“Show money” is a fairy tale, and every night UFC fighters go to sleep dreaming that it’ll be there when they wake up.
“If you can’t make the weight, don’t take the fight.” – Dana White 2013
Stephen Thompson wasn’t paid for showing up at UFC 291
UFC 291 was a near complete success for both the promotion and fight fans. One person conspicuously absent from the festivities despite having done everything necessary to participate was Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson.
The perennial welterweight contender’s opponent Michel Pereira missed weight by three pounds. This led the UFC to negotiating with Thompson in an attempt to keep the fight on the card. Given Thompson’s history of losing a split decision to Darren Till when the Liverpudlian missed weight, Thompson chose not to again jeopardize his title aspirations versus a heavier opponent. This has led to the UFC withholding Thompson’s “show money” in what can be interpreted as a form of retaliation for not accepting the catchweight fight. After all, Thompson did everything necessary to earn his “show” money… right?
“If you can’t make weight, don’t accept the fight.” – Dana White 2020
Show money doesn’t exist
The fact is, there is no such thing as show money. The way UFC contracts are worded absolves the promotion from any payment obligations once a fight does not happen. The only way for a fighter to find compensation without engaging in a cage fight is by the promotion’s choice which is often pushed and prodded via bad press and fan backlash. Here are a couple notable examples.
UFC 209: lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov falls ill and is unable to defend his title against Tony Ferguson. Ferguson was subsequently paid “less than half” of his contracted show money and the promotion noted that it was under no obligation to pay him that money.
UFC 223: Conor McGregor attacked a bus full of UFC fighters resulting in numerous injuries preventing a number of fighters being unable to fight. The Irish superstar was arrested and an enormous media frenzy ensued. After some initial reluctance, the promotion decided to “take care of” all of the fighters unable to compete at UFC 223.
UFC Vegas 5: a slew of last minute fight cancellations for undisclosed reasons leads to the UFC compensating the fighters who were unable to fight with “some money.” It should be noted that this event happened without fans in attendance, and under scrutiny due to occurring during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, August 2020.
In each of the above mentioned scenarios, there was a level of attention or compelling narrative adding pressure to the promotion which may have resulted in paying fighters “some money.” One detail about the UFC 209 story may not be a factor in the future. At the time a reporter was able to obtain both Nurmagomedov and Ferguson’s contracted payout information. The Eagle was set to receive a flat garunteed $500k and El Cucuy was set to collect 250/250k.
Perhaps fans knowing just how much money Ferguson would lose through no fault of his own added to the sense of injustice which tipped the scales in Tony’s favor. This is all pure conjecture, but the UFC did work pretty hard to ensure that disclosed fighter pay is no longer a nuisance.
Being a “company guy” and “stepping up” are terms you’ll hear men who wear button down shirts instead of four ounce gloves throw around a lot. The UFC has been adamant that they budget for these events, they can’t cry poverty as a reason why Thompson should not be paid. But Wonderboy has committed the sins of independence, of having the temerity to chart his own path, and looking out for his own self interest. What the UFC does not enjoy is the fighters exercising control instead of compliance. Fighter contracts are nebulous things. We all agree that they’re comprised of “show & win” tiers, but that is a lie agreed upon.
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