Mike Trout is, arguably, the best player in baseball this year, and he's playing for just $510,000. That's more than $25 million less than Alex Rodriguez is being paid, and it's probably fair to say that the next 25 million people you ask would rather have Trout on their team than A-Rod.
Trout is among the lowest-paid players in baseball, a year after winning the Rookie of the Year and nearly the Most Valuable Player.
It's the way the system works in sports. It's a top-down system in which the biggest stars make the most money.
The undercard fighters work just as hard and sacrifice just as much as the superstar fighters like St-Pierre and Anderson Silva do, but they make way less. That's just a reality, and Riddle made the right choice to retire if he isn't comfortable with that arrangement.
It's how sports have been for years, and right or wrong, it's not likely to change any time soon.