The Nevada State Athletic Commission made all combat sports purses confidential in July 2020. The timing of that decree has hurt UFC fighters and been a blessing for the UFC, as the ruling came shortly after the UFC began staging events at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas.
The first UFC fight card at the Apex was the May 30, 2020, event headlined by Tyron Woodley vs. Gilbert Burns. After that, the promotion held four more cards at the Apex before the NSAC locked down the fight purses. The last event where the NSAC disclosed fight purses in the state was the June 27, 2020, card headlined by Dustin Poirier and Dan Hooker. Since then, the promotion has staged 69 fight cards at the Apex and another seven events at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. That’s 76 UFC events worth of fight purses that have not been disclosed. Assuming an average of 12 fights per card, that’s around 912 fights where the NSAC did not publish fighter pay — or 1,824 fighter payouts.
Some will ask, “so what?” Others will say, “it’s no one’s business what the fighters get paid, but the fighters.” A (hopefully) small number will mimic the 2018 take of MMA manager Ali Abdelaziz, “For some fighters, public disclosure of such information raises legitimate safety concerns for them and their families, including making them targets of kidnapping and extortion schemes.” Some might even quote Abdelaziz’s opinion that, “Public disclosure of the terms and compensation of fighters’ agreements may also hinder me in obtaining the best possible deal for a fighter and give a strategic advantage to MMA Promoters in negotiations with fighters, which may ultimately work to the detriment of the fighter.”
Here’s the issue with Nevada, Texas, Florida and many other states not disclosing fighter pay. Despite what Abdelaziz says, it hurts the fighters.
As NHL Hall of Famer Eric Lindros said when discussing NHL player salaries and negotiations, “You need salary disclosure. It’s important to know what everyone is making. Apples to apples. Apples to Oranges. You have to be aware.”
The NHL is an excellent example of what happens when athletes discover how much everyone else is making. When an athlete knows what they are earning and can compare that to another athlete at, or near, the same spot in their career, they have a place to begin bargaining. For NHL players, the first years of salary disclosure saw players’ salaries increase exponentially.
Some examples of those increases:
Mark Recchi went from $105K in 1991-92 to $2.5m in 1993-94.
Patrick Roy went from $1 million to $2.5 million.
Steve Yzerman went from $1.3 million to $3.2 million.
The average annual NHL salary when disclosure began in 1990-91 was $271,000 per year. For the 2022-23 NHL season, the average salary has climbed to the $3.5 million per year range.
Abdelaziz’s argument that fighter salary disclosure might give the promotion an advantage in negotiations is ludicrous.
As NHL Players Executive Director Donald Fehr said, “You have to know where you slot in. If you don’t have the salary information, you can’t do that. If you can’t do that, you can’t negotiate it.”
The moment Nevada agreed to withhold fighter pay from the media, fighters and managers it hurt every professional fighter’s ability to negotiate from a position of knowledge and power because, without that information, a fighter cannot compare salaries. That’s not a bug in the system. That’s a design error.
The only states that disclosed UFC fighter pay in 2022 were California (two events), Ohio (one event) and Utah (one event). Whenever the UFC holds an event in a jurisdiction that does not disclose fighter pay, the promotion gets a little more power over the fighters.
The NSAC is tasked to protect fighters, not promotions, but that costly 2020 decision only served the opposite.