As MMA fans, we've all seen pages among pages of discontent with the current state of fighter pay. It has been a point of discussion for almost every person involved in the MMA media, be it bloggers, interviewers, analysts, or what have you. The topic has made a clear split among fighters, and a clear split among fans. For each point there is a counterpoint, and for every article that is written there is another one to condemn it.
But with the way that the UFC chooses to go about disclosing the money they actually give fighters, it leaves a lot of room for misconceptions in both directions. I'm not saying that what the UFC chooses to disclose is right or wrong, but it may be holding not only the UFC, but MMA as a whole, from reaching new heights.
When news went out that Bibiano Fernandes had decided to fight for the UFC, hardcore fans were elated with the fresh face for the UFC's bantamweight division. Ultimately, however, the deal fell apart, with Fernandes saying that it just didn't make sense financially for him to fight under the UFC's banner. We can't be sure what exactly they were offering him, and honestly, neither can he. With such low rates of pay being disclosed for entering fighters, even if they are very good (Ian McCall, Rory MacDonald), signing with the UFC is hardly a lustrous offer when more lucrative seeming offers present themselves.
So then, what gets Josh Koscheck to have his private airplane, or his Ferrari, having never even been a UFC champion? How does a guy like George Roop bring home roughly six figures for 2011, even though he went 1-2 for that year? The answer probably lies in the elusive "locker room bonus" also known as a "discretionary bonus".
Although it appears the UFC is pretty generous when it comes to these bonuses, it is hard to base anything concrete on them. Fighters have been asked about them frequently, but in many cases, they tend to keep their mouths shut. However, Sean McCorkle cleared up a little when he posted this on the Underground, roughly six months ago:
During my 3 fight stint with the UFC the paid me exactly 150% what they were contractually obligated to pay me. That is without a KO/Sub/Fight of the night bonus of any kind. That is even though I lost 2 of my 3 fights.
I got a discretionary bonus after all 3 of my fights, even an amount equal to my what would have been my win bonus after my embarrassing performance against Stephan Struve. I was told that was given to me based strictly on the effort I put in to promoting the fight, and not because of how I performed.
McCorkle went on to talk about sponsorships and other things that came into play with his total pay for a fight with the UFC. He said that when we look at a fighter's disclosed pay, doubling that number would be closer to the actual amount they received. This is equal parts concerning and refreshing, because we just can't be sure what a fighter actually makes.
Now, what does this mean to up and coming talent; the athletic youth, the next generation? When a possible Jon Jones or Anderson Silva reaches a point where they have a huge decision to make, doesn't a choice to fight professionally seem like a longshot? Maybe if the UFC disclosed the actual figures they're paying their fighters, We could take a step toward a new generation of elite athletes participating in MMA, as opposed to other well-paying sports.
Even with fighters like McCorkle coming forward and speaking candidly about how fighters are paid, it is understandable to be skeptical. But if you take some time to think, what is being disclosed to the public may not be indicative of actual number values. Do we really believe that Chael Sonnen left Vegas with just $50,000 after his heavily promoted fight with Anderson Silva at UFC 148? Would Frankie Edgar have left UFC 144 with under six figures if not for his fight of the night bonus? The answers to these questions should be simple. Fighter pay is beyond what we know, and I can't say I disagree with the intent of that.
But morals aside, I want to see what is best for the sport, and unfortunately, the UFC may have to give up a little privacy in what they want to pay fighters.
So, as I said before, will a possible champion look to a different source of income because he doesn't see much for him in MMA? Right now, it's easy to see that many of the world's best athletes coming up would have no inclination to ever try their hand at fighting, even if they have backgrounds in certain martial arts. My question to the UFC is: Are you willing to give up a little privacy to entice better athletes? This is an issue that executives may need to decide on in the near future if they want break into the mainstream, because much like the pay itself, it may be bigger than it initially seems.
Ultimately, this issue is one that I know will be brought up in the future, no matter what UFC executives plan on doing in the future. Despite the good that it can bring, disclosing actual fighter pay may open a whole new can of worms, and I wouldn't like to see that at all. As a fan, I'm satisfied with the current state of MMA's athletes, but if the UFC was to go with more disclosure, it could definitely bring in even more elite athletes, which is something that sounds nothing but good to me.