UFC Fighters are Fuming Over Low Pay While Investors Rake in Big Bucks

Late last month The New York Post covered a story about growing tensions between Ultimate Fighting Championship fighters and the organization’s leadership.

UFC fighter anger was catalyzed after the promotion’s wealthy and famous investors received multimillion-dollar payments. The fighters directed their wrath towards UFC president Dana White.

About $300 million, the bulk of UFC’s 350 million cash reserve, went to one-time dividend payments to the company’s high profile team of investors, which is made up of actor Mark Wahlberg, actress Charlize Theron and model Gisele Bündchen.

White has been in charge of the UFC since 2001. He is expected to receive more than $3 million from the windfall, according to sources close to The New York Post.

Former UFC fighters are livid about this given White’s reputation for being a profligate spender.  In a 2012 report by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, White tipped dealers over $100,000 at Vegas’ Palms Casino Resort.

“I heard about Dana tipping a waitress $10,000 and that was my wage as a fighter,” stated former UFC fighter Kyle Kingsbury. “I lived in my mom’s garage and I had two jobs when I was fighting in the UFC. I was a personal trainer and a bouncer [and] bartender in a strip club.”

Kingsbury is one of three former fighters that is attempting to pursue a class action lawsuit that accuses the mixed martial arts promotion of using anticompetitive practices to drive down their salaries, which includes compelling fighters to take on long-term, exclusive contracts.

The question of fighter pay will ultimately be determined by federal judge Richard Boulware, who is expected to make a decision on whether to grant the fighters class certification. If the judge rules in the fighters’ favor, about 1,200 current and former UFC fighters could hop on the suit, lawyers explained. If the judge rules against the fighters, it will likely capsize the lawsuit.

UFC has contended in court documents that the former fighters’ anti-competitive assertions are bogus. In the case these claims are determined to be valid, the UFC believes it would be an issue for the Federal Trade Commission, not a jury, to take up. UFC also maintained that there are five competing mixed martial arts promotions.

“UFC pays its fighters more than any other MMA promoter,” a UFC spokesperson informed The New York Post. “We are proud of the company we’ve built and we are confident in our legal position.”

Fighters criticize the UFC for restricting their ability to make money in other ways, including by keeping the majority share of the pay-per-view revenues. This is in contrast to boxing, where fighters are often promised the overwhelming majority of pay-TV revenues to the prize money fighters receive after a fight.

On the other hand, the fighters have described UFC’s payments “flat money,” due to the fact that there’s not much earning potential even if they make tons of money for the UFC.

After losing his recent fight to Conor McGregor earlier in January, Donald Cerrone disclosed that he didn’t receive more than the $200,000 he was supposed to be paid per his contract.

“Hahahahah 7-10 million,” Cerrone replied to an Instagram follower. “I didn’t get PPV money. What the world thinks and what really happens is so different. I made flat money.”

A UFC spokesperson denied that Cerrone was only paid $200,000 to fight McGregor, who received at least $3 million in compensation for the fight, but the spokesperson did not provide any more specifics.

Fighters claim payment from corporate sponsorships has fallen significantly since the UFC entered a six-year sponsorship deal with Reebok in 2015 for $70 million.

According to the deal, fighters could no longer have their own sponsors on display in the octagon. Previous sponsorship arrangements helped fighters make ends meet.

By wearing Reebok gear, fighters under the Reebok deal are paid based on a tiered system starting at $2,500, according to a ESPN report. UFC champions are paid $40,000, the report noted.

President Donald Trump has a close relationship with Dana White.

The UFC has a fighter and fan base that is receptive to the America First message.

Numerous fighters and commentators have expressed pro-America First views on issues from gun rights to foreign policy.

Trump should use bully pulpit to pressure UFC brass to consider pay increases for the fighters.

Trump’s persona alone could convince White and company to carry out some reasonable pay raises.

For all the hard work and sacrifice UFC fighters make, a pay raise should absolutely be in order.