There are few fighters in the world who have had so close a view as CM Punk of two major figures who sit firmly atop the ‘sports entertainment’ world: Dana White & Vince McMahon. Punk’s short lived UFC run may have been little more than a vanity project in comparison to his time with the WWE, but it gave the pro wrestling star (and BJJ blue belt) a good look at how the world’s largest mixed martial arts organization does business.
In a recent interview on Oral Sessions with Renee Paquette, Punk compared and contrasted his experiences working with Vince McMahon and Dana White. And while he noted that both men are ‘right wing’ weirdos, from the former WWE champion’s standpoint he saw a lot more generosity from White than his pro wrestling counterpart.
“I think there’s levels to it,” Punk said, comparing the two men (transcript via The Body Lock). “Obviously you can draw that they’re both right wing, the word I’ll use is weirdo, because obviously they vote based on what’s good for their pocketbook.
“If I really had to compare and contrast, I would say Dana is more generous. Dana does a lot of stuff for the fighters behind the scenes. I think there’s a lot of locker room money that people don’t know about and he gets a lot of flak for [not paying fighters enough]. That being said, I do also think fighters need to get paid a whole hell of a lot more.
“But a lot of that time when he lashes out when people are complaining about pay and unionization, it’s because he knows, ‘hey, I just gave that guy $250,000 under the table’ but you can’t talk about it. But he should still pay people more and fighters need to get together and unionize anyway.”
The UFC’s locker room bonuses have been a long reported feature of the promotion. Fighters like Frank Mir and Lyoto Machida reportedly banked checks as big as $1,000,000 (in Mir’s case) for exceptional fight night performances. Joe Silva described the more regular practice of handing out extra cash during his testimony as part of the long running class action lawsuit against the UFC.
“And I’d say, here’s what happened in every fight, and here’s money that’s not knockout of the night or fight of the night, here’s extra bonuses that I think these guys are worth,” Silva explained. “And I would make suggestions: this guy lost, but it was a good fight, he did that, I think he should get 3,000 extra; I think that that guy should get 10,000 extra. And I’d go down the whole card.”
On the flip side, much like the UFC, the WWE has made itself notorious for its strict control over how athletes can monetize their likenesses and skills. In 2015 Forbes reported that WWE wrestlers made anywhere from $50,000 to $5 million a year. However, reportedly, wrestlers can also earn bonuses for exceptional in-ring performances. Word is that Triple H took home $600,000 over one year just in bonus money alone.
How that all balances out in terms of actual pay as a percentage of revenue for athletes is a little murkier. The 2015 Forbes report pegged WWE athlete salaries at around $50 million for the whole roster, accounting for just 7.6% of the company’s annual revenue. By comparison in that same year, the UFC reportedly spent $99 million on athlete compensation, or 16% of their total revenue.
At least on the surface, it like there may be some truth to Brooks’ assertion that when it comes to money, the UFC is a more generous place to work.