Do UFC fighters get just 7% of the pie? Anik and Schaub debate salary, revenue share

During Jon Anik and Kenny Florian's podcast, a caller asked about revenue split between the owners and fighters compared to the percentage the athletes…

By: Anton Tabuena | 8 years ago
Do UFC fighters get just 7% of the pie? Anik and Schaub debate salary, revenue share
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

During Jon Anik and Kenny Florian’s podcast, a caller asked about revenue split between the owners and fighters compared to the percentage the athletes get in the big three of the NBA, NFL, and NHL. He guessed it’s around 10% or less for the UFC fighters, and cited how Rory MacDonald just made $59,000 for his title fight against Robbie Lawler.

This sparked a spirited debate. Both Florian and Anik responded and here’s how the conversation went.

Florian: I want to see fighters get paid more, obviously. There’s one thing that is being overlooked though. There’s what’s shown on the books, and there’s a lot of bonuses. It’s a lot of money and no one knows about it. That’s one thing. Some fighters want it that way, because they don’t want people knowing how much they make.

With a guy like Rory MacDonald… I can guarantee you that he was happy after that fight.

Anik: There’s a good chance they cut Rory MacDonald a check for half a million dollars. There’s 1 or 2 points I also want to make before we bring in B. Schaub. The percent of money that goes to the fighters, I believe it’s higher than 25%. Maybe it’s 30%, maybe it’s 35%. But one thing that people fail to sort of inject to the conversation is that Zuffa got this company out of bankruptcy not that long ago.

It was in 2001. There has been a build up to this point is in time. Now (they’re doing) 45 shows, they have 600 fighters. You have to look at where this sport is, relative to it’s own history, and relative of the century long histories of these other sports… I do think we are moving into the right direction…

When their guest, Brendan Schaub joined the show, he immediate gets right into the issue.

It’s sure the fuck not 25%! The last numbers I got was 7%! -Brendan Schaub, talking split between fighters and owners

Schaub: First of all! It’s sure the fuck not 25%! The last numbers I got was 7%! 7 percent, Anik! …Good god, man. Don’t get me wrong, there are undisclosed discretionary bonuses. But imagine if your work never really paid you really well and then one time they give you a $100,000 bonus, and then the next time they gave you $3000. There’s just no stability. You can’t do that.

Guess how many undisclosed discretionary bonuses are in the NFL. Guess how many are in the NBA. Guess how many in the NHL. It’s very black and white. There’s incentives.

I get it. They’re still in that growing stage, so I don’t fault Dana White or the UFC for it. I don’t know if I would run it any different, but there has to be a conversation, that’s it. Who knows what they deal with? We don’t.

Anik: I know there were some internal conversations recently about that topic, and about that percentage. Rest assured that Lorenzo Fertitta and the others… by large want to do good by the fighters. This whole notion that there’s this greed going on, it’s not the case… There’s really not an appreciation for the whole operation, and the machine, and the costs involved, and moving into new territories, and the money they’ve spent on New York City to try and get that done.

Schaub: You know what Jon, and I don’t mean to interrupt you, but I just don’t care. I’m the one dealing with the head trauma. I’m the one dealing with the injuries. I’m with the one that has an average career one and a half years with the UFC. By the time they get that going, for everyone fighting right now, it’s not going to matter to us.

Anik: Let me ask you this, Brendan. Jake Collier is a guy fought recently and just won. He has a fourth kid on the way, I think he’s making 10 and 10. People scream from the rooftops that these guys are underpaid, but no one cares about Jake Collier right now. Maybe I do, because I’m calling his fights, but I think relative to the extent of which the public cares about certain guys, at the bottom, they make a decent living relative to their mass appeal.

Schaub: Oh man, I disagree. What about the 12th player on the bench of the LA Lakers, do you care about him?

Anik: But you’re talking about a league that has a lot longer history, and has had television contracts for years and years and years. The UFC has just entered into a major sports contract (with Fox) in 2011 really for the first time…

But hey Brendan, I would love to see the 600th guy on the roster be guaranteed 30 grand a year. That’s an entry level salary, and relative to where he is — he’s the 600th best fighter in the world or maybe better than that, depending on the division. To me that’s equitable for the bottom feeders in the roster.

Schaub: And the 600th guy in the world is pretty damn good. The thing is give and take here. Listen, I’m not anti-UFC, I love the UFC. I wouldn’t be sitting here if it was not for the UFC. But you have to have these conversations. There’s no reason that everyone just has to shut up. You have to have these conversations to make a change.

Anik: Why do you think they don’t reveal the discretionary bonuses?

Schaub: Because they’re not a public company. I think if they did release those, and I found out let’s say when I fought Travis Browne, and I found out he made a million, and they gave me 3000? We will have some issues. The public will have issues with it.

There are guys who are not champions, who are getting million dollar checks. That’s a fact. -Kenny Florian on backroom bonuses

Anik: I think if some fans were to hear some of these numbers, it would be eye opening the other way. Rory MacDonald is a good case and point. If he were to come out and say ‘hey look, for my troubles, they cut me a 6 figure check’, it would change the narrative a little bit.

Florian: There are guys who are not champions, who are getting million dollar checks. That’s a fact.

Schaub: That’s true.

Florian: But I agree, I would like to see it spread around. I would like to see the stuff that are guaranteed at some point. But it’s tough because we don’t know the inner workings of the business either…

Schaub: This is what I do know. On that UFC Nashville card, and I just interviewed Tim Kennedy about it. We both made in one fight, more than the entire card made from Reebok in sponsorship. That’s what I do know. I do know guys were making a lot more money. Now this is the growing phase. I like the professional look, I think it’s a step in the right direction. But the payment is not. It’s nowhere near. We went ten steps back.

From a visual standpoint, I think that’s exactly what the UFC needs. There’s steps and not everyone will be happy.

When I had a conversation with Dana, I told him, it might be great for certain guys, but for me personally, it’s not great. You’re not going to make decisions on the few, so I get it.

Jon then changed the topic, finished the interview with various other talking points, before going back to the revenue split as Schaub signed off from the show.

Anik: There’s no way that only 7% pie go to the fighters. It doesn’t behoove me to get in a long winded conversation about this, but everybody knows I’m a UFC employee and everybody thinks I’m a shill at this point anyway. But I promise you, without documentation, that more than 7% of the total gross income goes to the professional fighters.

Listen to the show below. The money debate starts roughly at the 11 minute mark.

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About the author
Anton Tabuena
Anton Tabuena

Anton Tabuena is the Managing Editor for Bloody Elbow. He’s been covering MMA and combat sports since 2009, and has also fought in MMA, Muay Thai and kickboxing.

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