When Donald Cerrone came over from the WEC, I was skeptical about how well he would perform in the UFC's stacked lightweight division. I was a hardcore WEC fan, and even I thought that the lightweight crossover was an afterthought when it came to the UFC's real goal - having two more belts to prop up pay-per-views and TV events. Obviously Cerrone and Ben Henderson proved me incorrect and have become stalwarts in the division, which was something I was very happy to be wrong about. It also didn't hurt that guys like Cerrone were making major bank with performance bonuses.
The UFC has been using performance bonuses as an incentive since 2006, and it has definitely added to the drama of their events. Guys know that potentially life-changing money is at stake, so they go harder for the finish than they probably would have otherwise. There's no way to analyze that from a stats perspective, but it's clear that action fighters like Cerrone, Joe Lauzon, and Nate Diaz have been rewarded for their efforts to a huge degree.
Until yesterday, when the UFC decided to change up their performance bonus structure.
Instead of a straight bonus for the knockout of the night and submission of the night, the UFC has decided to just award two vague bonuses based on their "performance", in addition to a fight of the night bonus. So in other words, they can pick and choose who they want to reward with more freedom now. And I think that's bad news for a lot of fighters.
It's already pretty obvious that the promotion rarely awards bonuses to undercard fighters. The overwhelming majority of fighters that claimed one of the three bonuses were on the main card, unless there wasn't a submission or knockout there. Then the UFC had no choice but to give it to someone further down. Sure, sometimes it was well deserved. But other times it was out of necessity since it was the system they had in place at the time.
Under the new plan, I believe that the undercard fighters will suffer even more. Instead of getting a reward by default or even because it was totally worthy, the UFC has eliminated the restrictions involved in how they give them out so it's even more likely that they're going to go to name fighters. Do I have any evidence of this? No, other than the way they've awarded the current bonuses over the last seven years. Time will tell in that regard. But I don't have high hopes for these guys and girls, who could generally use the money even more than than the main card fighters that are making more than them.
Another angle that should be put under the microscope going forward is how submission fighters fare in bonus land. It's pretty clear that the UFC would take ten Sanchez vs. Melendez fights over ten Condit vs. Kampmann 1 fights any day of the week. The sport is heavy on entertainment value after all, and a good brawl is probably a better draw than a grappling match. But without a designated bonus for that side of things, will the promotion choose to reward the stand-and-wangers over the guys that show some finish on the mat? I certainly hope not, because grappling is at least as important in MMA as striking is.
Does Cerrone have anything to worry about? I'm not sure. He's a top-flight fighter that's always on the main card, and he's been given bonuses for all three of his career knockouts. But will he choose to try and finish with his fists from now on because a rear naked choke might be too generic for the guys handing out the cash?
Will Joe Lauzon miss out on a bonus next time because Daron Cruickshank has some crazy offense on the feet? Will Cole Miller miss out next time because Wanderlei Silva threw down higher on the card until he got knocked out? Will a guy making his UFC debut get shafted after a great KO because Roy Nelson dropped some overmatched opponent in 50 seconds? Again, I'm really not sure. But it's definitely something to look at going forward, and I hope that the promotion doesn't go in that direction.