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Editorial: Sean O’Malley is 99 percent wrong about UFC fighter pay

Who the fighters are is not a key element to the UFC’s business plan

Sean O’Malley is wrong about UFC fighter pay
Sean O’Malley is wrong about UFC fighter pay
Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Sean O’Malley recently shared his opinion on UFC fighter pay. His take? He finds it hard to blame the UFC for low pay. O’Malley’s reasoning? Most fighters aren’t earning the UFC any money. He’s right about most fighters not earning the UFC money. He’s wrong about how important individual fighters are to the UFC.

“Dude, like I don’t even blame [Dana White], it’s like some of these fucking people have zero following,” O’Malley said on a recent episode of his TimboSugarShow podcast. “They’re not making the UFC one hundred thousand. They’re not making the UFC fifty thousand. They’re not making the UFC any money, really. But that’s just from a business perspective, from Dana’s business perspective, and I can see that.”

The truth of the matter is, there is currently one UFC fighter who drives massive numbers solely on name recognition. That fighter is, of course, Conor McGregor. Sure, some fighters might cause a increase in UFC pay-per-view sales or ESPN ratings or ESPN+ subscription buys, but McGregor is the one fighter who makes a difference when his name is associated with a UFC card.

That is by design. When the Fertitta brothers purchased the UFC, they said they were buying the three letters — UFC. With that thinking, the Fertitta’s set in motion a plan that the UFC would always be bigger than any individual fighter and the UFC would be the major element to be marketed — not the fighters.

That plan worked spectacularly and made the Fertitta brothers rich(er) men.’

Now, in the ESPN era, the UFC continues to market the brand and not the fighters. When ESPN or ESPN+ has a UFC content block on its schedule, the fighters are almost entirely unimportant, especially from the UFC’s view. The promotion has 10-14 fights to make for those events. The name recognition of the fighters is an afterthought. The promotion’s biggest concern is the number of fighters, not the quality or names of those fighters.

The UFC only needs 20-28 fighters per card to fill spots to provide ESPN with content. ESPN pays for that content, not for the fighters. A fighter making their UFC debut is as important to the UFC as the headliners on an ESPN+ card.

I’m sure O’Malley likes to think he is one of those imagined fighters earning huge money for the UFC. He’s not. That’s no slight against him, that’s just the way the business is designed to function. If O’Malley never fights for the UFC again, the promotion would not care because the promotion knows another fighter can always fill that spot. That was the genius that started with the Fertitta brothers and is even more evident now in the ESPN era: they made the UFC the product, and with that they made the fighters interchangeable and expendable — including Sean O’Malley.