Derrick Lewis: New paycheck, old skillset
There was a moment on Saturday night right after the horn signaled the end of Derrick Lewis and Jailton Almeida’s heavyweight scrap, where Almeida danced around the octagon in celebration and Lewis stayed on his back staring up into the lights. The Black Beast had just completed the first of a brand new eight fight contract. It couldn’t have been a good feeling to think that this is how he’d be earning his new paycheck: taken down, outgrappled, and fighting off submissions for twenty five minutes. Where was the first round KO and post fight repartee?
Derrick Lewis’ return to the promotion comes just as the verifiable reality of UFC fighter pay has become public knowledge due to the unfolding class action lawsuit against the promotion. If you’ve spent any time on the internet reading what fans think the fighters get paid, these numbers are stark in comparison. The speculation over how much the big names actually get paid is finished. Personally I’m saddened by the numbers for legends who aren’t GOAT level fighters, but remain integral to the identity of MMA lore.
The reality of UFC fighter pay
Michael Bisping, BJ Penn, Demetrious Johnson, none of them cracked a one million dollar payday in any of the disclosed bouts, as opposed to CM Punk who did so in his debut against Mickey Gall. Back then there was some consternation that Punk was “taking” someone else’s roster spot which was a laughable argument. When you consider how budget-conscious the UFC is about fighter pay, it’s reasonable to think that Punk did actually take money out of the pockets of other fighters.
All this brings us back to Derrick Lewis. Why did he sign a multi-fight deal with the UFC which undoubtedly pays less per bout than the two million dollars he could have netted in a single fight with Francis Ngannou? Is it fear of the unknown? Are fighters loyal to the brand in a way that we normally consign to the consumer?
It’s all the more curious as to why Lewis re-signed with the UFC after he came out complaining about the taxes he’d owe due to fighting in Brazil, saying he was basically fighing for nothing once his coaches’ expenses were accounted for. While Derrick Lewis is known for his sense of humor, there is a grain of truth behind every joke.
The road not taken
While Derrick Lewis chose to stay with the UFC, I thought about a fighter who did go the free agent route, Shane Burgos.
The Bronx native left the UFC in 2022 for the PFL, a move that UFC president Dana White actually admitted was as mistake. Burgos is reported to be making $100,000 per fight in the new promotion. Given the harsh realities we’ve confirmed about fighter pay (Khabib Nurmagomedov was getting less than 50/50 when he was fighting Rafael Dos Anjos, Michael Johnson, and Edson Barboza), it’s likely Burgos made the right decision.
Nevertheless, the fight game is an unforgiving one, and I was reminded of this while watching the Hurricane’s recent PFL fight in August. It was a classic Burgos performance. A total banger from start to finish, but professional hype-killer Clay Collard earned the victory. The flat fee instead of a show and win bonus structre hopefully softened the blow.
Excellent odd and ends
Two items I have to note in case Derrick Lewis vs Jailton Almeida sucked up all your attention and ability to care about this weekend’s card. I’d implore you to go back and watch two standout fighters. First is Elves Brenner’s knockout of Kaynan Kruschewsky. Brenner got on my radar earlier this year after his blood and guts victory over Guram Kutateladze, one of my favorite fights of 2023. The walkoff KO of Kruschewsky was a faceplant reminiscent of Siyar Bahadurzada vs Paulo Thiago.
And finally my fellow (adopted) countryman Nicholas Dalby put on a fantastic show of heart and perseverance as he derailed the Gabriel Bonfim hype train. This was the performance Derrick Lewis was supposed to have. Dalby got taken down and controlled, fighting off submissions and eating elbows through much of the first round. His adjustments in the second round made all the difference. He clinched Bonfim against the fence and relentlessly chipped away with knees until his opponent did the Mirsad Bektic “Tumble Of Exhaustion” for a rather inspiring TKO victory. This fight is totally worth your time.
I’ll be back at the BE substack on Thursday with The Fine Art of Violence, a look at the annual book series I produce that chronicles the best moments in MMA each year. Come on down there and say hello.
Call to Action
Bloody Elbow is now an independent, reader-supported website, with a hard-earned reputation as the source of record for MMA business and legal coverage. While many powerful people would love nothing more than to have us go away, you can help us continue to fund this kind of uncompromising reporting by subscribing to the Bloody Elbow newsletter.
About the author