Article by Neil Davidson, Canadian Press (CP)
CP Headline: Ultimate fighters hit below the belt: UFC fighters are taking a beating while the franchise gets rich off mixed martial arts pay-per-view events
by Neil Davidson, Canadian Press
The popularity of mixed martial arts fighting is on the rise, as is the money involved in the sport.
But in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, which dominates the sport in North America, only the elite fighters appear to reap the financial rewards.
Just ask Toronto police officer Rob MacDonald, who was choked unconscious after two minutes and 26 seconds of the first round Saturday on the undercard of the UFC 62: Liddell vs. Sobral fight card.
MacDonald earned $5,000 (all figures U.S.) and left with $3,500 since — as a foreigner — he had to pay 30 per cent tax.
Saturday’s card drew 10,419 to the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, for a paid gate of $3,040,880. The UFC does not divulge pay-per-view figures (the card cost $39.99 Canadian to watch north of the border) but MMAWeekly.com, which follows the sport, reported in July that pay-per-view sales for UFC 60: Hughes vs. Gracie generated at least $23.97 million.
That, coupled with a live gate of $2.9 million that night, made the May 27 Matt Hughes-Royce Gracie showdown the UFC’s biggest haul with revenue of at least $26.87 million (figures for UFC 61 were not available when MMAWeekly ran its piece).
Contrast those big-ticket figures with what the fighters earned Saturday night.
According to information provided by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, the UFC paid the 18 fighters on the card a total of $407,000 — with $250,000 of that going to light-heavyweight champion Chuck (The Iceman) Liddell for stopping Renato (Babalu) Sobral in 95 seconds.
Usually UFC fighters get a fee for fighting and a bonus if they win. Liddell did not get a win bonus, according to the Athletic Commission records, but he likely will get a lucrative cut of the pay-per-view. The UFC declined comment, saying it does not discuss fighter contracts.
Sobral, meanwhile, earned a modest $21,000 for his troubles. Had he won, he would have picked up another $21,000.
In the co-main event, Forrest Griffin collected $32,000 for his victory over Stephan Bonnar — $16,000 plus a $16,000 win bonus. Bonnar left with $16,000.
Toronto-born middleweight Ivan Salaverry used to fight in the UFC, but now is signed to the fledgling World Fighting Alliance. While crediting the UFC for helping build the sport, he wonders about the discrepancies between UFC purses and revenues.
“Fighters go in there, beat the heck out of each other, against world-class athletes and they get a few thousand dollars while the UFC is making record sales on pay-per-views,” said the 35-year-old Salaverry, now based out of Seattle. Still, the UFC is well aware of its competitors.
Jeremy Lappen, chief executive officer of the WFA, was escorted out of the building at UFC 61: Bitter Rivals, despite having a ticket given to him by Ken Shamrock, whom he used to manage and who was fighting.
“I think they’re nervous. They don’t want competition,” Lappen said of the UFC.
“They want to be a monopoly. They operate that way.
“The funny thing is that competition in the long run would be the best thing to ever happen to them because it’ll grow the sport. But I don’t think they see it that way, and I think they’re threatened.”
Lappen, who also once managed Randy Couture, says the WFA’s vision calls for the focus to be on the fighter rather than the organization.
“I would just bang my head against the wall seeing what the other promotions were doing.
“They operate on the philosophy of the brand is what sells, it’s not the fighter. … They do that because they’re afraid the fighters are going to become too big and too powerful, and they’ll have pay them too much money to keep them.”
Salaverry says fighters definitely feel the might of UFC when it comes to purses.
“It’s very difficult for guys to negotiate their contracts because they are the big show,” he said. “For the amount of money that they’re (the UFC) making, I think a lot of these fighters are not getting their due, for sure.”
The WFA gives fighters a better deal, according to Salaverry.
“If anything I gained a lot of money from the WFA. They negotiated very fairly with me in comparison for the UFC. I get paid a lot more from the WFA than I did with the UFC.”
The UFC hypes the six-figure contract it has rewarded winners of its Ultimate Fighter reality TV show, but the prize is less impressive taken into account that the deal might cover nine fights over three years.
Competitors under contract to the International Fight League, another fledgling circuit that bills itself as mixed martial arts’ first league, pays its fighters a salary as well as win bonuses.
Former UFC champion Carlos Newton, who coaches the IFL’s Toronto Dragons team, says his fighters will make at least $60,000 in the IFL next year (expected to consist of six or seven bouts), even if they lose.
“That is far more than what guys are getting for a four-fight deal in the UFC, walking in for the first time,” he said.
UFC president Dana White was unimpressed by what he saw in the WFA’s debut show, King of the Streets, held July 22 at Inglewood, Calif.
“They lost tons of money,” he said in an interview.
“One of the big problems is people look (at the UFC) from the outside and go, `Damn, look how big they are, look how good they’re doing. That looks easy.’ And it’s anything but easy.
“You really have to know this business and if you don’t know the business, it takes you a long time to figure it out. And to be honest with you, we’re the only ones that really know this business inside and out. So is it going to happen? Is someone going to jump in there and learn it? Yeah, but they’re going to have to have some staying power.”
The UFC has shown it has that under the ownership of the Fertitta brothers and White’s management, paying off its past debts and widening its reach.
White, a smart and smooth front man for the UFC, knows his organization is king of the MMA mountain.
And he shows it, when asked if he would want a successful fighter like Salaverry back?
“Well, if Ivan keeps winning, he will be back in my house,” said White. “That’s a given. I don’t care what organization pops up out there, the UFC is the place to fight. So if he keeps winning, he will end up here.”
Salaverry cautions young fighters to get financial help.
“And if you don’t have an agent, you don’t have representation, you’re going to get taken to the cleaners.”