An ESPN Outside the Lines story released Sunday attacked the UFC over perceived low fighter pay. The linked piece features an interview with UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta talking about the pay of the fighters. Well, the UFC struck back by releasing part of the interview unreleased by ESPN, in which Fertitta discusses ESPN paying fighters as low as $200 per fight for participating in ESPN’s Friday Night Fights.
Both sides have a valid argument in this case. While it could be argued the UFC isn’t paying fighters a lot of money, there is also the possibility of a “locker room bonus”, that goes unreported to the commission. This bonus is pretty much a “hey, you fought a good fight, here’s an extra ten grand” kind of bonus. The UFC also offers its fighters health insurance, which is unheard of for a fight organization.
In comparison to other organizations, the UFC is spoiling its athletes. Here are the salaries from a Strikeforce Challengers card in June, before the UFC bought the company. The highest base salary was $10,000 going to Ryan Couture, son of UFC legend Randy Couture. Jason High, a veteran of both the UFC and the Japanese fighting circuit, made just $3,000 as his base for his 17th career fight. Compare that to the salaries from UFC 141 in December, where the four fighters who made the low base of $8,000 were still on their first contracts with the organization. The UFC works like any company, in that seniority results in a new contract and a raise. Fighters usually initially sign four fight deals.
I think the more telling aspect is Fertitta’s point about ESPN paying fighters so little for its Friday Night Fights shows. The promoters of the Friday Night Fights cards are the ones who are paying the fighters and not ESPN, but the point stands: if ESPN can afford to buy the rights to air the show, why are the fighters not making more money? That’s more of a question for the promoters than ESPN, but to say that this is just a UFC problem is incredibly short-sighted.
Also entertaining throughout this whole ordeal? The war of words on Twitter between UFC president Dana White and ESPN boxing analyst Dan Rafael. The two went back and forth for about ten tweets apiece, bickering over the pay for fighters on Friday Night Fights cards. White seemed to be arguing the point made in the video by Fertitta, while Rafael towed the company line about licensing the cards and not being in charge of the payouts. White also released a video on Youtube today, going off on ESPN. Who do you side with in this debate – UFC, ESPN, or somewhere in between?