UFC defends low fighter pay: We pay ‘more than any other MMA promoter’

In February, the UFC was reported to be taking a $300 million dividend and wiping out “the lion’s share of UFC’s $350 million cash…

By: Anton Tabuena | 4 years ago
UFC defends low fighter pay: We pay ‘more than any other MMA promoter’
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

In February, the UFC was reported to be taking a $300 million dividend and wiping out “the lion’s share of UFC’s $350 million cash reserve” to pay their owners and investors. The New York Post has since followed up on their report, citing fighter’s complaints about their low purses and how more money should be given to them and not just the owners.

They interviewed a few fighters currently part of the anti-trust lawsuit against the UFC, who shared their grievances from hindering sponsors, low purses, and other matters. Kyle Kingsbury mentioned how Dana White generously tips as high as $100,000 but fails to pay their own fighters. Nate Quarry shared how his main event bout generated millions, but he was only paid $10,000 — of which $5,000 was left after expenses.

The report also notes how UFC made fighters “play along” under the threats of being “blacklisted.”

Cung Le says he was paid $5,000 for every episode in which he was the coach in the TV show “The Ultimate Fighter: China.”

And when he asked for more, White told him he had to accept it or would “be sitting on the bench,” Le said.

At one point between shows, Le’s wife needed surgery and he asked to “spend a few days with her” before being shipped off to China for the next round of taping, he said.

The UFC denied his request, saying they had to start taping immediately, Le said.

“I had to leave right after her surgery though she spent a week in the hospital and there was no one to watch the kids,” Le said. “I went to China as asked and the show didn’t even get shot for a week.”

Among these complaints and grievances that were aired, the UFC defended their position and issued a statement of their own.

“UFC pays its fighters more than any other MMA promoter,” a UFC spokesperson told The Post. “We are proud of the company we’ve built and we are confident in our legal position.”

While it is true that the UFC pays more than other MMA promotions, that actually isn’t a big achievement, as no one else really comes close to how massive the UFC is.

Bloody Elbow’s business analyst John Nash previously crunched the numbers and broke down the stark difference between these “competitors”:

Even when comparing Bellator’s best year for revenue, 2014, with only Zuffa’s North American event revenue that same year, the Viacom owned promotion still generated less than 1/10th that of the UFC.

In comparison, the ratio of Bellator to WSOF revenues is almost identical of those the UFC’s to Bellator’s. The gap between number 2 and number 3 seems just as wide as that between the top two.

Here’s another previous comparison of revenues from Nash:

If we add Bellator and their projected $80 million last year and the PFL, then the three major MMA promotions combined for $1 billion in revenue, with the UFC being responsible for 90% of it.

The number two MMA promotion in Bellator, which has already accumulated more than $100 million in losses from 2010 to 2018, is projected to have their first profitable years in 2019 and 2020. As they’ve been mostly trying to stay afloat, they’ve still been reportedly paying fighters 44.7% of the revenue up until 2016, and is expected to be “around 50%” on these first profitable years.

Bellator’s revenue share would be similar to other major sports leagues such as NBA and NFL. Despite White’s previous claims that they’re on par with those other sports when it comes to athlete compensation, they don’t give fighters anywhere close to that percentage.

Even compared to a similar combat sport, boxers normally take home the lion’s share of the event revenue, while their promoters get far less. That’s not the case with the UFC.

On the previous report from The New York Post, their sources had financial numbers that showed the UFC only gave fighters less than 16% share of their $900 million revenue for the year.

Lawsuit documents also previously revealed that the UFC’s own projections had “athlete costs” to be just around 17% of their revenue moving forward. It’s also interesting to point out that those total costs also include USADA drug testing, the Athlete’s outfitting policy (Reebok deal), insurance and other things. So if we’re talking about just actual fighter purses, then it’s even less than percentage.

The UFC controls and dominates the sport. They have the most money, the most fighters, and majority of the absolute best athletes in MMA, so naturally, they would be paying “more” in total compared to other MMA promotions. But the fact is, they’ve really only been giving a very small slice of the pie to their fighters.

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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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