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Dong Hyun Kim Speaks Out On UFC Fighter Pay And Asian Fighter Treatment

Jul. 7, 2012; Las Vegas, NV, USA; UFC fighter Dong Hyun Kim (right) kicks Demian Maia during a welterweigh bout in UFC 148 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Photo: Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE
Jul. 7, 2012; Las Vegas, NV, USA; UFC fighter Dong Hyun Kim (right) kicks Demian Maia during a welterweigh bout in UFC 148 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Photo: Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

The issue of fighter pay and fighter treatment in the UFC has been speculated on greatly over the years, but with a lack of salary transparency and without current fighters wanting to go on record, the UFC talking heads in Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta have been dismissive of criticism in this area. Even with the few former fighters willing to say something publicly such as Ken Shamrock on ESPN's Outside The Lines at the beginning of the year, the UFC were adamant it was a hatchet piece by ESPN, and that Shamrock just had an axe to grind.

So it's surprising then when comments from a current UFC fighter in Welterweight Dong Hyun Kim have recently emerged voicing his own criticism and concern with regards to both fighter pay and treatment of his fellow Asian fighters trying to earn a living and make their mark in the UFC.

The following are translated excerpts from an interview Kim did with Korean website 'Daum' in early July, prior to his fight with Demian Maia at UFC 148 (Hat Tip

On Fighter Pay

It's ultimately very hard to be a UFC fighter. If you go to America, there are a lot of fighters who are barely eeking by financially. I see some fighters who have fights a few days away doing personal training. A lot of that has to with the UFC being too stingy about sponsorships. Also because of UFC's policies it is really hard to get sponsors for a lot of fighters.

On UFC's Win / Lose Policy

If you pay off the training camp and your coaches you honestly don't have much left. Ultimately, you only have one maybe two opportunities to make it big. In mma anyone can lose and when you do lose you go instantly to the back of the line. Look at Rick Story.

On Disadvantages For Asian Fighters

And no matter how "fair" the UFC is, the Asian fighters especially Korean fighters are automatically at a disadvantage. Even right before my fight with Demian my airplane ticket cost after getting discounts, was 1,100 dollars(Not to add in me paying for my teammates and coaches to accompany me). And on top of that, it is ludicrously expensive to get ready to train and get a training camp in the US before your fights.

On Why He Is Speaking Out

I am not saying this out of complaint for myself, because compared to my peers I am doing fine financially, but for other Asian fighters it is completely unfair. Because I am older than my peers and because this is the path my fellow Korean fighters are going to take, I am going to say what has to be said. I really took to heart what Bibiano Fernandes said about why he decided to not join the UFC.

After the jump, comments from Dong Hyun Kim's and Chan Sung Jung's manager and translator, Brian Rhee

Brian Rhee, who serves as both manager and translator for many South Korean fighters in the UFC, has not disputed this interview or translation, and Bloody Elbow has reached out to him for confirmation. Rhee has though contributed his own thoughts to the topic via the messageboards:

The UFC DOES pay for airfare and hotel for the fighter + 1. However, for fighters from Korea, we have to come in at least 10 days early (2 weeks is better) in order to get used to the time difference. The UFC tickets flights (and books the hotel) for 4 or 5 days before the fight. So, the fighters from Korea (and other foreign countries) have to pay the difference in fares and the extra days for room and board.

If you assume that a fighter is going to bring, at least, their coach and a sparring partner (for KTT, they bring me as well), that means the fighter is paying for 2 extra plane tickets (usually between $1200-2000 RT from Seoul). Add in 5 or 6 days of room and board for 4-5 guys and it starts to add up! Then take out US federal and state taxes, then the guys get taxed again in Korea. Subtract paying the fees to the coach and sparring partner... and what's the fighter left with? Unless they get a bonus (or two), or are making a really good base pay, not much.

If you think about the fact that KZ (before the Poirier fight) was making $6,000 as base pay, then you'll realize that for a lot of our fights in the US, we end up losing money. But, the fighters do it hoping to build up to bigger paydays and more sponsor money.

I think the $1,100 that Stun Gun mentioned was probably the difference in fares. The UFC pays for the basic fare, but if you decide to change your travel dates, the fighter is responsible for paying the difference.

A lot of people say it's the same for all foreign fighters, not just Asians, but the main difference is that for South American fighters there is little/no time difference. For European fighters, the time adjustment is easier because there isn't as much of a time difference to begin with AND it's harder to adjust to travelling east, as opposed to west. I don't know why that is, but it's definitely different. We have a hard time when going from Asia to the US, but coming from the US to Asia is not as hard (same for Europe to the US).

Anyway, just my/our experience...


Just to add to the post above...

I would honestly say that I doubt KZ would have been able to win any of his fights if he came to the US on the pre-determined date (i.e. If we didn't come in at least 10 days early). I've seen the fighters on the 4-5 day in the US and there's no way that they could compete at top form at that point. But, who knows, maybe our guys just suffer from jetlag worse than everyone else. (?)


Also, I believe the UFC pays for the fighter + 2 for title bouts.

The comments about fighter air fares were the most striking, and explains why a fighter like Jon Olav Einemo didn't fly out to the USA much sooner for his fight with Mike Russow at UFC on Fox 2 in January. Unless fighters are in a position to pay for all their own flights including their manager and seconds, they're at the whim of UFC's scheduling which according to these examples is grossly inadequate for acclimatising to new timezones that close to the fight.

How the UFC responds to these claims will be interesting to see, and we will have follow up coverage as and when it happens.