In the 13 years that Zuffa has owned the Ultimate Fighting Championship, it has taken the promotion from the brink of extinction to one of the hottest sports properties on the planet.
Over the course of that time, they’ve also provided the opportunity for numerous fighters to not only make a living in their chosen sport, but to thrive. Several have gone on to become millionaires, and many have cemented legacies.
But along with any success story come the critics who believe that things can always be better.
Such has been the case with the UFC recently with a few of the promotion’s former fighters, and even current UFC fighter Tim Kennedy, discussing the issue of fighter pay and whether or not it’s enough.
It’s left company officials pondering whether they should change the current bonus system they have in place, or even eliminate bonuses altogether.
The UFC typically hands out post-fight bonuses with official awards at each event for Fight of the Night, Knockout of the Night and Submission of the Night, but also issues discretionary “locker room bonuses” to fighters that they feel are deserving because of an outstanding performance.
Criticism of fighter pay being too low has rankled UFC president Dana White, who believes his company has achieved a lot during his tenure.
“The fact is we've only had this company for 13 years, but we've made tons of guys millions of dollars,” White said Thursday following the UFC 162 pre-fight press conference. “How many people have the opportunity to go out right now, in this market, today, and go make a million (expletive) dollars?”
He believes that the bonus system they have in place works because it encourages fighters to reach for greater heights, and if you’re not willing to do that… too bad.
“We work in a business where we're as good as our last fight, not just (fighters), me too. The UFC, every time we do a fight, whether its on pay-per-view, it's on TV or whatever, people make the decision to stay home on a Saturday night and not do anything else. There's a lot of (expletive) to do on a Saturday night,” he explained. “These people make a decision to stay home on a Saturday night and watch our show.
“We get a show with a bunch of guys who want to push against the (expletive) fence and stand there for 15 (expletive) minutes and try to squeak out a win? How many people do you think are gonna tune in next Saturday? And if this keeps continuing, you become (expletive) boxing, where guys are running around in circles and nobody fights and you walk away going ‘this fight sucked.'”
A fighter who chooses to “squeak out a win” isn’t earning those bonuses, and White believes those are the fighters that are complaining that they aren’t getting paid enough.
“The guys who are complaining about this are the guys that don't matter,” White put it bluntly. “That might sound mean and harsh and ‘why would nobody matter, everybody matters.'
“We're in this (expletive) society now where, everybody should win a trophy. No, everyone doesn't win a (expletive) trophy. The guys who stand out and the guys who deserve bonuses, the guys who make it exciting, the guys who rise to the top are the guys who deserve the money.
“Be the (expletive) guy who stands out,” he continued. “If you're the guy who stands out, you're the guy who people want to see again. You're the guy people want to spend money for.”
White tried to avoid getting too political about his comments, but pointed to his issues with fighters that believe they’re not getting paid enough as a symptom of a larger problem in the United States.
“Let's not forget, we live in (expletive) America, the land of opportunity. I feel like we're in this (expletive) country where the American Dream is going away. Nobody has the American Dream anymore,” White stated.
“I am living the American Dream. I got into this thing, got these guys to invest, looked like it was gonna happen, now look at this (expletive) thing. This is the (expletive) you should be dreaming about.
“You should want to be Anderson Silva. You should want to be Jon Jones. You should aspire to be the best.”
Of course, not every fighter can be an Anderson Silva or a Jon Jones. Not every fighter can be at the top of his or her class. White pointed to fighters like Sam Stout and Joe Lauzon, however, as prime examples that opportunity is still there for those that may never reach the pinnacle, but give it their all trying to get to the top.
“Stout is a (expletive) animal who comes out and loves to fight and every time he comes out to fight he puts on an amazing show,” said White. “Joe Lauzon is not seen as the top guy in his division. Do you know how many people go (expletive) crazy when I saw Joe Lauzon is on the card? Because people love to watch him fight. Joe Lauzon has won more fighter bonuses than I think anybody.
“If you are that (expletive) guy, the system works for you. But if you are not that guy, then boo (expletive) hoo, you don't matter. I'm sure that sucks.”
White knows that his comments are sure to ruffle feathers and hurt feelings, but he doesn’t slink away from controversy.
“When you look at the list of millionaires and the lives we've changed and the things we've done, yeah, I'm pretty (expletive) proud of it.”