via Sherdog. Photo by Dave Mandel
After this past weekend's Strikeforce Challengers 17 event, some people were a little confused when the state of Nevada released the fighter salaries, namely Sarah Kaufman's lack of a win bonus. The former Strikeforce Women's 135 pound champion was extremely outspoken about the lack of exposure she received when she was the reigning champion. Featured heavily on the Challengers events while Gina Carano, Cris Santos, and Marloes Coenen were given the the promotional push of the bigger Strikeforce cards, Kaufman felt disrespected. Part of the issue was that up until her highlight reel slam of Roxanne Modafferi, all of her fights in the company went to decision and most weren't very exciting. There was no reason to push her championship reign.
After complaining about this treatment, she was given the opportunity to defend her title against Coenen at Strikeforce: Diaz vs Noons II, one of the biggest Strikeforce cards at that point. This would be the second fight on a new contract which would make Kaufman the highest paid female fighter not named Carano, Cyborg, or Coenen. Kaufman tapped to an armbar and disappeared from the spotlight until this past weekend. So what does this all have to do with her contract? Literally everything. After receiving the fighter payouts, we reached out to the NSAC to see if there was a mistake on the forms that we received. The answer was that her contract would only pay a win bonus if she won by KO, TKO, or Submission. There was no bonus for a decision victory.
A more in-depth look at Strikeforce contracts yeilded a discovery that Kaufman was not the only fighter who doesn't have a typical "show/win" contract we as fans and writers often assume is the norm in the industry. Tim Kennedy has a base salary of $50k with no win bonus. Often times a fighter will take a higher base pay in guaranteed money. There are those on staff that feel that contracts of this nature encourage fighters to take unnecessary chances which therefor would change the legitimacy of winning by decision. Others feel that a contract such as Kaufman's aren't bad for the sport and actually provide motivation for the fighter to utilize all of their skills, not just play it safe.
The fact is that MMA and sports in general are a part of the entertainment business. Athletes may be competing in sport but without fans tuning in, these games may as well happen on a high school campus. With the UFC providing "Of the Night" bonuses and Kaufman's "Show/Win" contract, they are maximizing the odds that the fans go home happy and will watch the next event. They aren't moving one step closer to pro-wrestling style finishes, they're just ensuring that the viewing public, the lifeline of the industry, will continue to support these cards in the future.
Sarah Kaufman by all accounts was a boring fighter and even in her dominating performance against Liz Carmouche this past weekend, she failed to captivate fans. In this industry, that is a death sentence. Her contract may be the only thing that can motivate her to entertain those who watch these cards. If it forces her to fight for finishes, so be it. Her responsibility isn't just to win, it's to make sure that people in the arena go home happy. If she fails to do that, her next fight could very well be at some random regional promotion.