With Francis Ngannou now officially out of the UFC roster, the heavyweight division is about to welcome a new champion in 2023. Former perennial light heavyweight title holder Jon Jones will now fight interim champion Ciryl Gane for the vacant belt at a still undetermined date.
The spotlight through this whole debacle seems to be centered on Jones, who has been preparing for his heavyweight debut since 2020. “Bones” even hired former Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer as his advisor in 2021, and this business decision is now paying off.
In his interview on The MMA Hour, Schaefer revealed successful negotiations with the UFC, which now puts Jones at the top in terms of the heavyweight payscale.
“UFC realizes that Jon Jones is the G.O.A.T. and he is a generational talent,” he said (quotes by MMA Mania). “So, they were very much interested and very open to work with us and came to the conclusion of putting together a fair deal, which we did here.
“That deal which we made for Jon — in the history of the UFC — makes Jon now the highest-paid Heavyweight athlete. Overall, I think as [UFC Chief Business Officer] Hunter [Campbell] mentioned to me, probably the second highest number next to Conor McGregor.”
According to Schaefer, the negotiations, while lengthy, were fruitful. In the process, Jones also signed a new eight-fight deal with the organization.
“It was a long negotiation, but it was not a hostile negotiation. It wasn’t like where both sides tuck their heels in. I think both sides wanted to find a way, and we found a way, and here it is.”
When it comes to interesting but vague claims, context and specifics do matter.
It’s worth noting that Dana White claimed that they also offered Ngannou a contract that would’ve made him “the highest paid heavyweight” in UFC history. There have been a couple of fighters outside the division that make more, but the highest paid UFC heavyweight was Brock Lesnar, and it was specifically just for his final UFC bout in 2016:
It’s worth noting how Lesnar’s previous purses were made public through the UFC antitrust lawsuit, and it isn’t exactly a high figure, especially in 2023. As a champion in 2011, he would’ve made $1.65 million plus his base purse, which was $400,000 at UFC 116. As a non-champion in his final bout in 2016, Lesnar’s base purse was $2.5 million, with a $5.5 million side deal
As for the claim being the “second highest” ever purse next to Conor McGregor, that distinction likely goes to Khabib Nurmagomedov. BE’s business expert John Nash previously estimated that the Dagestani former champion previously made around $10 million a fight at the end of his UFC career, with his teammate Daniel Cormier confirming as much.
Jones himself previously claimed he made around “$5+ million” per fight before negotiating this new UFC deal. Does Schaefer’s claim mean that Jones is now making more than Lesnar’s $8 million and the estimated $10 million Khabib made per fight?
As noted in the earlier post about White’s claim, the more important question is also if that monetary figure for Jones is also guaranteed for each of the eight fights on his deal, or is it only for this special circumstance and/or after clearing PPV targets.
Jones being in a title fight along with the intrigue of his heavyweight debut likely draws more than other contests, while most UFC contracts involve a drastic drop in pay once a championship is no longer involved.
UFC 285 happens on March 4 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.