The Ultimate Fighter television series promotes a nowfamous “six-fi gure” contract. Of course, the contract is spread over nine fi ghts and three years, with fi ghters usually seeing 12 and 12 (meaning 12 grand to fi ght and another 12 to win) the fi rst year, 16 and 16 the second year, and 22 and 22 the third. After three fi ghts, the UFC can break the contract, although the fi ghter can’t.
The contracts varied slightly, especially when veterans were involved. Many of the fi ghters who didn’t win the show still fought in the UFC, and did well enough to stay. Their contracts in particular were egregious.
Kenny Florian, who lost the fi rst season to Diego Sanchez in the fi nale, later fought Sean Sherk for the 155-pound title, for 8 and 8. If a guy is good enough to fi ght for the title, shouldn’t he be paid like it? I understand, better fi ghters don’t necessarily make more money. Fighters with big names make more money. Take a look at De La Hoya. He makes a lot more than his opponents, and he’s not the best fi ghter in the world. But everyone wants to fi ght him because they still get a huge payday (and let’s not compare the numbers, it’s embarrassing).
When Keith Jardine fought his headliner bout against Chuck Liddell, Keith fought for 7 and 7 (all the while having his face on a billboard on Sunset in LA), while Chuck raked in half a million dollars even though he lost. And when Keith lost to Wanderlei Silva, he made only $10,000, while Silva made $150,000. Keith would never complain, and I’m sure he’s got sponsors, but still, it seems pretty bad.
I’m not going to get into how much the UFC makes on each show, and how Dana White has made more millionaires than Jesus, and gives top guys pay-per-view percentages, and those guys couldn’t be making any more anywhere else. That topic alone would be a ten thousand word column.
But there should be something closer to parity. Sure, one guy is a big draw while the other isn’t, but this ain’t pro wrestling. If one fi ghter is earning half a million and the guy he’s fi ghting is making fi ve grand, something is wrong. I’m not saying to pay Keith Jardine the same as Chuck Liddell, because Chuck Liddell has the biggest name in MMA. But I think to make the best fi ghts possible, it should be a little closer. If he doesn’t deserve more money, he shouldn’t be fi ghting these top guys.
It goes back to the simple problem of the UFC – they can’t have their cake and eat it, too. They can’t be the dominant MMA organization and still run the show like it’s their private sandbox now that the sport has grown so big. If they do, fi ghters will leave and hopefully things will change.
With all the exposure MMA is receiving, fair compensation to the talent will become an even bigger issue. Am I crazy to think that if people are paying money to watch fi ghts, the fi ghters (all sixteen on the card) should get more than 5% of that money, combined?
Fighting isn’t a joke. It’s not tennis. Fighters risk their health and their lives. Some guys that have taken bad beatings are never the same again. It’s a fact of the sport, and to risk their careers fi ghting monsters like Silva and Liddell for ten grand or less just shouldn’t be a part of top-level MMA. Either pay fi ghters what they’re worth, or don’t make them fi ght world-beaters.
Keith may say he’s fi ne, but watch the way his hands are curled into claws after getting ‘rape-choked’ and pounded on by Wanderlei… Seriously, no one should get knocked out by Wanderlei Silva for ten grand. Keith is a guy who beat both Chuck Liddell and Forest Griffi n. He shouldn’t be treated like that. But there’s hope on the horizon, with the new television deals and the Affl iction card coming up. I think (and hope) the UFC is going to have to adapt to the brave new world of MMA.