The ripples from last week's cancellation of UFC 151 and Jon Jones vs. Dan Henderson are still being felt, including by those fighters who were scheduled to compete at the show. Of those fighters, Welterweight Charlie Brenneman has been among the most vocal, publicly venting his frustration over having his UFC 151 fight with Kyle Noke cancelled and subsequently shuffled over to UFC 152. And, like Dana White, Brenneman puts the blame for this situation squarely on the shoulders of UFC Light Heavyweight champion Jon Jones.
Since the cancellation, Brenneman has shared his frustration with Jones's decision to turn down a fight with Chael Sonnen. Now that a week has passed, he has spoken to Sherdog Radio to explain why he still believes Jones is to blame (transcribed courtesy of MMA Mania):
Even my wife was like, ‘Why are you mad at him? Why aren't you mad at Dana White? If you're champ, you're the champ. That means, yeah, you probably make the most money, but it also means that you're the face of Nike, you drive a Bentley, you are the face of the UFC. Those are big things. I don't get that. None of my immediate friends get that. Frankie Edgar, who's been champ, forever one of the best fighters in the UFC, he didn't get that. It's those kind of extra bonuses that then kind of put you in a position where you might have to do things that you don't necessarily want to do. We have to cover my wife's flight. All these airlines offer a ‘rebate,' but then there's a several-hundred-dollar activation fee for the rebate. We have to cover those costs. I know my brother and my parents, my aunt and uncle, they all lost out on money and that's money that I will give them. I'm sure they will tell me, ‘No, don't give it to me,' but that's several hundred, maybe a thousand bucks. My one corner, he purchased his flight. Got to change that to Canada, got to cover that difference. So yeah, there's a lot of stuff, not to mention I'm primed. I'm physically primed. I'm ready to fight Sept. 1 and I can't do that.
Reading this, I can sympathize with Brenneman. He's clearly frustrated, and I understand why - this is his livelihood, and he relies on fighting to earn a living. When fights are taken away from him, he suffers, as do those around him.
Yet blaming it on Jones is misguided. I've already outlined why I believe Jones was justified in this decision, so I won't rehash those arguments here. But Brenneman's specific complaints bring up a much greater issue that is far beyond Jones's control: fighter pay.
Why is Brenneman, a top 25 fighter competing in the world's largest MMA organization, in this kind of financial situation, where one delayed fight can so greatly impact him? Why is he so responsible for the expenses of his team? The answer is that, sadly, that's just the way MMA works. Fighters get paid to fight, and out of that pay, they have to cover a tremendous number of expenses, including their camps. When a fight is lost, Brenneman not only loses his pay, he also loses out on the expenses he put in for that fight.
That's not a good situation, and it doesn't speak well of the way MMA organizations treat their fighters. It also has bad ramifications for the future of these fighters. If fighters absolutely rely on fights to make any income, it encourages them to fight injured, and to fight past the point where they probably should retire, which has real health and safety concerns.
Many MMA fans bristle at any pro wrestling reference, but this is a place where we can and should learn from the negative example set by pro wrestling. Like fighters, professional wrestlers, even those at the top of the profession, have frequently struggled to get by financially, often continuing to wrestle while injured, sometimes severely. The result, over time, has been a shockingly high mortality rate among pro wrestlers, whose grueling schedule,use of pain killers in order to perform injured, repeated concussions, and overall need to perform through injuries creates, quite literally, a deadly mix.
Am I saying that, because of this quote, Charlie Brenneman is going to die young? Not at all. But I am saying that in his comments, we can see a damaging pattern of low fighter pay - a pattern that has had strongly negative results in the past. That's not a good thing, and Brenneman has every right to be frustrated by it. But frustrated at Jon Jones? That's not the man who determines Brenneman's pay, and that's not the man who needs to make sure these fighters are taken care of. Everyone knows who that man is, including Charlie Brenneman. But sometimes it's easier to go ahead and blame the boss's hand-picked scapegoat than to turn the blame around on the boss himself.