After fighting in his final professional MMA match at last Saturday’s UFC on FX event, retired lightweight competitor John Cholish made it a point to criticize the compensation (or lack thereof) that many UFC fighters receive. Cholish claimed that by the time he paid all of the expenses associated with his fight, he effectively lost several thousand dollars by choosing to compete. As an Ivy Leaguer with a good non-UFC career to fall back on, Cholish decided the juice wasn’t worth the squeeze and it was time to step away from the sport he loved.
UFC President Dana White scoffed at the criticism via Twitter, remarking that “washouts are never happy”. But the UFC’s ambivalence toward the issue of fighter pay might be to its own detriment. As any good capitalist knows, it’s often the case that pigs eat and hogs go to slaughter; in other words, lightening your pockets a bit to benefit others can pay off handsomely in the long run. Bearing that in mind, let’s look at a few reasons why the UFC should take heed to Cholish’s words and spend a little more on the folks at the bottom end of the pay scale.
1) It would let the fighters focus more on fighting. Many fighters are strapped for cash and have to work a second job in order to make ends meet. This takes time away from training, rest, interacting with fans, and other activities that help the fighter perform and promote the UFC brand. This means higher pay is a good investment in human capital. Fighters who don’t have to worry over their finances can afford to go through full, stress-free training camps that will undoubtedly help them fight better when it’s time to step into the Octagon.
2) It would help the organization build goodwill. The UFC fan base has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years, but the core MMA community is still a surprisingly small place. Long-time, hardcore fans of the sport are the ones who bring friends to live UFC events, throw UFC viewing parties, and otherwise generate a lot of the buzz that brings in new business. Many hardcore fans care about the fighters on a personal level, which means fighter pay is an important issue for them. Taking better care of the lower-level fighters gives the hardcore fans a greater incentive to continue selling the UFC, which ultimately helps the company bottom line.
3) Paying so little is unbecoming of a major professional sport. With some fighters making as little as $4,000 per fight, the UFC looks petty, small-time, and even exploitative. Imagine if the NFL or one of the other “big four” sports tried to get away with paying so little; it would be castigated and ridiculed by the media. And since combat sports are already considered low brow by many in the mainstream, scrutiny could be especially harsh. But paying fighters more is a way to communicate status and make the UFC a brand that the media respects and coveted blue-chip sponsors want to associate with.
Stay tuned to MMAFrenzy.com for more discussion around fighter pay and other controversial issues in the world of MMA.