An examination of Nate Quarry's statements regarding the UFC

Tim B. takes an honest look at Nate Quarry's recent statements about the UFC.

Bloody Elbow recently posted an interview with ex-UFC fighter Nate Quarry, where he discusses some issues he has with the way his former employer does business. Mr. Quarry was very clear that he has great respect for the organization and what they've done for him overall, and that's laudable. But his arguments against the company's policies was a bit lacking in some areas in my opinion.

I write about the sport of mixed martial arts. Some might label me as a blogger, some might go as far as to call me a journalist. I'm fine with either title. But one thing I always try to do when I write about anything is to offer facts and statements with accuracy, and add the correct context. So when I see members of the fight game making a case for something, especially in situations like this, I generally expect as much of them.

I do want to be very up front with the fact that I have a lot of respect for Quarry as a fighter, analyst, and someone who wants to be a catalyst for change. This article is not meant as a personal attack on him. It's my analysis of what he said, and where I think he may have erred with some of his points. I sincerely hope he can see this for what it is.

In his interview with Steph Daniels, Quarry uses examples from his career to prop up his arguments about fighter pay, ancillary rights, and a few other things. But some of his statements about his career and otherwise are not fully based in fact, and I feel that others are not framed in the correct manner to be meaningful counterpoints. Here's a look at a few of the factually incorrect or incomplete statements to start. The first is about contracts:

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.

The NFL does not guarantee the full terms of their contracts, only a certain number of years, and sometimes as little as one. Players can then be cut for nothing after the guaranteed years expire, even with a bunch of years left on their deal. Of all the 100-million dollar deals the NFL flaunts, very few actually pay out that amount. Bubble players can also be signed to practice roster deals and make way less than the league minimum. Some of these guys are regularly cut and re-signed by either their own team or others throughout the season.

The NBA, NHL, and Major League Baseball do have guaranteed contracts, but there are many ways around paying a debuting player a full season's worth of guaranteed money if it doesn't work out. The NBA has 10-day and D-League contracts. Baseball and hockey have two-way contracts and can send players to the minor leagues where they make a tiny portion of what they'd make in the top-flight league. Unless the player is a top prospect, this is how many guys make their debuts in these sports.

So what's my point? First off, I never like team sports comparisons when it comes to combat sports because they're apples and oranges, but the idea that athletes in major pro sports always get every dollar of the contract they signed isn't fully correct. And the "to the tune of millions of dollars" is just hyperbole. Many are given an opportunity, and walk away with little or nothing when they're cut, similar to a UFC fighter.

Quarry's said elsewhere in the interview that the first three fights of a UFC contract should be guaranteed, and that's perfectly reasonable. But the way he framed the argument isn't really applicable to that idea overall.

Next up is the part where he talks about the gate of his UFC 56 title fight with Rich Franklin:

But the point is, if I had been paid more than $10,000 for a fight that had a gate of $3.5 million - which at the time was the third highest gate in UFC history - would I have been able to pay for my own surgery? Probably.

He also made a similar statement on the UG when he talked about his fight with Franklin. The problem with the first part of that statement is that it's not true - the gate was nowhere near 3.5 million for that show. The total gate was 1,986,600. This is sourced in an official NSAC document. While it's not incredibly damaging to his overall point, this simple flub shows a lack of research and hurts his credibility to a degree.

He is correct that it was the UFC's third-highest gate up to that point. But this is where I get to the issue of context for the first time. His fight with Rich Franklin was over eight years ago. It was the fifth PPV after TUF 1 had wrapped up on TV, and was outdrawn by UFC 52 and 54. It did better than UFC 53 and 55. It was then outdrawn at the gate by five out of the next six pay-per-views after it, and the 200k buy rate the show did was outdone by the next 13 straight PPV events that followed it.

Basically, it was the start of the boom period. It's easy eight years later to say "can you believe I only make 10k for a UFC title fight?" when it's a billion-dollar company now. But in late 2005 it was just starting to rise, so it was a completely different world back then. And in another minor issue, he doesn't point out that he likely would have received a win bonus equal to his salary if he had beaten Franklin. That hasn't been confirmed either way though.

In the full transcript, there are a number of other questionable statements. The first concerns current UFC bantamweight champion Renan Barao:

Watching fights is cool, but if you don't know who the guys are, you don't care about them.

I feel that's what happened with Barao. Now we've been given a chance to get to know him a little bit more, but there was a time he had fought three or four times in the UFC on the undercard and prelims, and then suddenly he's fighting for a title and nobody knows who he is.

Barao fought once on Facebook, his UFC 130 debut with the organization, then was immediately bumped up to the co-main event of UFC 138 against Brad Pickett. That was highest placing for a non-title bantamweight fight at the time, and was seen as mildly controversial by some. He then fought Scott Jorgensen on the main card of UFC 143 before his title fight with Urijah Faber. So that wasn't the best example.

The other thing I took issue with was his assessment of boxing salaries for champions or top ten fighters:

The closest thing you could compare UFC pay to would be boxing. In a title fight in boxing, the low level guys are getting $5 million or $10 million. The good guys are $20 million or $30 million. So compared to boxing, I'd say probably not if you're looking at the percentage of income or profits being distributed to the fighters.

This isn't even remotely close to the truth. Two men in boxing make 20 million a fight or more - Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather. And Mayweather is in on the promoting, that's part of why he gets huge checks. Wladimir Klitschko has made up to 17.5 million. But everyone else? Here's a look at a bunch of other big fight salaries from 2012 and 2013 - notice that no one is anywhere near 10 million except Floyd and Klitschko. The highest is Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., who got 3 million for his fight with Sergio Martinez (Sergio got 1.5 million). Almost every fight there includes at least one fighter ranked in the top 10 of a division by Bad Left Hook.

What do "low level" champions in boxing make? Well, let's look at a couple of examples. IBF light welterweight champion Lamont Peterson (currently ranked at # 4 in the division) recently defended his title against Dierry Jean (currently # T10 in the division), and the combined purse was $156,000. That's the total of what both fighters made. It should be noted that Peterson made 800k for his fight with Lucas Matthyse.

When Leo Santa Cruz (currently # 2 at 122 pounds) beat Victor Terrazas (currently # 7) to win the WBC bantamweight title, the combined purse was $526,000. I could go on and on with similar examples, but the idea that lower-level champions make 5-10 million a fight is totally false. A lot of them make under $200,000, and none of them are anywhere near 5 million. They won't even make 5 million in their entire career.

Okay, back to MMA. I also believe that he does a lackluster job of framing his lack of ancillary rights in his contract (and the general low pay) as a situation where the draconian UFC hoodwinked the ignorant and innocent fighter:

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 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.

While I agree that fighters should not be forced to sign over their ancillary rights, why is it anyone's fault other than his own that he didn't understand what he was signing? It comes across like was a victim of something shady. He wasn't. He chose to sign the contract without taking the time to find out what it all meant. And he chose to pursue a career in this sport to start with.

I do get that he's trying to emphasize this point so other fighters are more aware of their situation and don't fall into the same trap. The story is a cautionary tale more than a "woe is me" statement. That's fair. I'm just saying that framing it in this manner opens himself up to scrutiny rather than making the UFC look like they did something improper. And again, this happened a long time ago. Quarry even states in the interview that he was happy with his UFC pay later in his career, which ended in 2010.

Using his own career as a basis for his argument is again evident in his statements about sponsorship pay and fighter uniforms as well:

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.

Nate Quarry clearly knows more about sponsorship money in the UFC in 2014 than I do, so I'm not even going to try and act like I have more intimate knowledge than he does. He is probably in regular communication with fighters that currently compete and my guess is that he knows some ballpark figures about what guys are getting. If he had used that as his argument, that would be fine. But he didn't. He went with the "back in my day" argument, which doesn't really hold up now.

By many accounts, the idea that fighters in 2014 are "making more money from sponsors than they are from fighting quite often" seems off. Guys like Mac Danzig and Cole Miller can readily attest to that fact. Yes, that probably has a lot to do with the UFC's blanket policies that have eliminated a lot of lower-level sponsors. That's a completely valid point that he did bring up in the interview. But it's not the only reason that fighters can't get sponsorships. Sponsors themselves have come out and said that some fighters aren't holding up their end of the bargain, so it's not all on the UFC. A lot of it is for sure. But not all of it. Much has changed in the sport over the last four years, and the sponsor tax is just one of those things.

Lastly, the UFC uniform concept has put a scare into people that think it's going to take away from what little sponsorship money is still available for fighters. But the uniform idea is exactly that - an idea. It hasn't even fully been revealed yet. No one knows if fighters are going to get a cut of a broad sponsorship deal with a big-name apparel company or not. It seems like everyone assumes that the UFC will just pocket that cash and leave the fighters out in the cold, but why not at least wait and see what the final product looks like before we start to trash it?

Overall, I agree with many of the things Quarry is bringing up. Using his career as a teaching topic for newer fighters is admirable, and being one of the few ex-UFC fighters to step up and challenge the status quo is an important step for the rights of fighters. I just think that if you're going to take the position as a leader, you need to put as much thought as possible into the points that you're making.

Nate Quarry can make a difference, but touting incomplete or incorrect facts (along with a healthy dose of hyperbole) and book-ending all of that with statements that lack the proper context just takes away from the relevance of the overall point. These hiccups don't totally kill the whole message by any means - most of what he's saying does make sense - but they do dilute the whole thing to a degree. And when you're choosing to challenge Dana White and the UFC, you can't afford to have any holes in your argument.

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