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Sonnen defends UFC pay scale, says Dana White was the first to champion for bigger purses

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Chael Sonnen defends the UFC as he discussed the long-standing fighter pay issues in the UFC.

Chael Sonnen speaks up to defend the UFC against allegations about unjust fighter pay.
Chael Sonnen speaks up to defend the UFC against allegations about unjust fighter pay.
Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

At this point, you’re all probably getting tired of hearing about the UFC’s long-standing fighter pay issues. But in the era of boxing spectacles, grievances from long-retired ex-champions, and UFC fighters relying on crowdfunding to make ends meet, it will, unfortunately, remain to be a heated topic of discussion.

Most observers see it one way: that the UFC unjustly compensates many of its fighters, no matter if they’re champions or prelim competitors. Chael Sonnen, however, presented an entirely different perspective.

Ever the company man, Sonnen posted a video in which he first took issue with both Francis Ngannou and Paulo Costa comparing their salaries with YouTubers Logan and Jake Paul.

When you golfed, did you make what Tiger Woods made when he golfs? Did you expect to make what Tiger Woods made when he golfed? Do you instantly see the silliness of me even asking you that question? You doing one thing and compare it to somebody who did another thing.

Jon Jones had started this for a while. He said, ‘I’m a professional athlete, here’s what I make. But my brothers are professional athletes, and here’s what they make.’ And you kind of scratch your head going, ‘They’re doing one job on one agreed-upon contract and you’re doing another job on an agreed-upon contract.’

What if there’s a third brother? And what if he’s a hedge fund manager? Should you make what he makes just because he’s your brother? What if you had a brother who’s a grocer? Should you make what he makes?

Instead of looking at it this way, Uncle Chael suggested going with the opposite perspective.

The argument always is told, and it only goes one way, which is forward. The first guy that we’re gonna listen to and go, ‘Wow, we’ve got a Jimmy Hoffa in the group. We got a real leader here,’ is the guy that steps forward with this argument but he goes backwards.

Had Francis Ngannou come out and said, ‘You know what, I was paid $500,000 to fight Stipe. ‘Johnny’ over here was the third fight of the night. He weighed in four minutes before me. We actually were on the airplane together, and I ran into him in the hotel hallway, he’s three doors down. We have literally done the exact same thing, and Johnny only got 20 grand. Why am I being paid half a million when he’s getting 20 grand? You owe me 20 grand.’

You have a promoter. You chose that promoter, hopefully not because you were a whore and went to the biggest bidder, but because you saw something that this guy could offer you in terms of opportunity.

So when the promoter sees said opportunity, and he plugs you into the highest possible spot that he can, which is 100% his job, and why you trusted and went with him in the first place, you now believe you’ve outpriced the contract.

He can stick you on the first card of the night. You can be the opponent of ‘Johnny,’ who was the third fight of the night for Francis and got 20 grand. Not a terrible payday. But if you want Francis’s spot, which is at the top of the card, it’s going to pay 20 times as much. That’s the business. But nobody argues it this way.

Sonnen went on to argue that it was actually UFC president Dana White who first championed better salaries for fighters. As an example, he related it to his own experience when he made his UFC debut in 2005.

The person who believes fighters were exploited and fighters weren’t paid enough is Dana. And they’re now trying to use the same argument that he brought forward and act as though he is doing something wrong.

When I first fought in the UFC, the year was 2005. I was paid $2,000 to show and $2,000 to win. I could not believe how much money I had in my pocket when I got that check. $2,000 in 2005.

Sonnen pointed out how the minimum pay for fighters today had significantly gone up since then. He is now offering a reward for anyone who can name him another company aside from the UFC who had done the same thing.

The minimum pay right now is $12,000. The minimum now is six times as much. I will give two tickets to anybody who shows me any company in the world that is paying six times (more) right now than what it paid 15 years ago.

If you can prove to me that they pay a minimum of six times what they paid a mere 15 years ago, I would get you two spectacular tickets to any UFC you would like to attend.

Sonnen also revealed that he was given a $35K/$35K contract when he first fought Anderson Silva at UFC 117 in 2010. “The Spider,” he says, “made seven figures plus” from that fight alone.

Financial documents show that the UFC pays their fighters just around 20% or less of their revenue. The promotion themselves have also targeted to maintain it at around 17% for years.