A Fighter’s Union: A Case For The Defence
By Jack Rainbow
One of the most contested areas in MMA and the UFC, in general, is fighter pay.
Dana White has had to deny and even shut down other promoters and figures criticising his fighters pay, famously going onto ESPN to ignite a feud with Oscar De La Hoya over the issue.
Fighters on their first contract and Fight-Night prelim UFC fighters can expect a $15 thousand flat fee with a $15 thousand win bonus until they grow in stature and worth for the organization.
When factoring in that on average, healthy fighters only fight twice a year, plus expenses on paying for a camp means this equates to a low overall salary, with fighters having to spend significant chunks of this on camp.
With the worth of the UFC increasing significantly recently especially since the long-term ESPN deal, this is pay the company could afford to raise. John Lineker, until recently one of the top-ranked bantamweights, for instance, has to work in a pet store to make ends meet and there are plenty of others who have to work second jobs.
For a company that sells out venues wherever it goes in the world, to pay to a level which means some of its roster has to work second jobs is a huge problem. It seems hard to justify fighters in the top organization of a hugely popular sport, not being able to fully dedicate themselves due to financial obligations.
That is why it is surprising that there is no fighters union. The NBPA has been around for NBA athletes since 1954 and there has been phenomenal growth in overall player salary since then.
Kobe Bryant who sadly recently passed away, had spoken passionately about the need for the UFC to follow in Basketball players footsteps for years. It seems hard to justify such disappointing levels of pay, especially with the sport being proudly touted as part of the mainstream in the current sporting climate.
But would the UFC allow fighters to unionise? White has shown himself to be hard-line with rebellious fighters in the past and is known to be against the idea in principle.
White famously said:
“There will never be a fighters union. Ever.”
Fighters being discouraged from looking to protect against abuses is undeniably shady, and this attitude from White will have had a significant effect in stopping a union coming together.
What can be done then? Well, perhaps it should be seen as the responsibility of the higher paid and ranked fighters to call out the organization for this.
In early 2018 tennis superstar, Novak Djokovic spoke actively out against organisations within tennis not paying the players what they were worth. This was not for Djokovic’s sake, he has over $100 million in prize money alone, but invaluable stars calling out abuses against athletes at lower levels creates public pressure.
The UFC earns a reported $150 million from the ESPN deal alone. In 2015 the company reported a $500 million yearly profit, and this will be growing year upon year with the companies consolidation in the sporting mainstream.
Paying fighters who risk their lives at the company’s expense an unfair share of this is not justifiable. There is a growing need for the UFC fighters to create a player’s union, so there is a direction in changing this. As at the end of the day, there is no UFC without the fighters, and it is about time there was pressure on the company for this to be recognised.