NEW YORK NY - JANUARY 13: Lorenzo Fertitta UFC Chairman and CEO looks on during a press conference to announce commitment to bring UFC to Madison Square Garden and New York State at Madison Square Garden on January 13 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Cohen/Getty Images)
In the wake of the ESPN "Outside the Lines" feature talking about UFC fighter pay one of the biggest discussion points has been the UFC's first released video of what amounts to an outtake of the Lorenzo Fertitta interview. In this video, Lorenzo makes an attempt at a "gotcha" by pointing out that on Friday Night Fights (on ESPN2) fighter pay is fairly low. He even singles out a fighter who made $275 on a Friday Night Fights card in Vegas.
First of all, ESPN is not a fight promoter. This is an enormous difference. For a UFC card on FX, the UFC is pretty much in control of everything. ESPN just airs fights. They have the right to turn down a proposed fight, but that's about it. Everything is really up to the promoters of the actual fight card.
They are a network that broadcasts a low-budget boxing series for nine months out of the year. To compare Friday Night Fights to a UFC show on cable is an attempt at trickery at best. It's just not the same thing.
The budget for FNF is small: $100,000 per show. This is not a big-time showcase for top fighters. It is, more or less, somewhere for prospects and mid-tier veterans to fight.
He also talked about the fighter who was paid $275 and what exactly that means:
Fertitta claims, and I'm sure he's telling the truth, that someone fought on Friday Night Fights in a four-round bout for $275. What Fertitta doesn't reveal -- or perhaps does not actually know -- is that anyone in a four-round fight that winds up on the broadcast, on TV, was positioned in a swing fight that was going to air only if there was time remaining in the two-hour time slot. There are no four-round fights purposely scheduled to air on ESPN's series. A four-round fight is the lowest level of professional boxing, and frankly to call the majority of four-round bouts "professional boxing" is kind of a stretch; the fighters don't often resemble what we're used to seeing on TV, even from the middle-of-the-pack guys that get on ESPN or HBO or Showtime. It's kind of like comparing high school football to the NFL most of the time.
The UFC line is that everyone on their roster is there because they're among the best in the world. Obviously no one is being paid $275 to fight on a UFC card, but Friday Night Fights is not known to be, nor is it advertised as being, a showcase for the world's best boxers.
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The Friday Night Fights card in Vegas prior to that interview would have been the July 29, 2011 show headlined by Lamont Peterson vs. Victor Cayo. There were only two four round fights on the card and if I had to guess who the guy getting a low rate of pay was, I'd assume it was Timothy Hall Jr. Hall entered the night with a 6-11 record, but had lost ten of his previous twelve bouts. There's also a possibility that it was Razvan Cojanu, a local Vegas heavyweight who came into the night with an 0-1 record and, despite winning and only being 24 (an age where boxers fight every couple months) has not fought since.
I can't stress enough how bizarre I find the defending of Lorenzo's larger point. I don't think there is anything particularly wrong with fighter pay in the UFC. I'd like to see mid-tier guys get a little bit more of a boost and I think the $6,000 to show, $6,000 to win model for undercard guys should be changed to a flat $10,000 (or something in that neighborhood) as it's crippling for guys to show up after a camp, lose a tough fight and walk away with $6,000 (yes, in disclosed pay). But those aren't huge issues.
The problem is with treating Lorenzo's argument like it's some heavy blow to ESPN. The deep undercard of a small boxing card with a limited budget like you get with Friday Night Fights is made up of prospects just starting out, local fighters filling spots and warm bodies being put in the ring to give a better fighter some experience. That's not in any way similar to what the UFC is supposed to represent, where even guys in a curtain jerker role on a card are supposed to represent someone near the pinacle of the sport.
If anything, I think the UFC is overreacting to a feature piece by ESPN that, while not particularly flattering, wasn't exactly the a sledgehammer to the credibility of the UFC. I think the amount of attention they're giving it, with swinging back with a video like this (which falls apart under any sort of critical thinking) they're not doing anything but appeasing their own fans by giving them something to shout about. It doesn't prove anything, it doesn't actually make ESPN look bad and it only serves to further the "us vs. them" narrative.
But maybe that's just what they actually set out to do.