The debate regarding mixed martial artists’ salaries is a heated one. Amongst any group of MMA fans, conversation will at some point turn to fighter pay and whether or not it is fair. While there are always conflicting viewpoints, my opinion has stood strong that that the fighters, in general, deserve more than they currently get. I recently found myself in a quandary then, when I watched Nick Diaz interviewed by Ariel Helwani. Nick, being Nick, described himself as the most overworked, overtrained, underpaid fighter in the sport. I couldn’t disagree more.
As a fight fan, I enjoy Nick Diaz. I enjoy the heat he generates prior to fights, his genuine distaste for his opponents, his animated style in the ring and his will and desire to fight the right way; the desire to entertain the crowd, to win by damage and not by control, and to seek a finish whenever possible, however possible. Nick is a good fighter, he is an entertaining fighter, what he isn’t however, in the grand scheme of things at least, is an underpaid fighter.
Nick is a Strikeforce champion who believes he should be paid like a UFC champion. It doesn’t take an expert to see this as an unrealistic expectation. For all the trash talk, the exciting fights and electrifying finishes, Nick has never even headlined a PPV event. Someone who has been in the game as long as he has must surely realise this is where the money lies, and that when you are headlining Strikeforce cards in a lower weightclass, $150,000 to show (Nick’s pay for his last fight, a successful title defence against Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos) is about as good as it gets, even with a belt around your waist.
Even disregarding the fact that he fights on network television, the quality of Nick’s opponents when compared to that of the UFC welterweight champion, George St Pierre’s, again underline the reasoning behind the stark difference in their salaries. It has been four years, and eight fights, since St Pierre last faced an opponent outside the top ten in the division: Matt Serra at UFC 69. Whereas with Diaz it has been four years, and eleven fights, since he last fought a fighter actually inside the top ten: a lightweight bout with Takanori Gomi at PRIDE 33. In fact, Dan Hardy, heralded as the worst of St Pierre’s recent opponents, is arguably a better fighter than any of the wins on Nick’s record.
Some may view this as unfair, believing that Nick is being penalised for where he fights and that were he a UFC fighter, his pay would be significantly better. Unfortunately for them, and fortunately for Nick, this is not the case. Forgetting that Nick left the UFC after failing to break into title contention, his pay compared to other top contenders in his division stacks up relatively well. Jon Fitch, the consensus number two welterweight in the world, fought last year at UFC 117 and earned $108,000, $54,000 of which was a win bonus. His opponent that night, Thiago Alves, was the consensus number three welterweight in the world, he earned $60,000. These are fighters higher ranked than Diaz, fighting more dangerous opponents than he does, in the co-main event of PPV card which drew 600,000 buys, and he is either matching their pay or out-earning them. In Nick’s last three fights on American soil his pay has averaged $100,000 per fight, all of which was guaranteed and not reliant on any win bonus.
Nick often likes to mention that he fights more often than his UFC counterparts, and it is true, he does. After his fight tonight with Paul Daley, Nick will have fought seven times in just over two years; there is no denying that he is an active fighter. The problem is, so is Dan Severn. Severn has fought twice this year already and fought five times in 2010 alone, yet he doesn’t even come close to earning what Nick Diaz does. The reason why? Just like Nick when compared to Georges St Pierre, the level of competition he faces just doesn’t stack up. Regardless of how often you fight, if you are not fighting the best fighters in your division then it is increasingly difficult to justify demands for a high salary. In fact, facing weaker competition actually allows Nick to compete more frequently, as it reduces the amount of preparation time needed and the risk of being damaged in the ring, considering the limitations of his opponents’ respective skill sets.
As stated earlier, I am a fan of Nick Diaz the fighter. I enjoy his in ring style and even his pre and post fight antics, he brings a much needed flavour to a sport which, being dominated by wrestlers, can sometimes feel a little bland. I actually strongly agree with his attitude to MMA scoring and his preference for the Japanese approach to it, particularly his recent comments about the drawbacks of allowing elbows to be used on the ground. When it comes to salary though, I simply see a lot of motive backed up with very little reasoning.
It was Nick’s decision to fight in Strikeforce, to be a second tier champion instead of a first tier contender. He readily accepts the benefit that brings; he needs to accept the detriment along with it.