More money than meets the eye in the UFC
One of my passions in life is technology. I’m obsessed with gizmos and gadgets and am all but in love with my iPhone.
A friend who knows about my obsession had a computer he wanted to sell on eBay and asked me what I felt it was worth. He went to a Web site that showed an estimated street value, one I felt was considerably too high.
He argued that his asking price was justified because this web site was made up of experts and they agreed with him.
True, I said, but something is only worth what someone else will pay for it. And when we went to eBay and looked at completed listings for a computer with specs similar to his, he was shocked. People were only paying about half of what he thought he could get.
And that same analogy is true when it comes to fighter compensation. There is a lot of debate in the mixed martial arts media over what the UFC pays its fighters. It’s easy to take the stance that the fighters deserve more pay.
Of course they do. Getting punched in the face or kicked in the head is about as difficult a profession as one could choose. You only get paid when you actually compete, meaning an injury in training — by your or by your opponent — means you’ve worked two months for free.
So fighters deserve as much as they can get. I have always and will always advocate for the athletes in this sport.
But, when Kalib Starnes split ways with the UFC last week, he called his deal with the UFC an oppressive contract. He complained about his pay.
Clearly, the top UFC fighters don’t make nearly the amount that the top boxers make. But there is an incorrect perception that the other UFC fighters are being underpaid compared to boxers of the same level as well as fighters in the mixed martial arts community.
So I called the Nevada Athletic Commission and got the payment verification sheets for the last two major boxing shows (Bernard Hopkins-Joe Calzaghe on April 19 and Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez on March 15) as well as for the last major UFC show in the state, UFC 81 on Feb. 2.
According to state records, Hopkins and Calzaghe were each paid $3 million for their work. The next highest-paid fighter on that card was Audley Harrison, who made $20,000. There were nine fighters who made $5,000 or less, including two men, Marcos Mendias and Jermell Charlo, who made but $1,500.
Pacquiao made $3 million and Marquez $1 million for their epic rematch, but there were five fighters of the 14 on that show who made $3,500 or less.
At the UFC show, the lowest base pay for any of the 18 fighters on the card was the $4,000 that Kyle Bradley made.
The UFC also paid out $60,000 bonuses that night for knockout of the night, submission of the night and fight of the night. Plus, most of the fighters had bonuses for winning, so the opportunity was there for them to double their pay, which was not for the boxers.
And several agents, speaking on the condition of anonymity, have said the UFC occasionally pays its fighters bonuses it chooses not to announce to the public. These bonuses apparently go to fighters who perform superbly in a big fight.
Welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre reportedly received a $500,000 bonus and a Hummer when he knocked out Matt Hughes at UFC 65 in Sacramento, Calif.
Additionally, fighting in the UFC makes an athlete significantly more attractive to a sponsor. Frank Mir made $85,000 for the logos he wore into the cage for his fight with Brock Lesnar that night. Had he been fighting in another organization, there’s zero chance he would have earned half that in sponsorship money and he likely wouldn’t have gotten 20 percent as much.
So Mir that night earned a base pay of $40,000, a win bonus of another $40,000, a submission of the night bonus of $60,000 and then hauled in $85,000 in sponsorship dollars.
He’s not going to be able to retire after that bout, but bringing in $225,000 for one night’s work isn’t bad at any time, especially in this economy. A fighter like Chuck Liddell is making around $6 million a year between his salary and his sponsorships and was making at least $9 million little more than a year ago. He was getting $75,000 a month from Xyience and received $1 million for just two weekends of promoting the movie, “300.”
“The UFC will pay you if you perform,” said fighter agent Dean Albrecht, Mir’s agent. “It’s like in the NFL. They’re not going to rip up your contract after one great game, but if you perform over a period of time, they’ll pay you and pay you extremely well. In the UFC, if you go out and fight and put on a great show, believe me, they pay extremely well and they can make some of these kids rich.”
Albrecht said another of his clients, Joe Lauzon, earned $8,000 for his bout with Kenny Florian earlier this month on Ultimate Fight Night 13. He would have gotten an $8,000 bonus had he won. Albrecht conceded the pay was low, but it was mitigated by a $20,000 fight of the night bonus and $52,000 in sponsorship money Albrecht negotiated.
He said if Lauzon had been fighting in a regional promotion, he would have made $2,000 to show, gotten $2,000 had he won and may have picked up another $500 in sponsorship. Even in the best case scenario, then, he would have made less than $5,000.
The IFL is bleeding money and likely won’t last past its next show. Elite XC in its most recent SEC report also conceded it may not have the funds to last the rest of the year. If it’s not able to pull at least a 2.5 rating on CBS for its May 31 show, it may be in jeopardy of failing.
The UFC, on the other hand, continues to thrive. It will provide a place for the fighters to sell their wares long into the future. There is no other North American-based promotion that can say that now other than the UFC.
So while the UFC should bump up the salaries of the fighters up and down the cards, given the rising merchandise sales, gate receipts and pay-per-view revenues, you also have to remember that they’re the only ones who are thriving and can pay consistently. It’s a two-way street.
With that, let’s get on to the reader mailbag. My answers to your questions appear in italics.
Kenny Florian’s win over Joe Lauzon has moved him into the upper echelon of the lightweight class. I feel he should fight on a pay-per-view card with Roger Huerta, with the winner fighting the winner of B.J. Penn-Sean Sherk, who meet for the title on May 24.
I wrote essentially that after Florian’s win over Lauzon in Colorado earlier this month. MMA Weekly reported on Monday that the fight will happen at UFC 86 in August. It’s good news and one to look forward to. Florian, by the way, was superb pinch-hitting as an announcer for Joe Rogan at UFC 83. He’s definitely got a future as a broadcaster.
It really sucks that Chuck Liddell and Shogun Rua had to pull out of UFC 85 with injuries. Do you think UFC president Dana White will wait until they are both healthy and make that fight happen again later this year? They will both be ready to go about the same time.
San Bernardino, Calif.
I do think that fight could happen later this year, but Liddell’s torn hamstring is very serious and will require a significant amount of time to heal properly. I wouldn’t expect to see the Iceman back until the fall.
My question to you is about stoppages. It seems like some of the recent UFC PPVs have had some pretty quick stoppages. Clearly St. Pierre dominated the fight with Matt Serra at UFC 83 and was going to win, but as I watch and replay the fight over and over, it doesn’t look convincing that Serra was flat on his stomach or clearly knocked out. When the fight was stopped, he looked like he could still go. The Rich Franklin-Travis Lutter fight was another one. What do you think?
Long Beach, Calif.
I don’t like to see a fight stopped early, but the referee is in the best position to evaluate how much punishment a guy is taking and how he’s reacting. If he’s not firing back, has no shot to win and is simply accepting blows without being knocked out, I’d rather it be stopped one punch too early rather than one punch too late. Boxers have historically gotten hurt after taking tremendous punishment over a long period of time, blows that weren’t enough to knock them out but were enough to bang their brains against the inside of their skulls. When someone is prone and taking punches like that, I think it’s fine if the referee errs on the side of caution.
I am a huge Marcus Davis fan. I feel he has fought better talent than (has) Jon Fitch. How do you feel Marcus ranks?
Davis is one of the UFC’s most improved fighters and is definitely in the top 10 welterweights, perhaps the top six. I’d like to see him fighting guys like Diego Sanchez, Karo Parisyan and guys like that to see how he handles that level. He’s fighting Mike Swick at UFC 85. But Davis is fun guy to watch and will be in the title picture before too much longer.