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Thursday, May 05, 2005
Mixed Martial Arts--- Fighter Salaries for UFC 52 and UFC Ultimate Finale
by Ivan Trembow
Originally Published on MMAWeekly

The UFC held two events in a seven-day span from April 9th to April 16th, and paid out nearly $900,000 to fighters for the two events. In general, pay was up slightly across the board and there was less disparity between the top of the pay scale and the bottom. More fighters than ever made five-figure salaries, and that doesn't even count the three winners of "The Ultimate Fighter" and their new six-figure contracts.

The following is a full listing of the salaries for the two events, followed by my analysis of the salaries.

UFC Ultimate Finale Fighter Salaries

-Ken Shamrock: $230,000 ($230,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $0)

-Rich Franklin: $14,000 ($7,000 for fighting; $7,000 win bonus)

-Forrest Griffin: $10,000 ($5,000 for fighting; $5,000 win bonus)

-Diego Sanchez: $10,000 ($5,000 for fighting; $5,000 win bonus)

-Nate Quarry: $10,000 ($5,000 for fighting; $5,000 win bonus)

-Josh Koscheck: $10,000 ($5,000 for fighting; $5,000 win bonus)

-Chris Leben: $10,000 ($5,000 for fighting; $5,000 win bonus)

-Mike Swick: $10,000 ($5,000 for fighting; $5,000 win bonus)

-Sam Hoger: $10,000 ($5,000 for fighting; $5,000 win bonus)

-Alex Karalexis: $10,000 ($5,000 for fighting; $5,000 win bonus)

-Stephan Bonnar: $5,000 ($5,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $5,000)

-Kenny Florian: $5,000 ($5,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $5,000)

-Lodune Sincaid: $5,000 ($5,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $5,000)

-Alex Schoenauer: $5,000 ($5,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $5,000)

-Josh Rafferty: $5,000 ($5,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $5,000)

-Bobby Southworth: $5,000 ($5,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $5,000)

-Chris Sanford: $5,000 ($5,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $5,000)

-Jason Thacker: $5,000 ($5,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $5,000)

Total Fighter Payroll: $364,000

My Commentary & Analysis:

-Ken Shamrock's paycheck of $230,000 was the single biggest paycheck in UFC history, narrowly beating out the $225,000 paycheck that Randy Couture received for his fight at UFC 49. There's no doubt that Shamrock deserves to be in the top tier of the UFC pay scale, given that he is one of the top three most recognizable names and biggest draws in the UFC (along with Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell).

As for why Shamrock's pay was increased from the amount of $170,000 that he received for beating Kimo at UFC 48 to the new amount of $230,000, it likely had something to do with his fight being on free television instead of pay-per-view. A very select few UFC fighters have it built into their contracts that they get a certain amount of bonus money if they main-event a pay-per-view that surpasses a certain number of PPV buys. With Shamrock's fight being on free television, that eliminated the possibility of a PPV bonus and thus warranted a pay increase. Unfortunately for Shamrock, losing as decisively as Shamrock lost to Rich Franklin does hurt a fighter's future earnings potential, so it's a safe bet that Shamrock won't be making anywhere near $230,000 for his next UFC fight (assuming he has one).

For anyone who looks at the lack of a win bonus as evidence that the Franklin-Shamrock fight must have been worked, you should know that a small or non-existent win bonus is not all that unusual in the UFC and certainly doesn't mean that a fight was worked. Though the norm is for fighters to have the same amount of "win money" as they do "show money" for any particular fight, there are plenty of fighters who have previously fight in the UFC with "win money" that was a fraction of their "show money," or in some cases with no "win money" at all in their contracts. Some of these fighters have included Ken Shamrock in previous fights, Carlos Newton, Kimo, Frank Mir, Pedro Rizzo, Tank Abbott, and Vitor Belfort.

People who want to believe that Shamrock-Franklin was worked are always going to believe it was worked in the face of all logic and evidence. In addition to what I previously wrote on the subject, the Wrestling Observer's Dave Meltzer has also chimed in on the subject. Meltzer is usually the first to know when there are suspicious circumstances surrounding a fight, as he was with Ogawa vs. Leko last year in Pride. When asked if he personally believes or has heard anything to suggest that Shamrock-Franklin was a work, Meltzer wrote on his web site, "Nobody has given me any evidence to suggest it, and there was nothing in the match that makes me believe it."

-If Rich Franklin's salary for the finale of The Ultimate Fighter seems low, it's because Franklin is still honoring his previous UFC contract. The fight with Shamrock was the second fight on a three-fight contract that Franklin signed with the UFC before his fight with Jorge Rivera last October. There is still one more fight on that contract, and Franklin now has an additional five-fight contract that goes into effect after that. In total, Franklin is under contract for six more UFC fights, and in those fights he is definitely going to be making more than $7,000 to fight and $7,000 more to win. Franklin's next fight will be at UFC 53 against UFC Middleweight Champion Evan Tanner, who Franklin previously defeated in his UFC debut back in 2003.

-For all of the other fighters on the April 9th card, the UFC chose to go with a flat-rate contract for all of them. All 16 of the fighters from the reality show were signed to one-fight contracts that paid them $5,000 to fight and $5,000 more to win. For a fighter making his UFC debut, that is significantly more than the normal amount of $2,000 or $3,000 to fight and an additional $2,000 or $3,000 to win. It's likely that this was done as a way of saying "thank you" to the reality show contestants for making the show such a big success, and to make sure that all of them made at least $5,000.

During the filming of the reality show last October and November, fighters were only paid if they won a fight by KO, TKO, or submission, in which case they would be paid $5,000. So, the only fighters that earned money in the filming of the reality show itself were Diego Sanchez ($10,000); Forrest Griffin ($10,000); Stephan Bonnar ($5,000); Kenny Florian ($5,000); and Bobby Southworth ($5,000).

For their participation in the April 9th card, the following fighters were victorious and thus earned $10,000: Forrest Griffin, Diego Sanchez, Nate Quarry, Josh Koscheck, Chris Leben, Mike Swick, Sam Hoger, and Alex Karalexis. The following fighters lost on April 9th and thus earned $5,000: Stephan Bonnar, Kenny Florian, Lodune Sincaid, Alex Schoenauer, Josh Rafferty, Bobby Southworth, Chris Sanford, and Jason Thacker.

As previously detailed on MMAWeekly, each of the three big winners from the reality show (Diego Sanchez, Forrest Griffin, and Stephan Bonnar) have been given UFC contracts that will pay each fighter $350,000 over three years. That's not $350,000 per fight or even $350,000 per year; it's $350,000 spread out over the life-span of the three-year contract. The fights on the season finale of The Ultimate Fighter were in addition to those three-year contracts.

UFC 52 Fighter Salaries

-Randy Couture: $150,000 ($150,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $75,000)

-Chuck Liddell: $140,000 ($70,000 for fighting; $70,000 win bonus)

-Matt Hughes: $110,000 ($55,000 for fighting; $55,000 win bonus)

-Matt Lindland: $20,000 ($10,000 for fighting; $10,000 win bonus)

-Renato "Babalu" Sobral: $20,000 ($10,000 for fighting; $10,000 win bonus)

-Georges St. Pierre: $18,000 ($9,000 for fighting; $9,000 win bonus)

-Frank Trigg: $14,000 ($14,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $14,000)

-Patrick Cote: $10,000 ($10,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $10,000)

-Mike Van Arsdale: $10,000 ($5,000 for fighting; $5,000 win bonus)

-Ivan Salaverry: $8,000 ($4,000 for fighting; $4,000 win bonus)

-Joe Riggs: $4,000 ($4,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $4,000)

-Travis Lutter: $4,000 ($4,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $4,000)

-Joe Doerksen: $4,000 ($2,000 for fighting; $2,000 win bonus)

-Travis Wiuff: $3,000 ($3,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $3,000)

-John Marsh: $2,500 ($2,500 for fighting; win bonus would have been $2,500)

-Jason Miller: $2,000 ($2,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $2,000)

Total Fighter Payroll: $519,500

My Commentary and Analysis:

-This was the second fight on Randy Couture's contract that paid him $150,000 to fight and $75,000 more to win. The difference is that last time Couture won the fight and collected the win bonus, while this time Couture got knocked out for the first time in his MMA career. With the mainstream recognition that Couture gained from The Ultimate Fighter on Spike TV, he will undoubtedly continue to be one of the highest-paid fighters in the UFC. A rubber match with Chuck Liddell to complete the trilogy would appear to be looming in the future for Couture, whose UFC record fell to 10-4 with the loss.

-One of the reasons that Chuck Liddell is so popular with fans is because he's an honest, no-BS kind of guy. He'll fight anybody and he's a man of his word, and the fans know that. Never has this been more evident than in looking at Liddell's contract status. Liddell is one of the highest-paid fighters in the UFC, but would still appear to be under-paid. Randy Couture can now be added to the list of Chuck Liddell's KO victims, and nothing is better at demonstrating what kind of person Liddell is than comparing him to one of his previous KO victims: Tito Ortiz.

When Chuck Liddell was the clear-cut #1 contender for Ortiz' Light-Heavyweight Title back in 2003, Ortiz refused to take the fight unless he got a huge raise. Ortiz was the highest-paid fighter in the UFC at the time in terms of show money plus win money. In addition, Ortiz was only two fights into a six-fight contract that paid him $80,000 for every fight and an additional $80,000 for every win. Nonetheless, Ortiz refused to honor his contract, held out, and ended up strong-arming his way to a new salary of $125,000 for every fight and $50,000 more for every win.

Now, contrast that to Chuck Liddell and how important he clearly thinks it is to be a man of his word and honor his contracts. Under the terms of a multi-fight contract that pays him slightly more with each passing fight, Liddell earned a comparatively small amount of $50,000 to fight and $50,000 more to win at UFC 47, where he knocked out Ortiz. No hold-out. Then, Liddell made $60,000 to fight and $60,000 more to win at UFC 49, where he knocked out Vernon "Tiger" White. Still no hold-out. Most recently, Liddell made $70,000 to fight and $70,000 more to win at UFC 52, where he knocked out Randy Couture.

With a UFC record of 10-2 and the star power that comes from being on a smash hit television show, Chuck Liddell deserves to be getting paid more than his current salary. But unlike Ortiz, Liddell would prefer to be a man of his word and honor his contract, as opposed to holding the company hostage for more money. There's something admirable about that. This only reinforces the fact that Liddell is a straight-forward, stand-up kind of guy, and that's a big part of the reason why the fans like him as much as they do.

-Matt Hughes has had the same UFC contract for a very long time: $55,000 to fight and $55,000 more to win. Hughes is not a PPV draw anywhere near the level of Shamrock, Couture, or Liddell. However, it's hard to argue with paying him such a large amount of money given the fact that his UFC record is an amazing 11-2, and many of those wins have come against some of the top fighters in the sport. With the possible exception of Randy Couture, no one in UFC history has been a more dominant champion over a period of years than Matt Hughes. Paying him anything less than his current salary would be an insult to his standing in the sport, but at the same time, paying him anything more than his current salary might be too much given his lack of proven PPV drawing power. Hughes' across-the-ring slam of Frank Trigg got the biggest pop of the night from the live crowd at UFC 52, and in general the crowd's strong reaction to Hughes at UFC 52 might indicate that mainstream fans are starting to take more of a liking to Hughes.

-If Matt Lindland has an axe to grind with the UFC, it's not just because he's not fighting for the Middleweight Title at UFC 52. Lindland is also being paid arguably less than he's worth, and certainly a lot less than he used to make in the UFC. Lindland's previous UFC salary was $20,000 to fight and $20,000 more to win, but after his KO loss against David Terrell at UFC 49, his pay was cut to the new amount of $10,000 to fight and $10,000 more to win. Lindland has one of the best records in the UFC at 8-3, and he proved at UFC 52 that he is not a one-dimensional fighter when he tapped out a fighter who specializes in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I would expect to see Lindland make more money for his future UFC fights than he made at UFC 52, although it might not be as much as his old salary.

-After getting knocked out by Chuck Liddell at UFC 40, Renato "Babalu" Sobral has spent his time earning himself not only a return to the UFC, but a return to the UFC at a hefty salary. While it might not seem like much, Sobral's salary of $10,000 to fight and $10,000 more to win places him in the top one-third of UFC salaries. Sobral earned that kind of contract by racking up eight consecutive MMA wins after the loss to Liddell, including a one-night tournament in which he defeated Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, Jeremy Horn, and Trevor Prangley. In addition, with Randy Couture not getting any younger and with Tito Ortiz out of the picture entirely, there is a premium on quality light-heavyweights. Sobral fits that bill and has the potential for a strong future in the UFC.

-Georges St. Pierre emerged from UFC 52 not only as one of the UFC's hottest welterweight prospects, but also as one of the highest-paid welterweights. St. Pierre is an example of a policy that pays you more money as you gain more UFC experience and rewards you for taking risky fights. St. Pierre made $3,000 to fight and $3,000 more to win for his UFC debut at UFC 46, where he won. St. Pierre then made $4,000 to fight and $4,000 more to win for his fight at UFC 48, which he also won. Despite the fact that he's only 23 years old and has his whole career ahead of him, St. Pierre then stepped up to the plate and took a very risky fight against the dominant Matt Hughes. St. Pierre lost that fight, but didn't come out of it looking any worse than he did going in, so he was rewarded with a new contract for UFC 52 that paid him $9,000 to fight and $9,000 more to win. St. Pierre is now 3-1 in the UFC and is at the top of a list of young, talented, versatile welterweights in the UFC (a list that also includes Karo Parisyan and Nick Diaz).

-Frank Trigg's contract for UFC 52 called for him to make $14,000 to fight and $14,000 more to win, which places him in the top one-third of UFC salaries. Trigg's UFC career now consists of two impressive wins over Renato Verissimo and Dennis Hallman, and two submission losses to Matt Hughes. It's unusual for a fighter whose UFC record is 2-1 going into a fight to be making as much money as Trigg made at UFC 52, but I would chalk that up to the fact that he's one of the most marketable fighters in the sport. No one is going to deny that Trigg can be very obnoxious at times, but the fact is that he has been in arguably the best fight on the card in each of his first four UFC fights. Also, Trigg is one of the best talkers in the sport in an intelligent, articulate kind of way (like Frank Mir), as opposed to a bush-league, pro wrestling character kind of way (like Phil Baroni).

-Patrick Cote fits the same description as Georges St. Pierre, in that he was contractually rewarded for taking a very tough, risky fight. When Guy Mezger had to pull out of his scheduled fight with Tito Ortiz shortly before UFC 50 last fall, Cote stepped up to take the fight with Ortiz on short notice despite being just 24 years old at the time and relatively inexperienced. Just as with Hughes vs. St. Pierre, Cote lost the fight but didn't come out of it looking any worse than he looked going in. As a result, he was rewarded with a new contract for UFC 52 that paid him $10,000 to fight and $10,000 more to win. Now Cote faces the harsh reality of being 0-2 in the UFC. Even though one of those losses was against Tito Ortiz on short notice, and the other was in a fantastic fight that was close all the way through, the fact remains that he's now 0-2 in the UFC. He's going to have to either prove himself once again on smaller shows, or keep fighting in the UFC at a drastically reduced salary. Despite his record, Cote could still have a bright UFC career ahead of him, as evidenced by the fact that Andrei Arlovski lost his first two fights in the Zuffa-era UFC and would later become one of the top heavyweights in the sport.

-Mike Van Arsdale got a slightly higher-than-expected salary of $5,000 to fight and $5,000 more to win at UFC 52, in great part because of the fact that there is a premium on quality heavyweights. Though most new UFC fans have never heard of him, this was not Van Arsdale's UFC debut. Van Arsdale won a fight at UFC 17 way back in 1998, only to be knocked out by Wanderlei Silva in his next fight and leave the sport of MMA for over four years. With his win at UFC 52, Van Arsdale is now 4-0 in his comeback, but there are a few big mitigating factors: A) Only two of those four opponents have winning records in mixed martial arts, B) He has fought infrequently at the rate of about once per year during his comeback, and C) He turns 40 years old in June. On the other hand, Van Arsdale weighed in at 215 pounds for his fight at UFC 52, and it would seemingly be easy for him to cut down to 205 pounds and potentially be a force to be reckoned with in the light-heavyweight division.

-Ivan Salaverry is on a roll, having defeated Tony Fryklund by first-round submission and Joe Riggs by first-round submission in back-to-back UFC fights. Salaverry is now 3-1 in the UFC, with his only loss coming at the hands of Matt Lindland at UFC 39. Salaverry earned a modest salary of $4,000 to fight and $4,000 more to win at UFC 52, but he could see that salary increase drastically with one or two more wins.

-Salaverry's opponent, Joe Riggs, fought for the same salary, as did fellow middleweight Travis Lutter. Both Riggs and Lutter had UFC records of 1-0 coming into this event, and both fighters lost at UFC 52.

-Joe Doerksen lost in his UFC debut at UFC 49 for the entry-level salary of $2,000 to fight and $2,000 more to win, and was given a second chance at UFC 52 for the same salary. Doerksen didn't disappoint, as he was victorious over Patrick Cote in a thrilling bout at UFC 52.

-Travis Wiuff was given a slightly higher than entry-level salary for his fight at UFC 52 because it wasn't actually his UFC debut. Wiuff made his UFC debut back in 2002 in the heavyweight division, losing to Vladimir Matyushenko. Wiuff's UFC 52 contract called for him to make $3,000 to fight and $3,000 more to win. Though light-heavyweights are always in high demand, the UFC may or may not be interested in bringing Wiuff back after a relatively one-sided loss to Renato "Babalu" Sobral in which Sobral was in control for the vast majority of the fight.

-Two fighters made their UFC debuts and lost at UFC 52: John Marsh and Jason Miller. Marsh fought for $2,500 to fight and $2,500 more to win, while Miller's contract called for him to be paid $2,000 to fight and $2,000 more to win. Despite starting out their UFC careers with records of 0-1, both fighters have a decent chance of being brought back in the future, Marsh because he's a heavyweight and Miller because of the huge amount of heart that he showed in his decision loss to Georges St. Pierre.

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