Perhaps the biggest criticism on the UFC for quite some time now, has been about the pay they give their athletes. This hot button issue has only been discussed even more as of late, after the very public contract dispute between the UFC and their heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou.
Some fighters are trying to work on getting athletes paid better, whether it’s through speaking out and raising awareness, or from far more specific efforts in legislation with the Ali act and the ongoing antitrust lawsuit. On the other hand, there are also a few others that quickly come to the UFC’s defense. This includes UFC flyweight Matt Schnell, who ahead of his UFC 271 bout, passionately defended MMA’s multi-billion dollar world leader.
“It’s woefully dishonest that Francis Ngannou is running around acting like he only made six hundred thousand dollars,” Schell told MMA Island (HT: FullContactMTWF). “I know for a fact he got pay-per-view points, he got paid for Reebok [editor’s note: He meant Venum], got paid for this, paid for that. He probably made — I’m not gonna say it, but way more than $600,000.”
Schnell then brought up an old argument and excuse about how the low pay is because UFC is younger than the other mainstream sports organizations.
“To compare the UFC to NFL is also preposterous. On a slow Sunday, the NFL grosses one billion dollars. They had 60 million people tune in… What’s a good UFC pay-per-view? 500K, a million we’re killing it,” he said. “Don’t compare the UFC to the big three yet. They’re toddlers. It’s coming along.”
Schnell entered the UFC on a $10,000 base purse in 2016, which is the same minimum pay UFC newcomers from the Contender Series get today. Other fighters that are signed directly, now get a minimum that is just $2000 more than that purse from six years ago.
Interestingly enough, Schnell made a notable claim that the UFC is “losing money” on 90% of its roster, while arguing that fighters don’t deserve a huge bump up in minimum pay. He also went on to slam the idea of athletes organizing and collectively bargaining.
“Okay, Poirier, Diaz, these guys that are established, that move the needle, these guys deserve the money. But are you going to tell me that a debutant — for instance, Randy Costa came into the UFC with four fights. You’re telling me he deserves $50,000 with four fights under his belt?” he argued.
“90% of the UFC’s roster, they are losing money on. No doubt about it. I want to make money, everybody wants to make money. I’ll go out there and earn it,” he said. “I don’t want a fighters union. I appreciate the opportunity to negotiate for myself. I’ll sit down at the table and negotiate for myself. I don’t want somebody else negotiating for everybody else’s bullshit.
“I’m all for people making more money, but I’m also a guy who believes in merit. You gain merit by getting in here and winning the fights. If you don’t win the fights, you get cut. If you do win the fights, make your way up, fight often, do what you’re supposed to do, you make money.”
Schnell then argued that the UFC’s pay is fine, because other far smaller MMA promotions pay much worse.
“I’ve fought outside this promotion. I’ve been on a seven fight win streak making pennies. Let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about what everybody else is paying. Get out of here with this nonsense!” Schnell exclaimed. “All these dudes come up to me and talk to me like I’m not well paid. I negotiated my own contract. I’m happy with what I’m getting paid. If I go out and win the fights, my next negotiation, I’ll make more. That’s how it works, and that’s how it should work!”
The 32-year-old then repeated a same argument regularly used by Dana White, before telling people who push for better fighter pay to “shut your f—king mouth.”
“How about start a promotion and pay them better?” he said.
“All these people b—ching about fighter pay, and they’re stealing every single fight. Shut your f—king mouth, buy the pay-per-view! You want to see us get paid more, buy the pay-per-views ya goofs!
“They’re typing up trying to virtue signal ‘yeah fighters deserve more pay’ shut your f—king mouth! Why don’t you tip me then,” he said. “You think I deserve more pay? I’ll shoot you my Venmo! I’ll shoot you my PayPal!”
There’s certainly a lot to unpack with Schnell’s statements so I’ll quickly run through them:
- Yes, Ngannou earned more than his $600,000 base pay, but how much more? If UFC 270 did well and sold 500K buys, the standard pay-per-view share would mean around $400,000 more is added. As for the outfitting pay he mentioned? Venum gives $42,000 for champions. So a little over $1 million total from the UFC? Even if we double that amount, is that proper pay for the heavyweight champion dubbed as “the baddest man on the planet”?
- Does the UFC “lose money” on 90% of their roster? Individually, majority of fighters and newcomers really don’t sell much PPVs for the UFC. They don’t really need to though, as the UFC doesn’t rely much on PPV or ticket sales anymore in this ESPN era. Collectively though, they’re incredibly valuable as that roster makes them several hundreds of millions every year, simply by reaching their event quota.
- So no, the UFC doesn’t “lose money,” period. In fact, those contractual revenues only keep growing, and PPV stars are just the cherry on top. This is why Dana White brags about his cash cow beating their records every year, and likely made around 1 billion in 2021.
- Even ignoring the fact that it’s actually the UFC brass themselves that regularly compares themselves to NFL and NBA, the argument people make was never for fighters to get paid as much as football or basketball players. Size and age of the organization also isn’t as important as the actual percentage share the athletes get from the revenue.
- UFC’s own estimates showed that for years, they targeted just a 17% cut for the fighters. To put that in context — especially with Schnell’s minimum pay argument — even if UFC literally just doubled everyone’s purses, they’d still lag behind other orgs that pay close to 50% of their revenue.
- Perhaps a better comparison is the WNBA, which generates far smaller money than the UFC, but has a lot of similarities. They’re also a young org established three years after the UFC, they also have a pretty niche market of fans, and for years WNBA was also criticized for its low wage share and lack of benefits. They went from 20% revenue share in 2019, to close to 50% in 2021. Even with the WNBA earning multitudes less than the UFC, “benchwarmers” on minimum contracts can now get up to $68,000 plus benefits.
- How did they get there? It’s certainly not because of the age of the league, but because they organized and were able to collectively bargain.
- Unlike what Schnell alluded to, no, you don’t lose your ability to negotiate for yourself if you have a players’ association/union. LeBron James, Kevin Durant and everyone else all have agents negotiating the terms on their massive deals. More importantly, they also give non-stars enough leverage and protections that they wouldn’t have had otherwise.
- Here’s an idea of just how big the UFC is compared to other orgs. Just because tinier orgs pay less, that does not mean the wildly successful industry leader shouldn’t pay their athletes better.
- Fans buying more PPVs and giving the UFC more money obviously won’t change the problem, nor should the burden be on them. Even with piracy, fans already pay enough to help make the UFC so profitable, and it’s the promotion that decides how to split up that money.
The sport’s dominant leader has boasted about massive increases in revenue and earnings in recent years, but the growth in fighter pay — while present — has significantly lagged in comparison.
I appreciate Schnell’s mindset of working hard, and doing everything he can control to win his fights and earn better deals after each successful run. But that same “merit” system he likes can be kept, as it isn’t mutually exclusive from fighters just getting a far better slice of the pie.
With all that said, fighters have yet to give the UFC enough reason to actually do that. Schnell’s sentiments aren’t really uncommon either, and it again just shows why fighters have repeatedly failed to organize through the years.
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