by Jeff Cain – MMAWeekly.com
‘The Ultimate Fighter’ reality TV show and its wide reaching audience has changed the face of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) in North America. We’re witnessing a growth spurt.
Ticket sales are up as well as ticket prices. Both pay-per-view purchasing price and buy-rates are at a record high. Over the weekend, StrikeForce’s ‘Shamrock vs. Gracie’ set an American record for attendance at an MMA event with more than 18,200 spectators. Sponsorship dollars are rolling in like the high tide. Fighters have become recognizable public figures. Today, the only thing in the sport of MMA not on the upward fast-track is fighter pay.
Georges St. Pierre has been labeled “the future,” but reportedly only brought in $48,000 for his Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) 58: ‘USA vs. Canada’ bout with BJ Penn, who only took home a mere $25,000 for his efforts. Rich Franklin is one of the sports biggest stars, but isn’t being paid like one. The UFC Middleweight Champion reportedly only took home $34,000 for his title defense against David Loiseau.
While MMA in the Unites States appears to be exploding into new markets, are the fighters being short changed at the counter? Many think so. Something tells me you’d be hard pressed to find a fighter who doesn’t think he is worth more than the check he is cashing.
MMA has not only caught the eye of companies willing to throw sponsorship dollars into a growing sports phenomenon, but it has caught the eye of sportsbooks eager to cash in on MMA’s sudden popularity. Could the combination of the sport’s thirteen year over night success story in the U.S. accompanied with sportsbooks’ interest and out of date fighter pay lead to the biggest taboo in the sports world, fixing outcomes? MMAWeekly Radio recently spoke with Josh ‘The Punk’ Thomson, and he made some interesting comments concerning the subject of low fighter pay leading to “worked’ fights.
MMAWeekly nor Josh Thomson is suggesting that any fighter has or will fix a fight’s outcome, but could the lure of easy money, and a lot of it, sway a fighter to do the unthinkable? The Yves Edwards vs. Mark Hominick opening odds had Hominick as a +600 underdog, meaning if you placed one hundred dollars on Hominick you would have earned six hundred. Because of the opening odds and the eventual outcome of the match, we’ll use it as a hypothetical example to illustrate how the combination of out dated fighter pay and sportsbooks’ interest in MMA could be a deadly combination.
In MMAWeekly Radio’s conversation with Josh Thomson, which can be heard in its entirety by clicking on the radio archive, he brought up an interesting scenario. He said, “Here is something to look at. If a fighter, lets say he is making $16,000. If he walked in there with say twenty grand and he dropped twenty grand on himself and he was +600. He’s going to walk with what? I think $120,000 at +600, so he’ll walk with $120,000 on top of the money he is getting back. So what is a fighter to do? I’m not just pointing out the UFC, I’m saying any organization is only paying $10,000 a fighter. You know? They’re throwing odds on these fights. The fighters, they’re not being paid enough. They’re going to eventually get smart and throw their own fights . . . If the odds were +600 against somebody else, whose to say that somebody just wouldn’t go in there and throw one fight and make 120 grand? That is more money than they would make in the next four fights.”
MMA is in a metamorphosis phase, making the transition from underground to mainstream. Several online sportsbooks sponsor some of the biggest names in the industry, getting their name out there to a potentially lucrative market. But one has to question the competency of some of the odds. Recently there have been a few match-ups that odds makers have bit the bullet on. The ‘Pe De Pano’ Cruz upset over former UFC Heavyweight Champion Frank Mir was a money maker for insightful gamblers who recognized the outrageous odds in favor of Mir who was coming off a severe injury and an extensive leave of absence from MMA competition.
Most recently, Mark Hominick was an enormous underdog facing Yves Edwards. He pulled off the upset costing sportsbooks an astronomical amount in loses. Josh Thomson commented, “The Mandalay Bay had them at -600. Someone went in there and they dropped twenty grand. That is why the odds dropped from -600 to -400 in one night against the Hominick and Yves fight. Someone went in there and put twenty grand on Hominick, and that’s a big deal. That is why these casinos and stuff don’t put betting lines on really the undercards in boxing. They do maybe one undercard if it is a good undercard, like one bout on the undercard. It is always the betting lines on the main event and that is it. You don’t see betting lines on all the other smaller events, all of the other fighters underneath there because whose to say those guys aren’t just going to go out there and throw the fight? They’re only making four grand.”
All the ingredients are in place for the worst case scenario come to fruition. It may not have happened yet, but low wages and inflated, incompetent odds making is a recipe for disaster. “I don’t think it has happened yet, but these odds were ridiculous. Mike Swick was -600 against Vigneault, and so was Hominick. Hominick was +600, so whose to say these fighters aren’t going to do that, go drop twenty grand? Why not drop whatever they’re going to make on their fight because they know they’re going to get it right back after they throw it? – I’m not saying that it hasn’t happened. I’m just saying that I’m not aware of it happening. I mean, there is always talk of people doing it, but I’ve never encountered someone really saying yea, I’ve done it. Yea, on the DL. They’re not telling me on the DL.” Josh Thomson told MMAWeekly.
MMAWeekly asked Josh Thomson point blank if he thought the Hominick and Edwards fight was a “work.” Josh immediately responded, “No. I don’t think so.” But the current conditions of fighters being paid minimal amounts and sportsbooks posting unrealistic odds, it is just a matter of time before fights are fixed, if it hasn’t already happened.