Former UFC title contender and TUF 1 competitor, Nate Quarry recently made a post on the UG calling out the issues with the UFC’s remuneration to fighters. I called him and he gave me his thoughts on that and much more. Nate took aim at the unfair structure of the UFC’s contracts, which allow the UFC to cut a fighter after a single loss, but don’t have a reciprocal right for a fighter to leave.
In just about any sport out there, if you sign into professional football or baseball, or anything like that, if for whatever reason it doesn’t work out, they’re not just kicked to the curb; they have to have their contract fulfilled. To the tune of millions of dollars. Whereas with the UFC, you can sign a three or five fight contract and it doesn’t mean anything. They can fire you after one fight that they don’t like. Gerald Harris was fired after having incredible knockout of the night performances. Then, he has one lackluster performance, and he’s kicked to the curb. When there’s nowhere else to go, I really think that’s a huge disadvantage to the fighters.
In fairness, UFC contracts contain so many clauses inhibiting fighters, that they're practically Lovecraftian in their complexity. I guess that makes Dana White Cthulu, but I digress... It’s easy to criticize, but offering workable solutions is a whole other ballgame. Nate was up to the task there, as well.
Right now it’s $8,000 to show, and you can get cut after your first fight. I would like to see, especially when guys join the UFC, a three fight no-cut contract, with a minimum starting wage of $10,000 to show for all three fights. Your win bonus is $5k, $7.5k and $10k and you have those three fights in one year. That way, you know that at a minimum you’re making $30,000 for one year’s worth of fights. It’s tough. That’s close to poverty wages, but it at least gives a fighter some consistency; knowing that they’re going to have a job for at least a year. Nobody wants to show up at work knowing if they have an off day they’re going to be fired.
Nate was also unhappy with some of the other onerous terms UFC contracts place on the fighters. Things like requiring likeness rights in perpetuity did not sit well.
Look at the UFC videogame. Dana was bragging about how the UFC sold two million copies of that game. I didn’t get a dime out of it. None of the fighters I know got a dime out of it, but we signed away our rights. When I was on The Ultimate Fighter we were handed the contract and I thought to myself, ‘This is a great opportunity.’ I realized that they didn’t have any of us under contract; just the winners. I was thinking, ‘This is great, everybody is looking out for me [by giving me a contract]’ So, I signed it. I didn’t realize I signed away all my likeness rights. I don’t have the right to use any of the photos from any of my fights. I can’t use any of their videos in any way, shape or form. It’s things like that you look at and think, ‘Wouldn’t that increase the UFC fanbase, and give publicity and raise awareness?’
We just did an Armed Forces Entertainment tour, and we asked if we could the UFC logo on the sheets promoting UFC fighters appearing to support the troops. The answer was no. No you can’t use that logo. I understand that they want to control their likeness rights, but is that not going a little overboard? I’ve had my coaches told to take the word UFC off your website, because it says, ‘Training of UFC star Nate Quarry.’ They’re told to take that logo off of the website, or they’ll be getting a call from the UFC lawyers. Isn’t there enough success going around that the UFC can share it?
This wasn’t the only time the UFC’s somewhat draconian trademark and copyright policies caused conflict between them and Nate. At one point, the UFC targeted a charity associated with Nate for using the words UFC on their website.
There was a charity that was going to work with me and put their logo on my shirt, which I was going to do for free. I was told, ‘You cannot have that charity, because they call you a UFC fighter on their website. They need to take that down.’ Really? This is a charity that is doing surgical missions in Kenya. It said, ‘UFC fighter Nate Quarry is fighting on this date on this card supporting this charity.’ ‘Nope. You can’t have it. They can’t say UFC fighter.’
Many of the issues with the UFC’s treatment of fighters boils down to fighter pay. Many people are surprised to learn just how little fighters make, especially for title fights and other major events.
I always make a reference to my title fight against Franklin. I ask people, ‘What do you think a title fight main event, in the MGM Grand on Pay-Per-View will get you?’ People usually guess about a million dollars. I got paid $10,000. No Bonus, no nothing. When I lost, I went back to my original contract of $5,000 to show and $5,000 to win. People are shocked by that. They can’t even comprehend it. I didn’t know any better. My representation was Team Quest. None of those guys knew how to even read a contract, let alone negotiate one. When I came back after my back surgery, they were putting me back on $5,000 to show and $5,000 to win, and I told them I just couldn’t do that. So they bumped me up to $10,000/$10,000 and I fought Kalib Starnes and Pete Sell for that pay. Then I called them up and I said, ‘I can’t do this. You’re paying me so little and I have a little girl I’m trying to put through college. There’s so much wear and tear on my body for such little money that I’d be better off doing just about anything else.’They gave me a raise, which was much appreciated, and at the end of my career I was happy with the money that I was making. It wasn’t bench riding NBA player money, but it was better than I ever expected, and I was very grateful for it.
The more money the UFC pays to the fighter, the better the fighters they’re going to have. I’ve known plenty of guys who have said, ‘It’s so embarrassing that I’m bartending between fights just to get by.’ If they’re not working as bartenders, how much better prepared would they be for their fights? The fans would get better fights, and the fighters would feel more comfortable. People generally don’t perform well when they’re scared for their jobs. They want to know that their jobs are secure. That even if they have an off night, they’re safe, because the company cares for them. Dana is famous for tipping his wait staff at the restaurants tens of thousands of dollars, so it would be better for your long term career to serve Dana drinks than it would be to fight for him.
The issue of sponsor pay is one we have covered here on Bloody Elbow and it’s one Nate spoke passionately about.
When I started fighting it was so much more accepting. When I was sponsored by And1, it was such a big story. No fighter had ever been sponsored by a big shoe company like that. It was front page news on MSNBC.com. You can’t buy a story like that. How much exposure did that get the UFC? Well, a year later they passed the rules about acceptable sponsors, and sponsors now have to pay a fee to the UFC for the privilege of sponsoring a fighter. And1 called me and said, ‘We’re sponsoring you, not the UFC. They have plenty of money. Our budget doesn’t allow us to pay $50,000 to the UFC.’ So after that, I lost my And1 sponsorship.
I spoke to Bjorn Rebney about this a while back, and asked his thoughts on fees for sponsorships. He shook his head and said, ‘We will never do that. That is just ridiculous. It just kills everyone.’ Now organizations allow someone like me with Zombie Cagefighter to sponsor guys. I don’t have $50,000 to put my logo on a shirt that’s really not going to bring in any t-shirt sales for me. I just couldn’t do it. Now with Bellator, I can pay someone a reasonable amount of money and save $50,000. I may not be getting UFC 100 PPV numbers of viewers, but it’s still pretty good, and it helps the fighters out.
The announcement of an official UFC uniform also elicited an impassioned response.
Once again, that’s just completely screwing over the fighters. I was making more money from sponsors than I was from fighting, quite often. To take that away… You’re saying once again that the UFC is all about the UFC. [They might say], ‘We want to make sure we don’t have another incident like Dennis Hallman wearing inappropriate shorts.’ Well, you could just say, ‘We don’t want guys wearing shorts like that, and if you show up in shorts like that, we’ll put you in these shorts.’ Instead, they want to unify things.
I was actually told this: ‘The UFC can’t grow if you’re out there pitching your sponsors and all of that type of stuff.’ Really? When every five seconds you have, ‘Coming up next week, the next best card of the year!’ and then the week after that, ‘The next best card of the year, brought to you by Harley Davidson and this movie that paid us lots of money to tell you how awesome it is.’ Then you have the scroll at the bottom talking about how awesome everything is and how you need to buy these products. So I’m not buying that. It’s that you want to grab everything you can.
Nate also felt the UFC’s habit of sponsoring select fighters for large sums was unfair.
When you see the UFC sponsoring certain fighters like Jon Jones, that is clearly a conflict of interest, because the UFC has the deepest pockets, and they can say, ‘We’re going to give this fighter $100,000 to put this UFC logo on his shorts.’ That allows that fighter to get better training and bring in the best coaches. I’m just shocked that’s not covered more. Even Dana White saying he was going pay Mike Dolce to work with Cyborg so she could make weight against Ronda Rousey. I love Mike Dolce, but that’s another clear conflict of interest, all designed around what will be the biggest Pay-Per-View fight that will make the UFC the most money.
It’s like the NBA saying, ‘We’ll make a lot more money if we have the Lakers in the finals, so we’ll pay out $1million to make sure the Lakers have the best trainers in the league.’ All of the other teams would completely freak out, but if somebody under contract with the UFC was to say that, they would get that call. ‘You need to shut up, you don’t know what you’re talking about. This is the way things are done and if you don’t like it, here’s the door.’ When I told Jon Jones to his face how upset the other fighters were about it, he said, ‘I didn’t hear anything.’ Of course you didn’t, Jon, because none of the fighters can publicly say how they feel about the champion being given however many hundreds of thousands of dollars to wear a UFC logo, when we’re scraping by on the four or five approved shorts companies who don’t have the budget to give us money, so they just give us shorts.
When asked about the possibility of a fighters union or association to resolve these issues, Nate wasn’t very optimistic.
I don’t think a fighters union is even remotely possible. I think it would take something like a major class action lawsuit. That could come in time; I wouldn’t be surprised if there was on in the next 5-10 years, because there will be so many guys retiring with nothing. They’ll see that they did all this work and have nothing to show for it. There are laws in place to protect boxers that have signed away all their rights. I think that will come in time for MMA. But when the owners of the UFC are the owners of the biggest non-union gaming casino, there’s no way that they’re going to buckle to a fighters union without putting up a fight.
Nate did want to make it clear that while he is speaking his mind about the issues he sees, he is grateful to the UFC for everything they done for him.
I can’t reinforce enough, and I hope that this is one of the main messages that comes across, the UFC, and specifically Dana White, altered my life in such fundamentally amazing, awesome ways that I could never repay them. I would do anything if Dana White called me up and asked me to do something. Dana White really came through with me for my back surgery. It was phenomenal. I went to him and said, ‘I’m in so much pain. I can’t train and I don’t know what to do. I can’t afford to even go to the doctor and find out what’s wrong.’ He said, ‘Go ahead and go, we’ll take care of it, whatever it is,’ and he did. But the point is, if I had been paid more than $10,000 for a fight that had a gate of $3.5million-which at the time was the third highest gate in UFC history-would I have been able to pay for my own surgery? Probably.
I will be publishing a complete transcript of this very interesting interview within the next 24 hours. So many topics were covered, I felt it best to split into two different pieces.
You can follow Nate via his Twitter @NateRockQuarry