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‘We should grow together’, Luke Rockhold rips UFC fighter pay

The former champion called his employer an ‘unhealthy business’ in blistering interview.

Luke Rockhold at UFC 239 media day.
Luke Rockhold at UFC 239 media day.
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

UFC fighter pay, or lack thereof, is a hot topic these days. The UFC, a $4 billion company which logged record revenues last year, has been called out by media, fighters and a certain social media influencer on a consistent basis over it’s failure to share profits with fighters at a level befitting of a mainstream sports league.

UFC President Dana White was recently put on the spot by GQ Sports about low fighter pay, which is estimated at around 17% of total income (NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB all split around 50% of profits with athletes).

White scoffed at the question, saying fighters get “what they deserve to be paid.”

Former UFC middleweight champion Luke Rockhold added himself to the growing ranks of those not satisfied with how the promotion does its business.

In particular, Rockhold isn’t a fan of the current structure of fight night bonuses.

“F****** $50,000 bonuses going on for two decades. Like, what the f***?” said Rockhold to MMA Fighting. “The valuation of the company’s going up f****** billions of dollars and we’re still stuck on $50,000 bonus checks? What the f*** is this? People need to wake up.”

“Remember when they were doing $100,000 bonuses when Jake Shields fought Georges St-Pierre? Now we’re still stuck on $50,000 bonuses,” Rockhold continued. “I mean how many billions have we gone up in valuation since that fight — and we’re still tracking backwards and they’re still f****** us on pay.

“People need to shut the f*** up, ‘Oh, bonus $50,000!’ It’s becoming a thing. Let’s get $200,000 — $200G’s, motherf*****. That’s what you want to hear. The company needs to be reworked a little bit.

“It should gradually grow. The company, everything should grow, we should grow together. That’s how a healthy business works.

“When you build an unhealthy business, it just takes enough time for the f****** egg to crack and enough people to grow a f****** sack. Too bad there’s not enough of us who have a sack.”

An increase in fighter pay could be achieved via various means which don’t include White and the UFC just deciding to open up the coffers.

The Muhammad Ali Expansion Act would have given fighters leverage more akin to what boxers enjoy when securing purses. However, that legislation appears to have been defeated during the Trump presidency.

The current Right to Organize Act, which seems unlikely to pass through the US Senate, would also help fighters increase their earnings by reclassifying them as employees of the UFC and not independent contractors.

Finally, a collective bargaining agreement between fighters and the UFC secured through a fighters’ union or association would help fighters make money on a par with other mainstream professional athletes. There have been a handful of attempts to do this in the past decade, but none have been able to attract wholesale support from fighters.

Since claiming the UFC middleweight title with a win over Chris Weidman in 2015 Rockhold has gone 3-1 with lengthy spells on the sidelines between fights. Over that span he has beaten David Branch by TKO and lost by KO to Michael Bisping, Yoel Romero and—most recently—Jan Blachowicz.

Rockhold is scheduled to face Paulo Costa at UFC 278 on August 20.