In an interview with GQ last week, UFC president Dana White remained adamant that fighters under his promotional banner will continue to earn what they earn as long he’s running the show.
"It's never gonna happen while I'm here, believe me. These guys get paid what they're supposed to get paid," White replied when asked why the issue of fighter pay keeps being brought up. "They eat what they kill. They get a percentage of the pay-per-view buys and the money is spread out amongst all the fighters.”
White then offered a "simple solution" to those who don't believe fighters get paid enough: "Go start your own MMA organization.”
UFC's No. 14-ranked featherweight Shane Burgos seems to have found an even better solution. On Monday, Burgos told MMA Fighting’s Ariel Helwani on “The MMA Hour” that he’ll be leaving the UFC to join the PFL.
In his last fight, Burgos improved his record to 15-3 after earning a majority decision over Charles Jourdain at UFC Long Island on July 16.
“That was the last fight of my deal,” Burgos said. “I said after the fight that I wanted to test free agency, test the waters. I know what I am worth. I wanted to see what everyone else thought I was worth. So I went out there, I tested the free agency market and I’m excited to announce that I’m signing with the PFL.
“It was not an easy decision. It was an offer I couldn’t turn (down). I’ve got two daughters, I’ve got to go back home, I’ve got to look at them in the face and be like, ‘It was worth it when it’s all said and done in this sport.’ With this deal I feel like that will secure that. Not taking anything away from my UFC career … the UFC gave me the platform to be able to be in this position right now and secure the deal that I just secured with the PFL.”
Though Burgos admitted it wasn’t an easy choice to leave the biggest MMA promotion in the world, he said financially it was a “no-brainer” after talking to his family about the significant raise the PFL was offering.
So was Burgos — at 31 and having won four $50,000 Fight of the Night bonuses since 2017 — getting fairly compensated for his skill level and status? As far as White and the UFC are concerned, the answer is yes. To them, fighters like Burgos are a dime a dozen and White, to his credit, has built the company into a multi-billion dollar powerhouse that up-and-comers dream of fighting for. But for Burgos and his family, the PFL deal was considerably better.
Still, the question remains why is the UFC holding out on Burgos, who is just entering his prime and delivers action-packed fights every time he enters the cage? Sure he's 2-2 in his last four fights, but letting him walk after building him into a Top 15-ranked featherweight waters down the division and opens the door for others to follow his path.
It’s still up for debate whether UFC fighters are getting paid commensurate to their stature and ability. But if you factor in the revenue split professional athletes in the Big 3 of American sports make — which is roughly 50 percent for MLB, NBA and NFL players — then the 20 percent revenue share UFC fighters reportedly earn is a steep drop. That’s especially true when considering the UFC's independent contractors are literally putting their lives and well-being on the line and aren't even provided benefits like long-term health care or pensions.
Hopefully, Burgos’ decision is an eye-opener for the UFC as it continues to expand while rival organizations compete for fans and fighters.
Unfortunately, it seems White’s stance on fighter pay is etched in stone.