If it’s Not Broke, Fix it Anyway: Can Bonuses Force Finishes in MMA?

June 29, 2011
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(This is an opinion-based article written by MMAWeekly.com U.K. correspondent Lee Whitehead. He may be a bit mental, so feel free to tell him so.)

I’m going to start off with a controversial subject: Georges St-Pierre.

For many MMA fans, he symbolizes the perfect MMA fighter – comfortable striking, wrestling, and with submissions, all wrapped up in a fantastically conditioned package, living at the top tier in the UFC’s welterweight division.

So what is controversial you may ask?

Georges St-Pierre after defeating Jake Shields at UFC 129

His lack of recent decisive finishes. St-Pierre has become the UFC’s decision machine, and although he is arguably one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in MMA, regardless of promotion, his recent fights haven’t exactly excited the fans.


We all love a winner. There is something appealing about a champion besting all comers in competition. At UFC 129, the Canadian did exactly that and defended his belt against former Strikeforce king Jake Shields, but it was a five-round drawn out affair without any notable action or urgency.

Such is the level of talent that GSP possesses that he is able to fight and win without stepping out of his comfort zone. But that hasn’t always been the case. GSP’s early-to-middle career was littered with stoppages, but ever since regaining the title from Matt Serra, he hasn’t really threatened to decimate an opponent.

I think some of this comes down to the pay structure in the UFC. Typically a fighter will receive a “show” amount and then a “win” amount, although sometimes highly visible players are on fixed salaries for a fight, along with a nice slice of the pay-per-view if they are a particularly powerful draw. In addition to that are sponsorship deals, bonuses for performance, and many other payments that aren’t disclosed to the public.

For GSP, a safe win preserved his record in front of a home crowd, reduced the risk of making a mistake, and he got to walk away with a tidy sum to invest. As a person, fair play to him, but from a fight-hungry fan point of view, the encounter in Toronto failed to deliver.

If the UFC altered its approach to winning salaries and placed a graded win-bonus system on stoppages by round, I bet you would see a lot more finishes in bouts.

At the moment there are only disclosed bonuses for Fight of the Night, Submission of the Night and Knockout of the Night. It serves as an incentive for some fighters, but it’s no wonder that most of the time the fighters that win these bonuses are those that are still hungry and proving themselves.

Let’s take a few fictional fighters and have a look at the models:

Current Pay Scale Model

Fighter A: $6,000 Show + $6,000 Win = $12,000

Fighter B: $6,000 Show + $6,000 Win + $60,000 KO of the Night Bonus = $72,000

Typically there is only one KO or Sub bonus on a card, although there can be several finishes on a card, usually a decision will be made as to who picks up the bonus.

Finish Inducing Pay Scale Model

$60,000 predetermined finishing amount split into a sliding scale over three rounds

1st @ 100% / 2nd @ 66% / 3rd @ 33% / Decision = 0%

Fighter A: $6,000 Show + $60,000 1st Round Finish = $66,000

Fighter B: $6,000 Show + $20,000 3rd Round Finish = $26,000

Now I know that the above model isn’t fully refined, but it shows that if you want a nice paycheck you need to finish the fight, even up to the last minute of the third round. If you end up in a decision, then base pay and back to the drawing board. I know that may seem harsh, but you would definitely see a lot more finishes on fight cards.

Obviously, salaries increase in line with stature and experience. Maybe in a championship bout, you would have a percentage scale of your base salary across five rounds. At the moment, a lot of top-flight fighters’ salaries appear to be capped or fixed. If you can guarantee to the top fighter a bump in base salary for the next fight that is in-line with the bonus then you further incentivize them to finish.

Due to the championship nature of the fight, you could apply the same five-round sliding scale and bump to the challenger as well.

Current Pay Scale Model

$100,000 Champion Base + $100,000 Win = $200,000 + % of PPV

Next fight will probably be the same if you are on a fixed deal until such a time as your contract comes up for negotiation.

Finish Inducing Pay Scale Model

$100,000 scaled as follows: 1st @ 100% / 2nd @ 80% / 3rd @ 60% / 4th @ 40% / 5th @ 20% / Decision = 0% Bonus

$100,000 Champion Base + $60,000 3rd Round Finish = $160,000 + % of PPV

Next fight: $160,000 Champion Base + $64,000 4th Round Finish = $224,000 + % of PPV

I know that a lot of people will be looking at this structure and thinking that the UFC will have some expensive fight cards on its hands with this approach, but what that would mean is a better spread of top-flight fighters across cards from a cost/talent point of view, and more exciting fights because the participants will be trying to finish for a bigger paycheck, instead of landing that takedown in the last 30 seconds in order to sway the judges.

Imaging if you picked up a UFC PPV and there was only one decision on the entire card, the rest of it was littered with stoppages. I bet you’d be pretty pleased and would tell all anyone who would listen that these guys delivered the goods.

If you were there in the flesh at the venue, you wouldn’t be leaving thinking that the whole card delivered except for a boring main event; you’d be raving about how good it was that these guys left it all in the Octagon and no stone was left unturned in their quest for victory.

Food for thought maybe? Do you think it has traction? Feel free to comment below…

Lee Whitehead is a staff writer for MMAWeekly.com.
@LeeWhiteheadMMA on Twitter or e-mail Lee a question or comment.

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  • XIRandomHeroIX

    This plan sounds good and after alittle refinement could be exactly what the MMA world needs. I know that I have gone from buying every event on PPV to having only bought 2 so far this year because the fight cards have little to no potenial for excitement.

  • elguapo

    Was thinking exactly the same thing myself. The scale could easily be refined by the UFC to ensure incentives are in place to give the fans a finish to fights. I think part of the problem is also that the takeover of Strikeforce has meant a bigger pool of fighters and we’ve seen many released recently on 2-3 match losing streaks. Fighters coming off 1 or 2 losses are now grinding out a decision win to save their jobs. That said, we don’t actually know the size of the undisclosed bonuses the UFC gives out after bouts. It might already be a tasty bonus in place for a finish.

  • CancinoGBJJ

    i agree with rewarding the fighters that finish the fight with a stoppage. Everyone loves that, but the hard core fans also love the art for what it is…..the technique! fighters should never leave it to the Judges! Judging…. now that’s another topic.

    there’s sometimes where i don’t order the PPV fight due to past boring fights. some fighters like to play it safe and those are the fighters that make the MMA sport boring sometimes…for example the Clay G. and Anthony Pettis fight was a big disappointment, Clay does not diverse a tittle shot due to his performance! all he did is keep Pettis on his back but never finished him with a sub or stopage. i was very disappointed with the Carpenter because he usually gives a better show.

    reward to hungry and doc the boring fights!

  • Frank G.

    It’s good to be thinking about how to solve the problem of boring, indecisive fighting styles. I’m not sure I agree with paying so much more for a quick decisive finish than a late decisive finish. I mean, some of the best fights take a few rounds to finish due to the closeness of the fighters. The issue is whether it ends decisively or not. (Also of course how exciting it was, but that is hard to quantify.) On the scale given, a fifth round finish would pay far less than a first round finish, but only a little more than a decision. But, I agree with the general idea and certainly agree with paying more for real finishes than judges’ decisions.

    I think we should start calling a draw a draw, and maybe add a sudden death round. By calling a draw a draw, I mean we stop having judges split hairs to award rounds to one fighter or the other when no real damage was done, when there was only maneuvering, weak strikes, and futile submission attempts. There would have to be a clear advantage that, if sustained, would lead to a finish. You couldn’t win a round just by holding a man down or by connecting with a few more jabs. Win bonuses would then really have to be earned, and fighters would really go for it in a sudden death round. Top fighters like GSP wouldn’t want draws on their record.

    This would also help to prevent bad, subjective decisions, where judges are awarding the hair-splitting rounds to a particular fighter. A weakness of my idea is that a strong early round would win a fight when the last few rounds were slightly in the loser’s favor.

  • EKellz

    From what I understand, (and I know a few fighters that have fought in the UFC), No one really knows how much these guys actually get paid but the individual fighters themselves it’s usually much more than is reported. I think the current system is just fine. GSP may not finish his fights but he is facing some of the best guys in the world at his weight class and for the most part, DOMINATES!! I think they guy deserves every penny he gets because he is clearly the winner in the fights he’s won even without the fininsh. Just my two cents.