Despite all the UFC’s financial success, fighter pay has remained an issue, especially compared to other sports. Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel claims that they’ve done ‘very, very well” paying athletes even with the UFC trying to maintain their revenue share at just 17% for years, while Dana White says even just increasing fight night bonuses would “f—k up our budget.”
UFC bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling just isn’t buying that idea, especially after the company’s record breaking finances came to light and Endeavor executives boasting about UFC’s “best financial year ever.”
“It’s just the business aspect. They want to pay us less, we always want to get paid more. And we all rightfully think that there’s more money that could be divvied out to the fighters because of how much money they clear,” Sterling told MMA Junkie.
“It’s a public company, so we get to see those numbers,” the UFC bantamweight champion said. “You mean to tell me if you gave us an extra 5% that’s gonna kill you guys? ...an extra 5% of upwards of 900 million? I don’t know the exact number, upwards of over 800 million dollars? ...I think you guys will survive. I think that’s the best way I could put that. It’s not being greedy.
“I do understand the business model side of it, like not every fighter is bringing viewers to the program or putting butts in the seats, but at the same time we are the product that people are tuning in to see. So whether or not we are the big name, fighting under the UFC umbrella means that we are worthy of being watched on national television — international television on a global level.”
Sterling also argues that fighters getting paid better and not having to worry about maintaining a second job will raise the talent level in MMA. Making it a more sustainable career would also attract top level athletes that would otherwise just pick other sports with better pay.
“You’re gonna get a better product. You can get better athletes that can be able to provide for themselves and they can take a chance by not working a full-time job,” Sterling said. “It’s easier to take that risk and say ‘okay I’m secure for x amount of months or a year, and I can take this chance and really give it a shot and see what could happen’ versus me having to be a substitute teacher for three years with the (UFC) before I was able to stop completely, and just focus solely on fighting... Not having to go between lunch periods to go try to get an extra cardio session.”
Sterling also suggested that tweaking the bonus system would go a long way.
“Give out more bonuses and guys will go out there and really try to get more finishes. That can solve that. Anytime there’s a finish, you give a bonus.”
Finish bonuses have been something that pundits have suggested before, as it gives fighters more control and clarity after their bouts. Instead of begging on TV or relying on Dana White’s mood that night, they’d already know for sure when or how they’d be able to get a bonus.
As for the financial numbers Sterling referenced, UFC reportedly generated $860 million and $890 million in revenue for 2019 and 2020, respectively. In 2021, Endeavor’s “Owned Sports Properties,” which is mostly driven by the UFC, had $1.1 billion in revenue. SEC documents also showed they had massive earnings, as their adjusted EBITDA is up 17% for the year at $537.6 million.
It’s also worth noting that UFC owners and Endeavor bosses Ari Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell got massive pay packages of $308 million and $123 million in 2021.
It might be obvious at this point, but Sterling is definitely correct in saying “an extra 5% is not going to kill these guys, and 5% will go a long way to sprinkle that across the entire roster.”