Navigating the economics of the fight game is irrevocably complex. It is a facet that any rising star must acquaint themselves with. This is to ensure they can maintain longevity within the sport. According to a 2017 report, only 0.09% of fighters (Boxing and MMA) are capable of earning over $2million annually. For those select few who are counted among the upper echelons, a question mark has always loomed around the distractions that this can incur.
On Friday’s episode of You’re Welcome! With Chael Sonnen. The former UFC middleweight title contender explored if it is wealth and the consequent lavish lifestyle that a champion may adopt, or something entirely different that acts as the primary detractor from remaining atop the proverbial summit.
It is no surprise these topics have risen exponentially among MMA media outlets following the announcement of the return of arguably the most lucrative fighter in the sport: Conor McGregor (who faces Donald Cerrone at UFC 246). However, ‘The American Gangster’ argued that it is not necessarily monetary gain but rather media obligations such as photo shoots that is a key driver of distractions.
“All of a sudden where do those photo shoots happen? Well they don’t happen in your home town. They don’t come to Ireland in Conor’s case, to do this for you. You get on the airplane, you go somewhere. Well now you are living out a hotel in a different city which means what? You don’t have your coach, you don’t have your trainer – it’s the definition of insanity” Sonnen explained on his popular show, with the episode appropriately titled: Can a Rich Man Fight?
Chael suggested the infamous PR machine which consists of various media and press related events, rather than a fighter’s wealth, is what can be an overwhelming limiter to success. The fact that a champion or household name has to spend prolonged periods without access to their regular training regiment can be detrimental to a fighter - while lesser known contenders can spend this time refining their skills.
“I don’t think it comes with the tens of millions of dollars and the new phony friends you’ve got, or the distractions, and the party you’d rather be at than be at practice. I don’t think it has to do with that,” Sonnen explained. “There is a media tour and a PR wing that comes with the organisation: UFC - that is exclusive for champions.”
One such champion is heavyweight: Stipe Miocic.
Chael discussed the primary reason for the two-time UFC champion’s ability to overcome the plethora of PR distractions and defend his belt more than twice in a division that is not known for long-standing reigns.
“I will maintain for you: The fire station in Cleveland is one of the keys to Stipe Miocic’s success,” Sonnen said.
Miocic, who other than being the “baddest man on the planet” is also a celebrated part-time firefighter-paramedic in Ohio. Sonnen suggests that it is because of this noble profession his schedule is unlikely to be challenged by the UFC brass. This has allowed the 37-year-old to stay surrounded by his team and ensure, despite any newfound wealth, he can continue on a champion’s path.
“He has this set schedule that everybody in the world respects because it’s a dangerous job and he is giving back to his community, and who amongst us wants to be on record questioning a fireman? They left him alone. Stipe had to be at home, he had to sleep in his own bed. He could not go out and do the media tours because he had a set schedule. That’s something everybody respected known as the firehouse.” Sonnen said, “It means he wakes up and he gets to go to his own gym, with his own teammates, with his own coaches. I maintain that is a key to his success.”
Miocic (19-3) recently reclaimed his championship belt from Daniel Cormier at UFC 241, following what was widely considered a dramatic come-from-behind victory. Miocic in the past has expressed how his role in the emergency services has kept him grounded and humble. Therefore, Sonnen’s analysis of the fire station behaving as an anchor point for the former Golden Gloves champion as explanation of his success may be accurate.
However, it should be noted, in recent years Miocic has increased his PR obligations. Most recently representing the UFC at Washington D.C. to celebrate the men and women that serve the United States.
Whilst debates continue around what the most debilitating distractions are for a fighter, it can be argued that wealth and media obligations are not mutually exclusive. In order to become a marquee name, one has to be heard and seen. The challenge for most fighters is finding the middle path between PR obligation and consistent training.
For Miocic, this balance may be found within his career as a firefighter.