LAS VEGAS - Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone meets John Makdessi on Saturday in a lightweight feature bout at UFC 187 at the MGM Grand. If Cerrone wins, it would mark his eighth consecutive victory and will all but assure him a lightweight title shot against Rafael dos Anjos.
Saturday will also mark Cowboy's 28th fight for ZUFFA – the parent company that owns the UFC and Cerrone's prior employer, the WEC – and under the recently leaked details involving the exclusive Reebok/UFC apparel sponsorship, Cerrone is set to make $20,000 each time he steps in the cage.
The system is based on a tier structure that pays an athlete on their championship standing and total number of fights. Payouts vary anywhere from $2,500 - $40,000. The fighter will wear a Reebok uniform inside the cage, along with one UFC-mandated sponsor to accompany it.
The Reebok deal will officially go into effect at UFC 189 in July and will mean the end of multiple, fringe sponsors clogging up a fighter's shorts with countless ads.
Those fringe sponsors, however, paid very well by some accounts. And the Reebok-UFC partnership has come under scrutiny in the past few months due in large part to the fact that critics think the deal will negatively affect a fighter's ability to earn a living. Just last week UFC heavyweight Brendan Schaub said he would be taking a massive pay cut due to his limited sponsorship, and others voiced similar concerns.
Unfortunately for Donald Cerrone, he is not a champion. He is, however, one of the most popular fighters on the UFC roster. But even with his star power and marketability, Cerrone is set to take a hefty pay cut when the Reebok deal goes into effect – at least on a fight-by-fight basis, anyway.
"Per fight, yeah, I'm going to take a little bit of a cut, sure," Cerrone admitted Monday. "I think my pay grade with the Reebok deal is, $20,000, or $22,000. So, comfortably, [I'm] saying that I'm going to be losing $60,000 a fight probably."
Cerrone, fortunately, has deals with UFC-affiliated sponsors Fram & Budweiser. Both companies are event sponsors for the UFC so they could perhaps be one of the select companies that will be featured along with Reebok on a fighter's uniform. Those exclusive deals should help Cerrone recoup some of his losses, but he is admittedly one of the lucky ones.
"Budweiser, along with Fram and others are on board with the UFC and Reebok, so I kind of lucked out," Cerrone said. "I got lucky and all my sponsors are sticking by me. We'll figure how to make it work outside of the UFC. No, I'm not going to be making the big money on the fights like I am now but it's all going to work out.
"Budweiser is a year deal with me, so I guess fortunately for me I'm getting paid regardless."
It wasn't that long ago that Cerrone was a pro kickboxer taking flights all over the world. Mostly he did it for the free trip and the thrill of the fight – and maybe a good story or two. But it certainly wasn't for the money. Often times, a few hundred bucks was all he wound up with on his return. And his early MMA career wasn't all that different, either.
So, when Cerrone speaks about being fortunate and lucky, he understands all the small paychecks, shady sponsorships and thankless hospital visits came along the way. Cerrone agrees that the Reebok deal isn't perfect, but in his mind it's much better than the alternative.
"I think the Reebok deal…you know, the first couple of fights, the first year, is gonna be kinda shaky ground while they figure everything out," he said. "But I think it's awesome. And like I said, there' s a lot of people that were looking for sponsors and who were fighting for $500.
"Now they know – I mean, I don't know how the pay is gonna work, but I'm sure the UFC is going to send a check, or Reebok is going to send a check right away. It's not going to be like fighting for pennies again; knocking people out and then calling, 'Hey, it's been 90 days, where is my check? I don't have it. I need it.' So, it's going to be good for everybody and once they figure everything out, I think it's going to be just fine."
Admittedly, the estimated $60,000 pay cut will hurt Cerrone. Luckily, the eight-time Fight of the Night recipient has the perfect plan to counteract any lag in his bottom line.
"It's okay," he said with a laugh, "we'll just make up for it with the bonuses."
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