Ivan's Blog

Featuring Ivan Trembow's Self-Important, Random Rants on Mixed Martial Arts, Video Games, Pro Wrestling, Television, Politics, Sports, and High-Quality Wool Socks

Sunday, December 04, 2005
Mixed Martial Arts--- I have gotten a lot of e-mail, and there have been a lot of message board posts, about my UFC salary article from earlier this week, so I wanted to respond to many of the points that have been made.

As discusssed in the article, it's true that the UFC hasn't always been profitable, and it's true that the fighters are able to make more money via sponsorships than they could in the past, though not as much as they could before the new sponsorship restrictions were put in place. I have also done several stories in the past on smaller MMA promotions in the United States vs. the UFC in terms of fighter salaries, and there's no doubt that for most (but not all) fighters, the UFC pays more.

The people who responded by saying that Zuffa CAN pay these fighters such low salaries (because of a complete lack of comparable competition in the United States) are correct, but does that make it right? Does that make it right to pay someone $2,000 to step into the Octagon and put their body on the line when you could easily afford to pay them a heck of a lot more than $2,000?

At what point does the pay situation cross the line from being "smart business" on Zuffa's part, to being a situation where Zuffa is raking in huge amounts of money and largely choosing to keep it in their own pockets instead of giving a larger percentage of it back to the fighters who make the sport possible? Though it may be unpopular to say, there is no sport without the fighters.

This is not a perfectly comparable story but is the same principle: Jerry Jarrett used to say for years in Memphis that if wrestlers were willing to work for $20 per show, if they would not get up and walk out of his pro wrestling promotion, if he could "get away with" paying them $20 per show, then he would pay them $20 per show. And that's what many wrestlers were paid, even though many of them had to travel long distances to get there, and even though many of them couldn't feed their families. Jerry Jarrett made a hefty profit in the old Memphis territory as a result... did that make it right? (Also consider that the aforementioned wrestlers had a hell of a lot more choices of where to take their services than UFC fighters do right now.) UFC fighters today don't live under the kind of poverty that I'm describing, but that's because at least half of them have other jobs.

If you don't want to look at it from the moral standpoint of Zuffa not paying the fighters who put their bodies on the line a decent wage, just because they can "get away with it," how about looking at it from a pure business standpoint? If any other company's revenues shot up as dramatically as the UFC's revenue has in the past year, do you think that over time its employees would A) Make more money, B) Make the same exact amount of money, or C) Actually make slightly less money? In the case of the past few UFC events, as documented in the article, the answer in this case is actually B and C.

It's actually a more drastic case with the UFC than the aforementioned scenario, because we're not just talking about pre-existing revenue streams that have shot up dramatically. Sure, they have much more revenue in live attendance, pay-per-view, DVD sales, and other revenue streams that existed a year ago (including a huge new DVD distribution deal)... but large "programming rights fees" from Spike TV simply did not exist as a revenue stream in 2004. Neither did "half of the advertising revenue from the commercials on two different successful weekly TV shows."

If you want to argue that "Zuffa needs a little bit of time to recoup its previous losses," then I would respond with two things:

A) We spent early 2005 and mid-2005 taking the "wait-and-see approach" to see if maybe the average salaries would go up gradually over time, and they haven't. Zuffa has now had a full year; the time for waiting is over.

B) Zuffa's principal owners are billionaires who would certainly not be put into the poor house by immediately starting to pay the fighters decent wages, now that they know they have skyrocketing revenues coming in. If anyone is going to cry poverty for the UFC while it pays fighters peanuts, that would be no more valid than WWE crying poverty when it comes time to renew a wrestler's contract at the same time that Vince McMahon makes $47 million per year just from his stock dividends alone. (Actually, the main difference would be that the net worth of the Fertitta family is a heck of a lot more than the net worth of the McMahon family.)

I also want to make it clear that I'm not arguing with the people who say that the fighters' only other option if Pride won't sign them is to work on smaller shows that would in most cases (but not all cases) pay them smaller salaries. But if there's anyone who doesn't want to look at this from a moral standpoint and doesn't want to look at this from a business standpoint, how about an image standpoint?

The UFC often calls itself "The Super Bowl of Mixed Martial Arts" during its PPV broadcasts. So, what kind of image do you think it gives the sport of MMA if a mainstream media reporter is covering the "Super Bowl of MMA" and sees, for example, Terry Martin get brutally knocked out and stretchered to the back, and then someone tells him, "Oh, by the way, that guy only made $2,000 for that fight"?

Even for the fighters who win their fights and don't get knocked out or injured, what does it say if the "Super Bowl of MMA" has a big TV event going head-to-head with WWE Raw for the first time ever on October 3rd, and nine of the fourteen fighters on the card were fighting for either $3,000/$3,000 or $2,000/$2,000? To someone on the outside looking in who doesn't know anything about the sport, it would say to them that even the supposed apex of the sport is still bush-league, and that's certainly not the image that the UFC should be giving off to the increasingly interested mainstream media.

The UFC can't have it both ways if they want to be upfront about it. They can't call themselves the "Super Bowl of MMA" with a straight face, while at the same time paying fighters the ridiculously small salaries that are documented in my most recent article and previous articles that I've written. Whether you want to look at it from a moral standpoint, a purely business standpoint, or an image standpoint, it just doesn't add up.

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