clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Editorial: COVID-19 further highlights the UFC’s broken pay structure

New, 22 comments

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear that the UFC needs to change how it pays fighters

UFC 234 Whittaker v Gastelum: Press Conference Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

One thing the UFC shutdown has brought back to the forefront is fighter pay. That’s not a positive for the promotion.

Several fighters from the postponed UFC London event, which had been scheduled for March 21, told MMA Fighting they received their show money for the card, which the UFC shelved because of the global coronavirus pandemic, but nothing has been mentioned regarding the five other fight cards the UFC has postponed. That’s a problem.

With the fighters not competing, the entire UFC roster is sitting and waiting to earn a paycheck. The UFC says it plans to get back to action on May 9. The promotion has not announced a location for the card.

The UFC has booked some fighters on the postponed cards on the May 9 event, but most of those athletes who had been booked on those cards do not know when they will compete. The odds are very good that all of those fighters incurred significant expenses in preparation for those fight cards, which were scheduled for Columbus, Portland, Brooklyn, Lincoln and Sao Paulo. Whatever money those fighters spent on training camp can’t be recouped. The UFC has to do something about that. Ideally all of those fighters would receive, at the very least, their contracted show money. There is no sign that has happened.

As for the fighters who are sitting and waiting to get booked. The UFC must consider the finances of those athletes.

One way the UFC could get money into its fighter’s hands right now is to pay them a stipend. In late March, Major League Baseball announced it was providing minor league players a stipend of $400 per week through May 31. That’s not a significant amount of money, but it is something. Like many UFC fighters, plenty of minor league baseball players work another job, but it’s hard to believe that most fighters work jobs that are deemed essential during the current global pandemic. That means they do not have a source of income right now. A weekly stipend of $400 would be a huge help for fighters who do not know when they will fight or work again.

When the UFC postponed UFC 249, UFC president Dana White told ESPN, “One other thing I really want to point out is: All of my fighters that are under contract with me, I want them to feel safe. Take time with your families and enjoy this time. Don’t worry about the financial part of this. You’re going to get the fights on your contract and I’m going to make things right with the people who were willing to step up and fight next weekend on April 18.”

It remains a mystery if White has provided any financial help for those competitors.

Another thing the UFC might consider is a yearly, for lack of a better term, salary for its fighters. If the promotion gave the fighters a full-time salary at the U.S. federal minimum wage, the pay would be about $15,000 per year. The cost for such a program would be about $9 million per year to cover the entire UFC roster. That might seem like a big chunk of change, but it represents just one percent of the reported $900 million in revenue the promotion brought in last year. Even if the UFC increased the yearly pay to $30,000 per fighter, it would be a blip on the promotion’s books.

Another way the UFC could fund yearly salaries would be to do away with the arbitrary fight-night bonus awards, which total a little over $6 million if three $50,000 awards are distributed over 42 yearly fight cards.

The yearly “salary” should be above and beyond what the UFC pays fighters in show and win money when they compete.

Speaking of show and win money, that payment structure should be done away with. The idea that the show and win structure is an incentive for the fighters to be more aggressive is laughable. Who in their right mind steps into a locked cage with nothing but tiny gloved secured to their hands and thinks, “you know what, I’m not really going to give it much effort tonight”? I don’t believe that happens. There’s also the fact that a fighter can lose a contest via means outside their control. The only people the show and win structure works for are the promoters. Professional fighters should not be under a show and win structure, they need to be paid a flat rate.

The UFC pay structure is broken. It keeps fighters under the UFC’s thumb and forces them to take fights when they maybe shouldn’t just for the sake of a paycheck. Changing the pay structure might hurt the UFC a bit financially, but it could result in better fights. The UFC tries to make fans think the way it “incentivizes” fighters makes for better fights. An example which shows this logic to be false is UFC 236. The two fighters who won the main and co-main events on that card, Dustin Poirier and Israel Adesanya were each paid a flat rate. No one will ever convince me those two would have tried harder if they had been on show and win deals.

The UFC wants to portray itself as a professional organization, it’s far past time for it to treat the fighters as professional athletes and pay them all a living wage so they can train year-round as professional athletes.