The Ultimate Fighting Championship needs to make a new year's resolution. It's time for this juggernaut of MMA to start paying fighters what they're worth and stop abusing the bonus system to reward just a few fighters instead of upping the ante for all combatants.
Fight of the night, knockout of the night, and submission of the night bonuses all help to pad the paychecks of some of the best fighters in the league.
That's all well and good. The issue is not due to the fact that the bonuses exist in the first place. It's actually a novel idea that also seems to inspire more fighters to put on a show in the cage and increase the production value of each card. The problem stems from the fact that all too often talented competitors who fight and train just as hard as bonus winners get the shaft and go home with too little to show for their incredible efforts.
The UFC recently decided to make the fight of the night bonus a fan-favorite decision at UFC 124. Dana White quickly killed any chance of that experiment being repeated when fans gave the nod to the night's main event instead of the fight White thought to be the clear winner.
The UFC is a league where the biggest names get the biggest paydays as it is, so giving Georges St. Pierre and Josh Koscheck each a $100,000 fight of the night bonus in addition to what was most likely a six-figure base paycheck already (fight purses for this card have not been released) -- didn't make much sense. Dana White derided the choice of the voting public after the show was over and pointed out that Matt Riddle and Sean Pierson's three-round war was more worthy of the fight of the night mantle given to the one-sided main event's fighters.
This move by White to take the reins back himself on making the fight of the night decision doesn't solve anything. He vowed to personally take care of Pierson and Riddle despite the fan vote, and that opened the door for the argument for reform of the whole bonus system. After all, why should one guy be in charge of such an important decision that could have such a huge impact on a fighter's career? Why should a select few be given huge, outrageous pay days for the same kind of performance and effort another guy makes on the same card, only to be paid a minimum MMA wage?
It's one thing to give out something like "submission" or "knockout of the night" to a guy if he's the only one on the whole card who got that submission or knockout win, but when there are multiple KOs and submissions on a particular card what really makes one better than the other? If it's a glorified popularity contest when the fans vote, what do you call it when White's the only vote? Also, if he can just casually talk about taking care of those who didn't get the fight of the night nod in that UFC 124 instance, why can't or shouldn't he do the same for every other fighter who's ever been snubbed by his personal choices for other bonus rewards at past events?
The gate alone, not even counting the pay per view haul, was nearly $4.6 million for UFC 124. After expenses, fees, and bare costs incurred for putting the whole show on it's easy to see why White and the UFC still had plenty of money left over to promise that unofficial bonus to Pierson and Riddle.
Looking back at some previous cards that purses have been released for, it's hard to see the logic behind why one UFC fighter gets "taken care of" while another gets barely enough to pay for training expenses. Consider The Ultimate Fighter 12 Finale. Stephan Bonner made $62,000 ($31,000 base salary and $31,000 win bonus) for his performance while his opponent Igor Pokrajac only banked 10 grand. In a prior fight on that same card Rick Story made $26,000 total for his win over Johny Hendricks, but Hendricks still went home with $22,000. Tyler Toner took home a lowly $3,000 for his preliminary losing effort against Ian Loveland on that same card.
Going back to UFC 115 puts the exclamation point on this issue of overall pay. Never mind the bonus system for a minute. Consider the base salaries on this card and why Rich Franklin got far less ($225,000) than Chuck Liddell ($500,000) when Franklin was the one who not only won that fight but also suffered a broken arm in the process. Liddell got just over 100k per minute and doubled Franklin's take home pay, proving that sometimes it really is all in a name in this league.
The UFC has made it known in the past that they are a private company, and they don't have to disclose much because of it. They also don't have to embrace the concept of fairness in fighter pay and further don't have to worry about a fighters' union. They make their own rules in many respects, and they don't care much if people choose to criticize them for it as long as the profits keep coming in. Still, it's plainly obvious that the fighter pay structure needs work, and with 2011 and the WEC merger just around the corner, the time to rework that system and figure things out is now.
Iiiiiit's time.... for the billionaire Fertitta brothers and "The Gambler" Dana White (who sometimes bets more per hand in card games than he pays his fighters for 15-25 minutes of cage fighting) to put the emphasis on paying a more respectable wage to the people who truly got them where they are today with this league. These fighters have literally shed blood for the guys pocketing (and often squandering) all the profits for themselves, and it's time to share the wealth with the true warriors who are really responsible for the rise of the UFC in the first place.