Editor's Note: This article was written just after details on the Reebok sponsorship payment tiers were revealed, and is being re-featured on the Bloody Elbow front page for the weekend of October 31st-November 1st, with comments re-opened.
When the details of the Reebok deal were first released, a lot of fighters made their feelings on the deal heard in 140 characters or less. Within 24 hours, the majority had gone silent. Tweets were deleted, comments were softened and all in all Zuffa managed to keep the lid on the outcry, at least publicly.
For fans, this ambiguity made it really difficult to know what fighters really thought about the deal, and what kind of effect it would have on them financially. In 2013, I wrote a piece detailing the state of sponsorship in MMA with anonymous quotes from UFC champions right on down to regional fighters. With the advent of the Reebok deal, it made sense to do something similar again.
Along with my Bloody Elbow colleagues John Nash and Steph Daniels, I reached out to dozens of fighters. Most refused to participate including a UFC champion who had taken part in the previously referenced study. Nine agreed to give us their response. All of the responses were given under the condition of anonymity, and as such, these fighters will be referred to only in general terms of their position in the MMA hierarchy. It was made clear to the fighters that this piece had no slant. All responses would be included, positive or negative, and the only request we had, was that they be honest.
Below are the questions posed to the fighters, and the answers we received. Answers have been edited only for clarity and to remove any potentially identifying information. The thoughts, opinions and figures contained are all as reported to us by the athletes.
The questions cover how much the fighters will gain or lose, how happy they are with the deal, their feelings about the fairness of the deal and whether or not it makes them more likely to leave the UFC (or not join the UFC).
Tate: I'm losing 80-90%, Reebok unfair for WMMA
Bantamweights Miesha Tate and Bryan Caraway discuss the numbers released on the Reebok deal.
How much do you make, on average, per fight from your combined sponsors? If per-year is a better metric, that's fine, too. A rough range (e.g $5,000-$10,000) is absolutely fine.
The amounts the Reebok deal pays per fight are listed below. The amount each fighter will lose or gain is given as a range for the purposes of ensuring they cannot be identified by the number of UFC bouts they have had.
Fighters with 1-5 fights make $2,500 per fight.
6-10 fights make $5,000 per fight.
11-15 fights $10,000 per fight.
16-20 fights $15,000 per fight.
21+ fights $20,000 per fight.
UFC Fighter & MMA Veteran: I used to make $15,000-$20,000 a fight. That was before the Reebok deal was announced.
Will lose $15,000-17,500 per fight.
UFC Top Contender: I made around $80,000 per fight before the Reebok announcement. That dropped to $35,000 for the last fight after the deal was announced.
Will lose $65,000-$70,000 per fight.
UFC Top Contender: I would make over $100,000 if the UFC didn't reject so many of my sponsors. I made between $15,000 and $20,000 in my last fight.
Will lose $10,000-$17,500 per fight.
UFC Former Title Contender: I make $50,000-$60,000 per fight.
Will lose $50,000-$57,500 per fight.
UFC & MMA Veteran: I made around $15,000 per fight.
Will lose $5,000-$10,000 per fight.
Top UFC Prospect: I make around $20,000 per fight just now.
Will lose $15,000-$17,500 per fight.
Top UFC Prospect: I make around $15,000 per fight just now.
Will lose $10,000-$12,500 per fight.
Popular Former UFC & Strikeforce Fighter: Fighting for Strikeforce and the UFC, I made about $1,500-$3,000 per fight in sponsors.
Would have gained $1,000-$2,000 per fight on average.
Popular Former Strikeforce Fighter: The UFC sponsor tax lowered sponsorship fees everywhere. Before that, I would make $30,000-$40,000 per fight. Now I would make $5,000-$7,500 per fight. It's a joke now.
Would lose $2,500-$5,000 per fight if they joined the UFC.
Are you happy with the Reebok deal since it means you don't have to deal with sponsors personally/deal with sponsors who don't pay?
UFC Fighter & MMA Veteran: No. I'm very unhappy about it.
UFC Top Contender: I'm not happy.
UFC Top Contender: This Reebok thing is fucking ridiculous.
UFC Former Title Contender: I am not happy with it.
UFC & MMA Veteran: I have no problem with it, and now I don't have to get the sponsors myself. It'll cost me a little money, but save me some time.
Top UFC Prospect: I never have to deal with that stuff any way, my management team do. So it makes no difference to me.
Top UFC Prospect: No, I'm not happy.
Popular Former UFC & Strikeforce Fighter: If I was still with the UFC I would certainly value the reliability in sponsorships after having to deal with shady companies and inconsistent managers throughout my career.
Popular Former UFC Veteran
Popular Former Strikeforce Fighter: Makes no difference to me.
What are your thoughts on how fair the UFC-Reebok sponsorship deal is to fighters?
UFC Fighter & MMA Veteran: I think it's incredibly unfair.
UFC Top Contender: I don't think it's fair at all.
UFC Top Contender: Zuffa are evil.
UFC Former Title Contender: I think it's unfair.
UFC & MMA Veteran: I can see why other fighters have a problem with it, but I get it.
Top UFC Prospect: I think it is unfair. Some fighters will not be too concerned because they will be making roughly the same amount of money as before. But MOST fighters (across all tiers) will be making less.
Top UFC Prospect: The deal is unfair as it stands. I expect it to change, though. We will see how far optimism gets me.
Popular Former UFC & Strikeforce Fighter: From all of the information that has been presented to the public, I think that the reebok deal averages out to be fair for the lower-tier fighters, if they don't have a visible presence. Fighters who made a splash on TUF and may not have had as many fights in the UFC but are publicly known may be an exception.
For the fighters who have been fighting longer in the UFC (5-20 fights), the numbers seem grossly unfair to what they could be pulling in based on their relationships/prior representation with sponsors outside of reebok.
Popular Former Strikeforce Fighter: It comes down to the fighters in the UFC. Their deal doesn't affect me.
If a rival organization was to offer you the same fight pay as the UFC, but give you the chance to have as many sponsors as you wanted, with no sponsor tax, does this Reebok deal make you more likely to consider or accept that offer?
*For fighters not in the UFC, the question was whether or not it made them less likely to join the UFC.
UFC Fighter & MMA Veteran: I would take the other offer in a second.
UFC Top Contender: No comment.
UFC Top Contender: I would love to fight elsewhere now.
UFC Former Title Contender: Options for people in my weight class are limited.
UFC & MMA Veteran: It doesn't make me more likely to leave, no.
Top UFC Prospect: No. My reasoning for fighting in the UFC is because it is home to the best fighters in the world. The money is just a bonus. The only reason I would ever consider fighting in another organization would be if the MMA landscape changed and the best fighters were elsewhere.
Top UFC Prospect: We don't have much of a choice because we are under contract. To be honest though, unless a rival organization was offering something in addition to sponsor freedom (i.e. Rampage-esque deal), I don't see myself competing for anyone else.
Popular Former UFC & Strikeforce Fighter: This is tricky. On the money side, yes I would totally consider it, but the UFC has done an amazing job of branding themselves as the home of the best in the world (which I still believe they are)-and fighting for them is still the end goal of nearly every MMA fighter out there. It's the company that average people associated with Mixed Martial Arts... you don't hear people saying "I train Bellator."
At the end of the day, I guess it comes down to prestige verses purse. On initial glance, the Reebok deal seems really restrictive compared to the freedom of open market sponsorship, but for athletic talent the UFC still holds the strongest competitors. Time will tell if these athletes choose to stay there or attempt to use their reputations to earn more elsewhere.
Popular Former Strikeforce Fighter: I wouldn't sign with the UFC either way.
Below are some comments from fighters which didn't quite fit in the survey format, but will nonetheless be useful context.
Top UFC Prospect: [Regarding comments about how the UFC should have uniforms because other sports leagues do as well]
This sport cannot be compared to NFL, NBA etc. for many reasons:
1. We are not employed by the UFC. We are not on a salary, unlike members of professional sports teams.
2. Training costs are not covered, they are when you are part of a professional sports team.
3. We only compete 3 to 4 (on average) times per year. That is the only time we make money.
Therefore all comparisons with athletes from those leagues are irrelevant.
Former UFC & MMA Veteran: When I was out there fighting for the smaller, regional promotions, it was hard. I was having to find my own sponsors, sewing on my own patches and I was doing that out of necessity, not because I wanted to. I've got a mortgage and five kids to feed.
A lot of fighters make more in sponsorship than we do with our purses. When the UFC put their sponsor tax down, I was still there and it was hard. I wasn't a Top 10 fighter, so the big sponsors looked right past me.
Bellator lets us have as many sponsors as we want. I can get 20 sponsors at a grand each, and there I've made an extra 20 grand on my fight. I'm trying to give my kids a good life, so show me that money.
The survey responses were enlightening to me. The general feeling from most fighters was that the deal was unfair, but there wasn't a whole lot they could do about it. There was definitely a fear of speaking out from many of the fighters I spoke to, as well.
Given that most fighters felt the deal was unfair, I was surprised that only a few felt they would be more likely to leave the UFC because of the Reebok deal. The most common reason given was arguably a pretty damned admirable one: As long as the UFC had the best fighters, that's where they wanted to test themselves.
Hopefully this piece gives some insight into how this deal will affect the average fighter, and how they think about it. It's sometimes difficult to get an idea of how fighters feel based on the few who speak out in one direction or the other. This piece attempts to remedy that in some small way.
For those of you who dislike reading long articles, here are the overall responses to each question from the fighters:
8/9 fighters will/would lose money. The average (mean) amount lost is around $20,000-$25,000 per fight.
1/9 fighters will/would gain money. The average amount gained is around $1,000-$2,000 per fight.
5/9 fighters are unhappy with the deal even with the benefit of not having to get your own sponsors.
4/9 fighters are neutral or happy about the deal in relation to not having to get sponsors themselves
6/9 fighters categorically think the Reebok deal is unfair.
1/9 fighters thinks it is fair.
1/9 fighters thinks it is only fair to some fighters.
1/9 fighters doesn't have an opinion.
2/9 fighters said it made them more likely to leave.
4/9 gave a neutral or no comment answer.
3/9 said it did not make them more likely to leave.