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Stephen Thompson was wronged by the UFC
It didn’t take a crystal ball to see this one coming.
Stephen Thompson was to make his 20th walk to the UFC octagon on the pay-per-view portion of the UFC 291 fight card on July 29. Thompson, a UFC fighter since February 2012, made weight for his scheduled welterweight fight opposite Michel Pereira, checking in at 170.5 pounds. Pereira did not make weight. He tipped the scales at 174 pounds. As was his right, Thompson opted to walk away from the fight instead of accepting a portion of Pereira’s purse and competing at catchweight. In response, the UFC, as is their right, did not pay Thompson his “show” money for the event.
The Monday after the event, Stephen Thompson spoke about the situation on The MMA Hour, saying, “At this point, my management is talking to the UFC, (but) nothing yet. I know (UFC president) Dana White is on vacation. The guy is a workaholic, so well deserved, but I feel like the UFC is going to do right by me. I’ve done everything that I’m supposed to do, and I tried to be as honorable as possible when it comes down to signing my contract and abiding by it.
“I’ve done what they wanted of me, and I feel like they’re going to do right by me. Things are still in talks. I think they’re waiting for Dana White to come back from his vacation, and we’ll go from there.”
When White got back from his vacation, he dashed Thompson’s hopes.
“How that works is that guys don’t just get paid to not fight,” White told the UFC access media following the Dana White Contender Series event at the UFC Apex. “That’s not how that works. Guys have been paid. We’ve taken care of guys. Listen, if you come in, and you’re making short money, we take care of you. If you come in and you don’t fight – first of all, you decided not to fight.
“The guy was three pounds overweight or whatever it was. You get a piece of his purse, if you take the fight. But if you decide you don’t want to take the fight, we also offered him another fight. There’s a much bigger story behind the scenes. No, you don’t just show up and say, ‘No, I’m not going to fight. I want a quarter of a million dollars.’ That’s not the way it works. It hasn’t worked that way for anybody.”
White then threw Thompson a lifeline, adding, “It’s all being worked out behind the scenes and this should all be worked out by Saturday.”
The MMA Media wronged Stephen Thompson, too
The Saturday Dana White mentioned was August 12.
That Saturday came and went, and there were no questions about Stephen Thompson’s pay from the UFC access media and no comments from the UFC. Then this past Saturday, when White was available to field questions after UFC 292, not one member of the assembled press, and according to White, there were 70 reporters on hand, asked the UFC boss if the promotion had worked things out behind the scenes with Thompson.
In hindsight, it seems as if White’s claim that it would all be worked out by August 12 was good enough for the media to move on.
That’s something White and the UFC count on. The organization knows it can appease the MMA media with spoken assurances that things will be taken care of. Once that happens, the UFC knows the churn of the weekly events pushes things like one fighter missing out on a substantial payday to the side. Once that happens, it’s just a matter of time before the MMA media stops caring about what was once one of the hottest topics in the sport.
The media failed in a big way in covering this. There were plenty of pearl-clutching and exasperated takes of “How dare the UFC treat Stephen Thompson this way” in the immediate aftermath of UFC 291. Still, now, nearly a month removed from the event and with no concrete answers, there’s nothing but silence.
“Too often, the weekly news churn of the UFC allows stories like Stephen Thompson’s to fall through the cracks and get forgotten. The UFC counts on that fact, and the media needs to do better in holding the UFC to account. Perhaps that will change in this situation now that a popular, respected and long-tenured athlete like Thompson has been left wondering about his pay after absorbing the costs of a full fight camp.”
Once again, the MMA media, especially the UFC access media, played the tune the UFC wanted it to play.
To be clear, I don’t blame White or the UFC for any of this. Of course I think Thompson should have been paid his whole “show” money, but I also understand that contractually the UFC is not obligated to do that.
I also understand that the UFC knows it can take advantage of a compliant and “forgetful” media contingent, and if it can do that and hold on to a few extra hundred thousand dollars, why wouldn’t it do that? That’s just good old-fashioned capitalism.
The good thing is, it’s not too late for someone to ask the UFC about the outcome of Thompson’s UFC 291 pay situation, but the longer it goes without someone asking the question, the more likely this situation is to repeat itself when it happens again, and it will happen again.
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