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Show Me The Money - This Is Sports Zone

When it comes to the average perception of a professional athlete, the term “rich” or “well off” can be a common description when referring to their financial state. The problem that comes with this statement is that it’s based on the top tier athletes of the sport. Every year, you hear about the next batch of superstars cashing in their skills for a large paycheck. The people you don’t hear about are the athletes who, despite making the big stage, don’t quite make the big bucks. Their names don’t sell tickets, yet they are just as much a part of the sport as the superstars of the world. Don’t get it twisted; these players still make a good living in their respective sports. Yet, with all the time they spend on the game, many of these athletes may not get the appreciation they deserve.

The sport of MMA is no different. Fighters in professional organizations like the UFC, Bellator, and WSOF worked hard to be where they are. They are praised as the best athletes that the sport of mixed martial arts has to offer. All the fighters ask in return is a paycheck that reflects that, which some fighters believe they are not getting.

Two of the most outspoken fighters when it comes to pay in MMA are Nick and Nate Diaz. Both recently made headlines for criticizing the UFC about the pay that they make for a fight. Both fighter have contracts with the UFC that they say doesn’t match the amount of money they generate for UFC every time they fight. Nate Diaz even went as far as saying the UFC tricked him into his current contract by holding back a title shot until he signed the new deal.
UFC President Dana White has a different view on the subject, citing that the pay that is reported to the media is only a small portion of what a fighter really makes. He has also been recorded as saying in the past, that factors like sponsorships and performance can greatly affect a fighters pay, and fighters like the Diaz brothers are only hurting themselves financially by sitting on the sidelines.

This new found dis-trust with the UFC may also have something to do with a team of the Diaz brothers and Gilbert Melendez. Gilbert, a top ten lightweight, recently went through contract negotiations with the UFC. After negotiations stalled, Melendez explored his options with other organizations until he landed a deal with Bellator. UFC, fearing that they were about to lose a top fighter to their organizational rival, used a matching clause that was in Melendez’s old contract to sign the fighter back to the UFC. While we don’t know the details that Bellator offered, we do know Melendez’s landed a huge contract with the UFC consisting of a title shot, a coaching role on the UFC reality show, as well as a cut of any PPV’s he is featured in.

The Diaz brothers now want their own shiny new contract but because their contracts are not up, they needed to get creative. Nate’s plan of action was to ask to be released from his contract, but because the UFC have no real reason to do so, they said no to his request. Nick Diaz went another route by retiring from fighting and then stating that he would come back to fighting, but only if he gets paid $500,000 a fight. His main argument for the demand was based on the fact that he’s a huge entertainment draw. When the UFC refused, he publicly stated to a Boxing reporter that he wanted Roy Jones Jr. to buy out his contract so he could move to boxing because the pay was better.

Let’s face it. The Diaz brothers are looking more and more like two guys that don’t understand how a contract works. Though the Diaz brothers aren’t thrilled with their current contracts with the UFC, they still remain some of the higher paid athletes in their sport. With that said, they do bring up a bigger issue in that smaller name fighters may not know how to capitalize on opportunities to make money while in the fight game. This fact ends up causing fighters to struggle to support themselves while they work their way up the MMA food chain. And no matter whom the fighter, if you’re skilled enough to compete in a top organization like the UFC, you shouldn’t have to work extra jobs on your downtime.
For us to truly understand any issue that arises around money in the sport of MMA, we first need to know exactly how a fighter gets paid. When it comes to most fighters’ income, at least when a fight is concerned, pay mainly consists of four distinct categories. These categories are show pay, a win bonus, a performance bonuses, and sponsorship money.

When it comes to show pay, a fighter’s contract states a predetermined base pay a fighter gets to show up to fight. This amount is paid out to a fighter that can successfully make weight and fight on the night that they are scheduled. If for any reason a fighter does not make weight for a fight, the fighters opponent will decide if they still want to fight and if so the fighter that missed weight will surrender a part of his or her pay to their opponent, win or lose.

A fighter’s win bonus is also a predetermined amount, usually matching the show pay. This amount is to be paid out if the fighter wins the fight. This bonus is based on a win and more importantly, the amount stays the same no matter of how the win is obtained. Though wins by knockout or submissions don’t affect this bonus, they do help with the next part of a fighter’s pay.

Performance bonuses can be recorded bonuses given away at the press conference for a knockout, submission, or the fight of the night. These bonuses are usually set amounts and are used to encourage fighters to put on exciting fights.

Performance bonuses can also be given out after a fight, which can be referred to as “Locker Room” bonuses, based off the main location fighters usually receive them. These bonuses are not reported in the media and can range in amount based on the organization’s discretion. In the past fighters like Frank Mir and Shane Carwin received a substantial amount of money after a fight. In Carwin’s case, it was given to him to thank him for a great effect that he put forth in a tough match up against top heavyweight, Brock Lesnar. Though Carwin ended up losing the fight in only the second round, the UFC wanted to present him with the bonus to show him that he still did his job. This just goes to prove that it pays to be on the good side of the organization you work for.

The last part of a fighters pay might be the most important because in the case of some fighters, it can be around half of your annual salary. Sponsorship money is payment that a fighter will receive to represent a product. The amount can range based on the product and what the sponsor feels the fighter can bring to their company. MMA organizations leave fighters to their own devices to attract sponsors. When it comes to sponsorships, fighters need to prove to companies that they’re not only a good representation of the brand but that they will be able to generate business for the sponsor as well. This can be difficult for newer fights as their air time on an organizations’ show can be limited in the beginning of their tenure. This is where a fighter needs to sell a sponsor on the opportunity of investing in his growth in an organization and that the investment will pay off in the future.
Now going back around to the Diaz brother’s contract issues, we can now see that a fighter’s contract only determines a certain amount of what a fighter makes. Performance combined with presenting yourself as an ideal fighter that sponsors want to attach to is just as important. The Diaz brothers may be popular when it comes to fans, but their bad boy image doesn’t translate to well when it’s time to sign sponsors. They both have been known to no show media events and are fighters that don’t always contain a filter when it comes to what they do and say. The Diaz brothers are perfect examples of letting opportunities go by.

When it comes to organizations like the UFC, it could be in their best interest to help set up better ways for fighters to make income that doesn’t all come from the organization’s pocket. Ideas like fighter uniforms that have built in sponsors may be an idea that will help future fighters. Of course, when it comes to new ideas like uniforms there would still need to be a lot of details ironed out before it could truly benefit fighter as a whole. I will dive into this issue in a future article, but for now we need to keep in mind the big picture. Just because you made it to the big show, it doesn’t automatically make you a big shot.

Dave Tice

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