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Fighters claiming greater earnings outside UFC need to release their pay, if they want real change

Paige VanZant, Mike Perry, Chad Mendes, Tyron Woodley and more claim to have made more money fighting outside the UFC.

Paige VanZant, Corey Anderson, Tyron Woodley, Kevin Lee, Mike Perry, and Chad Mendes. They all have at least one thing in common.

Each of these fighters has, somewhat recently, claimed that once they moved on from the UFC, they made more money than they did while under contract with MMA’s biggest promotion.

Paige VanZant claimed in February 2021, “I was in the UFC for six years getting paid $40,000 (to show) and $40,000 (to win). Now (with BKFC) I’m getting 10 times that doing what I love. So, obviously, I’m not going anywhere. I’m very happy fighting here and I’m excited to fight.”

In April 2021, Corey Anderson said, “In two fights / six months with Bellator, I’ve made double of what I did in 15 fights (11 wins 2 bonuses) seven years with UFC. Now I live and enjoy life to the fullest with my family everyday! Let that marinate ....”

Tyron Woodley, a former UFC welterweight champion, said in June 2021 that his boxing matchup opposite Jake Paul was going to be, “Easiest fight of my career and biggest purse of my career all in one night.”

Earlier this month, Kevin Lee said, “My contract (with Eagle FC) will make more than most UFC champions see, so that part is kind of nice. But the competitor in me still thinks it’s the same game. … I’m going to make more than UFC champions in my first fight, so we’re having fun.”

Mike Perry also got involved in the conversation this month, comparing his BKFC pay to his UFC pay. “I’m making double. Or more than double because now, they took some pressure off, I guess, with…I need to think about it that way sometimes as if there was a win purse. Triller gave me a good win bonus. I had something to fight for extra. But not having to think about the other side of it, I really just felt like I got to be me.”

Chad Mendes was the most recent fighter to lend his voice to the chorus when he said BKFC paid him more than he received for any of his UFC fights. This includes two title fights and an interim title fight opposite Conor McGregor, where he received $500,000 along with reportedly an extra $200,000 bonus.

Each of these claims made headlines and were interesting talking points, but not one fighter who claimed the UFC paid them less than they are making outside the promotion offered a specific figure or a shred of proof. According to Dana White, that should not be a sticking point because, as he once told Dan Le Batard, “Listen, every fighter that fights for me has the opportunity to go out and say what they make. They can say it publicly.”

In that case, if these fighters are making more than they were in the UFC, they should disclose what they made then and what they are making now. Outside of that, the UFC can claim, as White did when the topic of Woodley’s pay came up, “I’ve been hearing that bulls—t forever, they’re all full of s—t. What’s he making? Exactly. If it’s that much money and he’s so proud of how much it is, how much is it? They’re all full of shit.”

I won’t go as far as White did and outright dismiss the claims of the fighters, but I will say that by disclosing their pay, the fighters will move the conversation of fighter pay forward, both in the UFC and out of the UFC.

Once sports like NBA, MLB, NHL and NFL began disclosing athlete pay, pay went up exponentially. One reason for that is it gives everyone a point to negotiate from. When everyone knows what everyone else is making, they can compare and make a case for what they deserve to be paid based on facts and numbers. Right now, UFC fighters are at the mercy of the promotion. If there’s no factual base to negotiate from, there’s no true negotiation.

As it stands, the big claims of the above fighters get their names in the media for a day or so, but they achieve little else. If they want to help other fighters and perhaps themselves — Mendes has three fights remaining on his UFC contract and has expressed a possible desire to return to the octagon — they will start talking real numbers.

Until that happens, what we’re hearing is just noise that the UFC can once again easily dismiss as “bulls-t.”