It seems that everyday we here about disgruntled fighters complaining about the pay in the sport of MMA. I for one am getting tired of hearing about this subject and even more tired of discussing it.
Yes I know MMA fans say that compared to other major sport leagues In America and worldwide the UFC and mma average for paying its fighter seems unfair but in reality the comparison is inadequate because of the UFC's infancy as a legitimate sports organization.Every major sports league has had to rise from meager beginnings and its athletes have had to deal with low end wages before the "big money" could be seen.Lets get this out of the way, the UFC is not the NFL,NBA,MLB or even the NHL, but for the sake of argument lets compare the Zuffa Era UFC to the NFL from the early days of both the organizations. The NFL was founded in the year 1920 and the beginning of the Zuffa led UFC was in 2001.
From my research NFL players back In the 20's were paid on a game to game basis until In 1926, Red Grange changed that when he signed a 19-game deal with the Chicago Bears that earned him roughly $100,000. That was the first large NFL contract. So basically six years after the leagues inception did at least one player see a huge spike in pay. Now it is well known that the UFC we know today gained its popularity after the Ultimate Fighter reality show put them on the map in January 2005.
Per Wikipedia:The winners of the first three seasons of Ultimate fighter competition, and certain runners-up depending on their performance in their competition finals, receive the touted "six-figure" contract to fight in the UFC. These contracts are specifically three-year contracts with a guaranteed first year. Each year consists of three fights, the first year's purse per fight consists of $12,000 guaranteed with a $12,000 win bonus (a maximum of $24,000 per fight). The second year's purse per fight is $16,000 with a $16,000 win bonus (a maximum of $32,000 per fight) and the third year's purse per fight is at $22,000 with a $22,000 win bonus (a maximum of $44,000 per fight).
A TUF winner who goes 9–0 can earn $300,000 total on the contract, but only $150,000 is guaranteed for all three years if nine fights are fought.Some TUF competitors who did not win the series were also offered UFC contracts, although not on as attractive terms. I bring these numbers up because I believe it was the first time we got to see how the pay structure of the UFC worked. These guys were not the Top Tier fighters but rather touted prospects.
On December 30,1996 six years after Zuffa purchased the UFC they held UFC 66 Liddel vs Ortiz the show produced the highest live gate revenue in North American mixed martial arts history at the time, estimated to be the UFC's biggest pay-per-view success with just over 1 million buys. The success of this event helped the UFC grow immensely and they would eventually go on to overcome the WWE and HBO boxing as the #1 PPV draw in America.This led to an increase in fighter pay for the top fighters. Both Chuck and Tito earned over $200,000 in disclosed payouts, Andre Arlovski took home $90,000 to fight and a $55,000 win bonus.
The disclosed fighter payroll for the event was $767,000.
Back to the NFL In the early years of the NFL, contractual negotiations took place between individual players and management until the formation of the NFLPA in 1956.The players association helped athletes negotiate the terms of compensation and establish a collective bargaining agreement.The minimum salary crept higher through the 1970s. Rival leagues often helped escalate salaries. In the 1960s, it was the AFL, followed by the WFL in the 1970s and the USFL in the 1980s. Salaries jumped due to bidding wars for certain players something we are beginning to see marginally today in MMA. Now in today's NFL players get paid a great deal more and they have a strong Union backing them giving them leverage and a say in what they believe they are worth.
The UFC and the sport of MMA for that matter have not even reached the 20 year mark as a brand or even a legitimate sport. They are still dealing with the pitfalls that many of today's most profitable sports leagues had to go through when they first started. Those athletes had to endure the hard times when the pay was meager. They had to form unions, endure player strikes and lockouts all so they could give themselves the opportunity to earn more. While the sport of MMA is not there yet, there are signs that things are getting better.. The UFC signed a deal with FOX that will help them achieve a mainstream audience and hopefully lead to more fans which will lead to more revenue for the UFC and the possibility of taking the company public which will most likely lead to a fighter union or association and an increase in fighter payouts.The bigger the UFC gets the better it is for the fighters. This kind of change takes time,the major sponsors are starting to come around but it's nowhere near the monster that is the NFL or even the NBA. This alone shows us that the UFC,MMA and the fighters have a long way to go no matter how successful we believe they are.
We live in a time where we see huge inflated salaries in sports. Joe Flacco just signed a deal worth $120 million, and that is just the start wait till you see Aaron Rodgers contract next year. These athletes are reaping the benefits and the foundation laid by those that came before them. They make these obscene amounts of money because the old guard fought tooth and nail for every penny. Those players left it all out on the field and along with the NFL build the sport up to what it is today.Now its time for the MMA fighters of today and the UFC to do the same.The foundation for the big stars where laid by the Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddel's of the sport. The numbers do not lie while we might think that the sport has reached its pinnacle it has not. Eventually guys will get paid more, they will be mainstream athletes with huge endorsement deals and all this talk will be forgotten.History has showed us that its a long road but in the world of today's "show me the money" culture I believe that they are ahead of the curb.