Ariel Helwani discussing fighter pay in the UFC Photo Credit: The MMA Hour on YouTube

A discussion surrounding mixed martial arts as a whole and particularly the UFC has been fighter pay, and whether or not the promotion is fairly compensating fighters for putting their bodies on the line for fans’ enjoyment. And after another successful event for the promotion, the topic was yet again brought up on The MMA Hour, hosted by Ariel Helwani.

UFC 299 in Miami, Florida this past weekend was an overall success for the promotion, with a sold-out arena at the Kaseya Center and a gate of  $14.14 million. That was the fourth-highest in the history of the company.

Helwani received a fan question on his show, which he then promptly read out live regarding the issue of fighter pay.

“Hi Ariel, the UFC 299 in-person experience was really incredible,” read Helwani. “It was certainly the best combat sports event I have ever attended. However, when I look at the numbers it is mind-blowing that fighters aren’t getting paid more. With a $14 million-plus gate, $40 million in pay-per-view revenue, $8 million in rights fees from ESPN per event, $50 million in sponsorship, $77 million in above revenue.

“I’m no business savant, but who is advising some of these fighters? Why are there not people in their corners begging for them to sign with other organizations or negotiate better contracts? How have they not gone on strike yet or unionized?”

The fan also went on to give a rough estimate of what he believed to be fair pay for the fighters on the card, which entailed $250,000 for fighters on the preliminary card on the low end, and $5 million for fighters in the main event.

This proposed pay structure would still only result in fighters receiving a total of 27.3 percent of the total revenue going to the fighters, still far lower than most professional sports.

The fan question then prompted Helwani to go on a detailed rant about why the UFC doesn’t feel the need to pay fighters fairly, simply because they are the biggest fight promotion in the world.

“Well, they are the biggest and best promotion out there,” said Helwani. “It’s easy to say why don’t they go elsewhere, why don’t they negotiate? This is the thing that people miss when they say that we’re negative and we’re critical of the UFC. The UFC is on fire, everything is up.

“Their rights fees are going up, their sponsorship is up, their pay-per-view numbers are up, their gates are up. The only thing that isn’t collectively up is fighter pay. Does that not strike you as being a little bit off? The rising tide should lift all boats.

“50 percent of revenue in the NBA goes to the players. That means if everything is going up, it is still 50 percent. That’s based on collective bargaining. Not just in the NBA, the NFL, NHL, and MLB. While the top dogs are getting paid more than they were six or seven years ago, it is still relatively the same. Unless there is some collective voice, there is no reason to change.

” I love Mixed Martial Arts, I love the UFC. If there wasn’t a UFC, I wouldn’t have fallen in love with it. I wouldn’t have done a radio show in 2001. I wouldn’t still be doing this 23 years later. There is nothing like what we saw on Saturday. But I would love to see these fighters just get paid what they are worth.”

It is of course worth noting that the UFC is still relatively new as a sport in comparison to the rest of the major professional sports in the United States. Some day we may find some fighters step up and successfully form a fighter’s union so they can one day receive what they are truly worth.

Helwani giving this topic a platform certainly helps raise attention to the matter. But it seems safe to say that as long as the UFC can continue to only pay their top stars accordingly, they will absolutely do so.

[Jed I. Goodman on Twitter/X]

About Reice Shipley

Reice Shipley is a staff writer for Comeback Media that graduated from Ithaca College with a degree in Sports Media. He previously worked at Barrett Sports Media and is a fan of all things Syracuse sports.