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- MMA FIGHTERS: IS IT WORTH IT?

Posted on by MMAWeekly.com Staff

by Ivan Trembow
UFC 54 Pay Scale Breakdown
by Ivan Trembow

UFC Pay Ceiling Remains Unchanged

This event had the highest fighter payroll of any UFC event that Zuffa has ever held, with a total of $635,000 being paid out to the fighters. However, the pay ceiling for an individual top star in the UFC has not changed since the pre-Ultimate Fighter days, when there was no Spike TV programming rights revenue or cable TV advertising money that the UFC was making.

-Randy Couture: $225,000 ($150,000 for fighting, $75,000 win bonus)

Randy Couture continues to be the highest-paid fighter, with a guaranteed amount per fight of $150,000 and a win bonus of $75,000. Despite the fact that he lost to Chuck Liddell at UFC 52, Couture still deserves to be the highest-paid fighter, at least for now, because he has more tenure than anyone when it comes to championship fights. As Mike Goldberg pointed out during the UFC 54 broadcast, this was the first time since 1997 that Couture was competing in a UFC fight that wasn’t for the UFC Heavyweight Title or the UFC Light-Heavyweight Title.

However, Couture still made the same amount of money for UFC 54 that he has been making since UFC 49, and that was before the Spike TV deal and all of the additional revenue that it has brought the UFC. I’m not saying that it’s feasible at this point to have a drastic increase in pay at the top, but at some point the top of the pay scale is going to have to be something other than the same exact amount that it was before the Spike TV came along.

Perhaps something like $175,000 to fight (instead of $150,000), and a win bonus of $100,000 (instead of $75,000) would be appropriate for the highest-paid fighter. Whatever the exact amount is, it needs to reflect the fact that the company is making a heck of a lot more money now than they were in 2004 before the Spike TV deal was signed.

Jeremy Horn Gets a Big Contract for His UFC Return

-Jeremy Horn: $25,000 ($25,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $25,000)

With a proposed Chuck Liddell vs. Quinton Jackson match falling apart when the UFC realized that Jackson was still contractually bound to Pride until the end of August, and with the UFC not wanting to book a Liddell-Couture rematch until Couture won a non-title fight, the UFC finally felt compelled to do something that hardcore fans have been demanding for years: They signed Jeremy Horn. Not only did Jeremy Horn finally get signed by the UFC, but due to the circumstances and due to the fact that Chuck Liddell had previously expressed a desire to fight him again, Horn’s first fight back in the UFC was against Liddell for the UFC Light-Heavyweight Title.

Horn’s fight against Liddell was not his UFC debut, but it almost felt that way since he had not fought in the UFC since early 2001. For a debuting or returning fighter, Horn got a very large contract, valued at $25,000 to fight and an additional $25,000 to win. That is far closer to the top of the UFC pay scale than it is to the bottom. Horn’s contract was a three-fight deal that would automatically be terminated if he lost to Chuck Liddell, which he did. So, Jeremy Horn is once again a free agent at this point, and if he re-signs with the UFC it is likely to be for significantly less money than $25,000 to fight and $25,000 to win.

Liddell and Lindland Both Under-Paid Given their UFC Records

-Chuck Liddell: $160,000 ($80,000 for fighting; $80,000 win bonus)

-Matt Lindland: $30,000 ($15,000 for fighting; $15,000 win bonus)

If any two fighters have a right to be upset about their pay, given their excellent records in the UFC, it would have to be Chuck Liddell and Matt Lindland. Unlike Tito Ortiz in the same situation, Chuck Liddell is honoring his long-term, multi-fight contract.

At the same time that Tito Ortiz was holding out in 2003 until he got a new deal (which ended up being worth $125,000 for every fight and an additional $50,000 for every win), Liddell was honoring his contract and stepping into the Octagon for $40,000 to fight and $40,000 to win. Liddell’s contract pays him slightly more with each passing fight, so he subsequently made $50,000 and $50,000 for his next fight, then 60 and 60, all the way up to his UFC 54 salary of $80,000 to fight and $80,000 to win. Ironically, Liddell’s UFC 54 salary is the same exact salary that Tito Ortiz had in 2003 when he held out just two fights into his six-fight UFC contract, at a time when Liddell was the #1 contender.

It’s not known when Liddell’s current contract comes up for renewal, but it’s clear that he is due for a huge raise whenever it does expire. In the meantime, Liddell can be consoled by the fact that earlier this year he signed the biggest endorsement contract in the history of MMA in the United States. As previously reported by MMAWeekly, Liddell’s multi-year deal with the nutritional supplement company Xyience is a seven-figure deal. The total amount of over $1 million is spread out over the life of the contract (not all paid to him at once, or even in one year), but it’s still the biggest sponsorship deal that any MMA fighter has ever gotten in the United States.

While Chuck Liddell is underpaid as the #1-ranked light-heavyweight in the UFC, Matt Lindland is also underpaid as one of the top-ranked middleweights in the company. The announcers hyped on the broadcast that Liddell’s win at UFC 54 made him the winningest fighter in UFC history with 12 wins… so why is Matt Lindland, a fighter who is not far behind with 10 wins, only making $15,000 to fight and $15,000 to win?

I’m not saying that Lindland should be making anywhere near what Liddell makes, but his salary should certainly be a lot more than $15,000 to fight and $15,000 to win. Comparing him specifically to Liddell on the pay scale and looking at each fighter’s relative market value, Liddell has the most wins of any fighter in UFC history, while Lindland is close behind him. Liddell has the mainstream recognition from being a coach on The Ultimate Fighter, while Lindland has the potential to give the UFC a huge boost in mainstream media credibility due to the fact that he’s an Olympic Silver Medalist. Liddell is not at all good at public speaking (see his appearance on Adam Corolla’s new TV show for a good example), while Lindland has proved time and time again that he is (see his appearances leading up to his second fight with Phil Baroni for several good examples).

Ultimately, what’s the biggest difference between them? Liddell’s fights are usually exciting, while Lindland’s fights are often not exciting. Some of Lindland’s fights are exciting, like his two fights with Baroni or his fight with Travis Lutter, but the truth is that most of them aren’t. This factor makes Lindland worth a lesser amount of money to the UFC than he otherwise would be, but should Lindland be getting a mid-level UFC salary when he’s one of the winningest fighters in the history of the organization?

The answer to that question depends on whether you want to think of the UFC as something that should be promoted like a pro wrestling company, or something that should be promoted as a legitimate sport. In pro wrestling, the biggest stars and thus the biggest money-earners are often the wrestlers who are the most charismatic, not the ones who are the most skilled at their craft in the ring, which is to put on entertaining performances.

If you think of the UFC as a pro wrestling company that happens to have shoot-fights instead of pro wrestling matches, then it would make perfect sense for one of the winningest fighters in UFC history to be making a mid-level UFC salary, simply because he’s not all that exciting when the bell rings.

On the other hand, if you think of the UFC as something that should be treated as a legitimate sport, then it would only make sense for one of the winningest fighters in UFC history and one of the best 185-pound fighters in the world to be making top-level pay for a middleweight, regardless of whether or not his fights are “exciting.”

Sylvia and Telligman’s Salaries Reflect the Huge Demand for Quality Heavyweights

-Tim Sylvia: $80,000 ($40,000 for fighting; $40,000 win bonus)

-Tra Telligman: $9,000 ($9,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $9,000)

Tim Sylvia is not too far from the top of the UFC pay scale, with his salary of $40,000 to fight and an additional $40,000 to win. After Sylvia lost to two of the top heavyweights in the sport (Frank Mir and Andrei Arlovski), it was ridiculous when many MMA fans suggested that Sylvia no longer deserved to be a UFC fighter. That was nothing more than the latest example of fanboy-ism, so to speak, wherein a fighter is discarded as worthless in the court of public opinion after two losses, or even one loss in many cases. Three or four consecutive losses is a completely different story and actually does indicate a long-term slump, but one- and two-fight losing streaks are commonplace in MMA and should not be so prone to over-reaction.

While it was ridiculous for anyone to suggest that Sylvia didn’t belong in the UFC after the first two losses of his career, it would certainly stand to reason that he wouldn’t be making the same amount of money after two straight losses as he was when he was the UFC Heavyweight Champion. That’s what one would think, but that’s not what happened. In fact, Sylvia did not get a pay cut. He is making the same salary now that he was making when he was the champion.

The reason for this is simple. Quality heavyweight fighters are extremely hard to find, as evidenced by the fact that the UFC had trouble even filling out a roster of nine heavyweights for the second season of The Ultimate Fighter (thus the inclusion of fighters like Eli Joslin, who had an MMA record of 1-0). With the supply so low and the demand so high for quality heavyweight fighters, it only makes sense that the market value of heavyweight fighters would skyrocket.

Even coming off two straight losses, the fact is that Tim Sylvia is still one of the top ten heavyweights in the sport (though not in the top five), making him well worth the $40,000 to fight and $40,000 to win that the UFC is paying him.

In much the same way, the market value of Tra Telligman is drastically increased simply because he’s a heavyweight. Normally, if the UFC was bringing in a fighter as an injury replacement, and that fighter’s last MMA fight was over two years ago (as was the case with Telligman before this fight), there is no way in hell that fighter would be making $9,000 to fight and an additional $9,000 to win. However, because it’s the heavyweight division, the forces of supply and demand immediately put Telligman’s salary above what most middleweights and welterweights make in the UFC.

St. Pierre and Trigg Near the Top the Welterweight Pay Scale

-Georges St. Pierre: $28,000 ($13,000 for fighting; $15,000 win bonus)

-Frank Trigg: $14,000 ($14,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $14,000)

Other than Matt Hughes, the two highest-paid welterweights in the UFC are Georges St. Pierre and Frank Trigg. After his loss to St. Pierre at UFC 54, Trigg’s contract is not being renewed by the UFC, but going into this fight Trigg was still making $14,000 to fight and an additional $14,000 to win. That is the same amount of money that Trigg made at UFC 52 when he fought Matt Hughes for the Welterweight Title.

Georges St. Pierre serves as a classic example of a fighter who worked his way up through the UFC pay scale with multiple wins in the company. When he made his UFC debut at UFC 46, St. Pierre was only making $3,000 to fight and an additional $3,000 to win. His pay steadily increased with each passing win, and he made $9,000 to fight and an additional $9,000 to win for his dominant victory over Jason Miller at UFC 52 earlier this year. Finally, for his UFC 54 victory over Frank Trigg, St. Pierre got another raise, this time earning $13,000 to fight and an additional $15,000 to win.

For the purposes of comparison, St. Pierre’s salary is far more than the amount earned by Karo Parisyan, who is the #1 contender for the Welterweight Title and will be fighting Matt Hughes on Spike TV in November. Parisyan was still only making $4,000 to fight and $4,000 to win as recently as UFC 51 earlier this year, although he will almost certainly be getting a big raise for his title fight against Matt Hughes.

One mitigating factor for St. Pierre, and all other MMA fighters who are not United States citizens, is that the US federal government taxes 30% of his American MMA income. So, while the talented Canadian’s gross earnings were $28,000 for his fight at UFC 54, the US government’s 30% share of that amount was $8,400. As a result, St. Pierre only went home with $19,600.

These American taxes are in addition to the income taxes that St. Pierre has to pay in Canada. Foreign fighters have it harder financially because they not only have to pay income taxes in their own country like everyone else does, but they also get 30% of their gross salary taxed by the US government.

-Joe Doerksen: $5,000 ($5,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $5,000)

Another Canadian, Joe Doerksen, was also subject to the 30% federal tax. Doerksen’s contract paid him $5,000 to fight and an additional $5,000 to win. Doerksen had won 13 of his last 14 fights coming into event, but he lost to Matt Lindland via unanimous decision, so his gross earnings were just $5,000. The US government’s 30% share of that amount was $1,500, meaning that Doerksen went home with $3,500 and still has to pay income taxes in his home country.

New Minimum UFC Salary Should Be Established

-James Irvin: $6,000 ($3,000 for fighting, $3,000 win bonus)

-Travis Lutter: $4,000 ($4,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $4,000)

-Brian Gassaway: $2,000 ($2,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $2,000)

-Terry Martin: $2,000 ($2,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $2,000

As I wrote in my breakdown of the Ultimate Fight Night salaries, the UFC is no longer losing money on every event, so there is no longer a need to pay the undercard fighters with relative peanuts in exchange for putting their bodies and health on the line. The UFC should establish a new minimum salary that they would meet or exceed with every fighter, and I believe that salary should be $5,000 to fight and an additional $5,000 to win.

Granted, that’s still not a huge amount of money, but it’s more than several fighters made on this event. James Irvin and Trevor Prangley each made $3,000 to fight and an additional $3,000 to win, while Travis Lutter’s contract called for him to make $4,000 to fight and an additional $4,000 to win.

To put things in perspective about how much these fighters put their bodies on the line every time they compete, Terry Martin was brutally knocked out during this event and was stretchered out of the arena. He was ultimately okay, but he has still been suspended indefinitely by the doctors of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, and will only be able to fight again when he takes and passes a thorough examination from a neurologist, and also has a follow-up MRI on his brain.

So, what did Terry Martin make for putting his body in a position where it could be injured like that, in the biggest MMA organization in the United States? Two thousand dollars. That was the same amount that Brian Gassaway made on this event, and he suffered multiple fractures to his nose and sinus cavity in his fight against Diego Sanchez.

As I have previously written, the UFC as an organization should be embarrassed to still be paying any fighter $2,000 to fight and $2,000 to win, given the fact that they’re on national television, making money from the advertising on those TV shows and from the programming fees that Spike TV pays them for the rights to air those shows. To point out a specific example, like Terry Martin getting brutally knocked out and only making $2,000, only further illustrates the point that it is time for the UFC to adopt a higher minimum salary.

The specific figure of $5,000 to fight and $5,000 to win is just one of the many possible minimum salaries that the UFC could adopt. It certainly doesn’t have to be that exact amount, but it does need to be more than it is right now.

If the UFC did have a minimum salary of $5,000 to fight and $5,000 to win, it would make a huge difference to all of the up-and-coming fighters who are currently making less than that, while barely making a dent in the UFC’s total fighter payroll.

For example, if you go through the UFC 54 card and look at every fighter whose contract was under the “$5,000 and $5,000″ standard, and you change all of those fighters’ salaries to $5,000 and $5,000 (while leaving all of the other salaries unchanged), it would raise UFC 54′s total fighter payroll from $635,000 to $650,000. That’s it: An increase of 2.4 percent.

An increase of 2.4 percent would not put the UFC out of business, but it would make a positive difference in the lives of the undercard fighters who are putting their bodies on the line just as much as the top stars.

Sanchez and Van Arsdale Make More than One Might Expect

-Diego Sanchez: $24,000 ($12,000 for fighting; $12,000 win bonus)

-Mike Van Arsdale: $15,000 ($15,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $15,000)

Two salaries that might stick out as being bigger than you would have expected are the salaries of Diego Sanchez and Mike Van Arsdale. Sanchez made $12,000 to fight and an additional $12,000 to win, which makes him the fourth highest paid welterweight in the UFC on a per-fight basis (and now the third highest paid, with Frank Trigg’s contract not being renewed). That might seem outrageous to some, but it’s the same amount of money that fellow Ultimate Fighter winners Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar are making on a per-fight basis, and Sanchez deserves it just as much as they do.

Sanchez is not yet one of the top ten welterweight fighters in the sport, and you may not like his cocky personality, but the fact is that he’s a legitimate fighter, who won a legitimate Ultimate Fighter competition, and who could very well be a top five welterweight or even a champion someday. Now someone just has to remind him that Jesus is not actually one of his sponsors, and that it’s fine to thank Jesus after a victory just as long as you don’t mistakenly say that he’s one of your sponsors…

As for Mike Van Arsdale, when he returned to the UFC in April of this year and defeated John Marsh in the heavyweight division, he made $5,000 to fight and an additional $5,000 to win. That was a pretty big salary for someone who hadn’t fought on a major MMA show since 1998.

For his UFC 54 fight against Randy Couture, Van Arsdale’s contract called for him to make $15,000 to fight and an additional $15,000 to win, which is a gigantic amount of money for any fighter whose record in the modern UFC era was 1-0 coming into this event. However, there is a logical reason for Van Arsdale’s higher-than-normal salary, and it’s simply that he was one of the only light-heavyweights willing to step up on fairly short notice and fight Randy Couture.

As with Chuck Liddell’s opponent on this event, the UFC did not get its original choice. As previously reported by MMAWeekly, the UFC wanted to have a match between Randy Couture and Ken Shamrock, but the management team that represents both Couture and Shamrock (and Quinton Jackson, incidentally) would not even consider it because they are adamant that none of their fighters will ever fight each other.

With Shamrock out as a possible opponent for Couture, financial terms were reached with Renato “Babalu” Sobral for him to fight Couture.. With just a couple months to go before the scheduled fight, Sobral injured his shoulder in training and had to pull out of the event. For marketing reasons, the UFC needed to have Couture’s UFC 54 opponent signed before UFC 53 took place, and there weren’t a lot of quality light-heavyweights willing to step up and fight someone like Randy Couture without having several months to train for the fight.

Van Arsdale was just moving down in weight from the heavyweight division, but he stepped up and agreed to take a risky fight against a legendary fighter (and as it turned out, he ended up losing the fight while being out-wrestled for the first time in his MMA career). Van Arsdale took the fight, at a time when almost nobody else was willing to take it. The UFC rewarded Van Arsdale for his testicular fortitude, to use a term coined by Mick Foley, and agreed to pay him $15,000 to fight and an additional $15,000 to win

Total Fighter Payroll: $635,000 (average of $39,688 per fighter)

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