Zak Woods, Kid Nate, and the Problem with Very Bad Comparisons




A lot of commotion over Dana's statement about what fighters make. So much so that Zak Woods had this to say:


WKR followed a similar methodology with the NHLsalaries for 2009-10; with 700 hundred active hockey players, 403 or 57.6% make over a million dollars a year leaving only 297 or 42.4% that make under a million (Note: the lowest salary is $475,000 per year).


Size Total Roster

% of Roster paid

over $1million per/year

% of Roster paid

under $1million per/year

UFC 219 8.2% 91.8%
NBA 452 83.6% 16.4%
NHL 700 57.6% 42.4%


Why is this kind of analysis important? It is important to understand the tremendous chasm that exists between athlete pay between the major sport leagues and the UFC. If Dana White truly believes that MMA and the UFC will achieve a position of dominance within the sporting world in the next ten years these numbers will have to be dramatically different in that time.


BloodyElbow's own Kid Nate had something to say in response, although he didn't offer any thoughts of his own other than what was tantamount to "what he said!". While it's fair to criticize Dana White, it's important to make it constructive. As in, criticism works best when it operates under the assumption that not everyone is as biased or thoughtless as you. That statement doesn't necessarily apply to said bloggers, so let's think about these numbers objectively.

Is it fair to compare  a "major sports league" with the UFC? Well, no, obviously, but I suppose it's fair to attack Dana's own hyperbole, which is what his critics seem so fond of, as if it's not perfectly clear that what Dana does for a living if sell a product that America simply does not buy (nor do its fans, ironically).

Let's leave aside the fact that major sports leagues make billions annually off of television and radio broadcasting, along with personal merchandise. Let's leave aside the amount of public money that goes into a sports franchise, and let's also leave aside how much Zuffa itself spends promoting their own product (Do people not realize that the UFC plays duel roles when it comes to the role of promoter, and producer? This isn't cheap, and it means they absorb far more costs than simply paying the fighters). In other words, let's leave aside many of the factors that make comparing the UFC to the NFL, NBA, and NHL rather silly. Instead let's think about the identity of professional sports, and where MMA stands on that continuum.

For one, NFL player salaries, like the NHL and NBA, are negotiated  by the union as regulated by the CBA. These contracts are filtered through various categories, be it at the level of the draft, or at the level of restricted and/or unrestricted free agency. This is the system we need to look at not for snarky comparison (as Zak Woods does), but for ideas about how to achieve something similar.

Looking at each level, the problems are obvious. For one, free agents in major sports are familiar commodities, for better or for worse. It's easy to gauge a man's output when it's defined by numbers; numbers that accrue over the course of a season that for the NFL, spans 16 regular season games, for the NBA, 82, and so on (meanwhile, MMA fighter are lucky to fight 5 times in an entire year). If you sign a player like Drew Brees, you know your passing game will exponentially improve. If you sign Chris Johnson, you know your running game will be great assuming your offensive line isn't made up of the Jonas Brothers.

In MMA, your commodities are unknowns, thus making it a risky business. A 12-0 record can be impressive, but it doesn't matter if the wins were amassed in an Alabama trailer park. In MMA, an athletes' output is defined by performances that require specific context.  Melvin Manhoef beating a rookie kickboxer won't tell us much, but beating a debut fighter who won Mundials gold might be a little more telling even if it's not the whole story.




Even "familiar commodities" can turn into busts, and a picture of Mirko Filipovic splayed out like an over-microwaved tamale post-Gonzaga isn't the only evidence to prove as much. If you want a fighter that will sell, and make you money, he/she needs specific matchups. Chuck Liddell wasn't coddled during his prime (the UFC LHW division just wasn't that deep), but he could be marketed the way he was and thus became their moneymaker because matchups happened to favor him and you could count on him to score a vicious knockout.

Another important point of comparison is that in major sports leagues, unknown commodities have their own reference points, most notably through the annual collegiate draft. Being a Heisman winner will buy you stock in the NFL. Not only does MMA not have an equivalent, but it has an Eric Crouch around every corner. Boxing at least has an amateur system, in addition to the Olympics. MMA has none of the above.

Only Shooto's small alphabet Class system comes close, but it's hardly extensive. This is something that needs to change for obvious reasons. MMA promoters should not be paying fighters on flimsy grounds, as they often do, whether because of past success in K-1, ADCC, or say, the NCAA. Sure you'll hit gold as a promoter signing someone like Jacare, but what happens when you overspend on the next Roberto Traven? You stick your palm on your face, cry, and wonder why you ever listened to those playstation pundits in the first place.

The lack of quality control in MMA hurts the image of the sport far more than Lesnar drooling out his own opinion on global warming ever would.  While Lesnar himself could be considered a symptom of the problem, he's at least earned his stripes. The same cannot be said of people like Kimbo, or Herschal Walker, all of whom have garnered themselves an undeserved spotlight. What does it say for MMA when a 47 year old football player in his debut will have a spotlight over one of the organization's top title contenders in Jay Hieron?

From the perspective of business, and with the idea of fighter pay in mind, these are issues that need to be ironed out. After all, if we want reasonable wages for fighters, we need to have a reasonable system in place; a system that gives MMA identity as something resembling that of a professional sport. However this might be accomplished, it'll take more than potshots at Dana White, and soundbites written in crayon next to a wages chart.

\The FanPosts are solely the subjective opinions of Bloody Elbow readers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Bloody Elbow editors or staff.

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