It was announced ahead of his fight this past weekend at UFC on FX 8 that John Cholish would be retiring from the sport of mixed martial arts. Cholish would lose that fight, a second round guillotine choke submission loss to Gleison Tibau, his second straight loss after making his UFC debut with a TKO of Mitch Clarke.
With a fairly secure future ahead of him thanks to a job at a Wall Street commodities brokerage firm, Cholish was able to speak openly about his decision to retire and the difficulties of making a living being a UFC fighter with MMA Junkie:
"I'm fortunate enough that I have a job that provides for me really well," Cholish said. "I give a lot of these guys credit that fight at this level. I think they could be compensated much better based on the income that the UFC takes in. Fortunately, I can just walk away and I'm OK with it. By no means do I mean it disrespectfully toward any other fighters because I think they do a great job. But hopefully Zuffa and the UFC will start paying them a little better."
"At the end of the day, it's hard," he said. "I have great coaches that take time off and travel. They deserve money, as well. To be completely honest, on a fight like this, I'm losing money to come down here. Flights, hotel rooms, food – and that doesn't even cover the cost of the time I have to pay for my coaches for training. It's funny because people talk about the fighters, but at the same time there's camps and coaches behind the fighters that you don't even see. So if a fighter is having a tough time making ends meet, how do you think his coaches are doing?"
None of this is really new. Fighters at the lower and even many at the middle levels of the UFC are in an unfortunate spot. They're not making a ton of money to fight -- Cholish made $4,000 to show, $4,000 to win at UFC 140, his only disclosed payday -- but training is expensive and there are limits to how many members of your camp the UFC is willing to fly to an event. So, if you want more than just your trainer at the show, you're going to have to pay to fly them down, and if you want more than the one hotel room for yourself and your team...that's another expense.
That means that fighters need to pull in a good amount of sponsorships to help make ends meet or they can work another job. But working another job means less time to train and less focus, which can mean less ability to put on the impressive performances needed to get that big new contract. Pulling yourself out of the workforce to train full time can also be rough on your future if you're never able to make the kind of money that provides security down the road.
This is why some people get very hung up on the revenue distribution inequality between the UFC and the fighters. That's not to say that the UFC should be paying out the close to 50% of revenue to fighters that we see from the NFL and NBA, but it doesn't seem like a stretch to think that fighters that make it to the biggest stage in the sport be able to fight full time and take home an amount of money that their elite skills would seem to demand.
Still, with no union to represent them, we're not going to fighters ever working together to establish a suitable equivalent of a "league minimum" as in other sports leagues -- and yes, I'm aware that the UFC is a promotion and not a league.