A Closer Look at the ESPN vs. UFC Fighter Pay Debate

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ESPN has sparked one of the most pressing debates in recent times in regards to mixed martial arts with an article written by long-time reporter of the sport Josh Gross as well as a story that ran on their decade long running sports talk series ‘Outside The Lines’.

In short the basic premise of these pieces is that those fighters who aren’t pay-per-view draws are being drastically less compensated than their more successful counterparts – You can find these pieces here.

There premiere MMA organization has taken a struggling sport with one governing state for their field and created a worldwide phenomenon viewed worldwide as they continue to expand creating a new culture of fight fans.

Now at the peak of their success so far they contract 39 millionaires with 29 fighters receiving a slice of their pay-per-view revenue which is still the base of their organization despite the recent deal with their first major network FOX for a reported $100million.

It’s true that those at the top of the food chain when all is said and done are making millions and millions of dollars to compete in the octagon but what about entry-level fighters? Then there is a big drop off.

If you were to sign a deal with the UFC tomorrow as an entry level fighter here is the deal you will receive:

First fight: $6,000 to show, $6,000 to win

Second fight: $8,000 to show, $8,000 to win

Third fight: 10,000 to show, $10,000 to win

If you were to have those three fights in a year which is average you will earn $48,000 before you factor in the money they make from sponsorship – Remember, every time you see a fighter walking to the cage with a Tapout shirt, Warrior International hat and a Condom Depot on his shorts, he is doing that for compensation.

According to surveys the average annual income in the United States is $46,000 and the average person isn’t being paid to sport the latest Affliction tee and doesn’t factor in the potential to make on average $55,000 to $75,000, even as high as $100,000 for a submission, knockout or fight of the night.

So are the combatants that fight in this industry greedy for wanting more? I don’t think so.

You only have a small window of time to get into this sport, make your name and a sizeable amount of money so when you hang up your gloves you have the cash to live a comfortable life –Of course there are exceptions to the rule, most notably Randy Couture and Dan Henderson but most professional fighters aren’t able to compete at a high-level into their mid to late thirties.

Then there’s the issue of the UFC having a monopoly over the sport following their recent purchase of Strikeforce, their biggest competitor – The Culinary Union in Nevada filed a letter to the Federal Trade Commission stating that they were a monopoly and are investigating the organization.

What Lorenzo and Frank Furtita along with Dana White have done with the UFC would have been unthinkable a mere decade ago taking human cockfighting and turning into a respectable sport with high-level athletes.

It’s no secret that they have taken a cut-throat, take no prisoners attitude towards climbing to the top and staying there – When Affliction, EliteXC or even Strikeforce before the buyout put forward events they fired back putting dated pay-per-views or even live telecasts on the same night in the same time slot on Spike TV.

But is what the UFC did any different to what Vince McMahon did to professional wrestling? McMahon took over the World Wrestling Federation as it was known at the time and made it into one of the most successful companies in the world.

McMahon made no bones about stepping on any toes with his rise to the top paying top dollar to take the most profitable and marketable professional wrestlers from all of the territories in the country that had their own promotions and as a result made a television show that his foes couldn’t compete with.

Since purchasing World Championship Wrestling in 2001 from Time Warner they have created an industry where the only place to make big amounts of dough is in their company.

In the eyes of most that understand both industries the UFC not only paid attention to the business model put forward by the WWE, they essentially copied it to a tee – Everything from getting the biggest stars at all cost to getting television deals in a new market before hosting events there, it was all done by McMahon first so why isn’t there an investigation into his business?

The simple truths are entry level fighters aren’t making money for the company, the only people making them money are their biggest names – They have proven to have a base of 250,000 homes that get every show, if you’re reading this you’re probably one of them.

When George St-Pierre is on the pay-per-view poster though things change dramatically entering the field of up to 1million people willing to fork out that $55 to see what the number-one welterweight on the planet will do.

Let’s take a look at UFC 141 for example; the biggest earner of the night excluding any under the table bonuses or pay-per-view revenue was Brock Lesnar scoring a whopping $400,000 for being beaten down by kickboxing champion Alistair Overeem.

The lowest earning person on the bill was Sean Pierson who collected $8,000 for his decision loss to Dong Hyun Kim.

Now how many people do you think brought a ticket to the show to see the ex-pimp daddy? Probably very few. In comparison to Lesnar who’s star power would have sold a large chunk of the 13,000+ tickets and pushed the amount of buys up dramatically.

The company is making no money off Sean Pierson or almost any fighter who is fighting in their preliminary bouts but they are investing their time, money and effort to give them a platform to better themselves and potentially make them money in the future.

They as a whole have shown that hard work is rewarded, if you perform to the best of your abilities while winning and entertaining the consumers you will find yourself rising up the pay ladder at a rapid pace.

Think I’m wrong? My doors always open for a debate that I will eventually win @justinfauxmma on twitter.

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