by Christina Thomas
The fighters in the Ultimate Fighting Championships are generally considered to be underpaid – at least when compared to most other sports. Even on Fight Night, a respected journeyman like Jamie Varner pulls in just over $10,000 to show up and fight (for reference, that’s the fine for 5 technical fouls in the National Basketball Association; or the amount of money the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant makes for 2 minutes of play on game day).
Of course, Varner’s salary doesn’t come anywhere close to what the elite, popular UFC fighters make; for example, former Heavyweight Champion Junior dos Santos took home almost half-a-million for the beat-down Cain Velasquez handed him at UFC 155. For the record, Cain took home just half that – despite being the resounding victor – and needed the grace of the $100,000 win bonus just to get there. Dan Henderson pulled in $250,000 for his near-miss against Lyoto “the Dragon” Machida last weekend on the historic Rousey vs. Carmouche card, and the Rowdy Judo Master herself took home a cool $90,000.
Granted; these numbers don’t account for sponsorships, but according to many fighters – think Nick Diaz, Tito and Rampage most recently – they don’t make nearly enough money for what they do once you account for managers, training partners, limited sponsorship opportunities because of UFC policies, etc. Anderson silva and GSP are probably the only two fighters (and Liddell and Hughes before that) whose pockets are padded agreeably-well enough to remain silent. Brock Lesnar was richer than half-the-UFC from his WWE years, so he doesn’t count. The real question that faces us, whether you believe they are underpaid or not, is will this business model be supportable if a superfight like Silva-GSP ever happens?
Silva stated – after some prodding from Dana White – at the press conference after his spectacular UFC 153 win against Stephan Bonnar, that “he doesn’t fight for money.” White seemed convinced that he would be able to bring all parties concerned to the table and hash out the details of a fight that could very well surpass the PPV and gate-numbers of a prime Chuck Liddell. Since then, Anderson Silva seems to have definitely warmed up to the fight, although Rush St. Pierre has appeared more reluctant because of the difficulty he would have in making it up to Middleweight (GSP may have a point here: he looked heavily-muscled in the Condit bout at UFC 154 and still weighed in at just 170 lb., and a speed disadvantage against the Spider would bear an unmistakable resemblance to a nail in a coffin.).
Given that GSP makes about $15 million yearly as a direct result of his fighting skills and the sponsors they attract, it isn’t so crazy to think he would (should?) want substantially more than that for a fight with the best fighter that has ever lived (arguably). A loss almost certainly means his overall purses dwindle from that date forward – not even assuming he sustains a career-delimiting injury. In fact, MMA journalist Mike Straka has reported that Rush would be seeking $50 million (Mayweather money!) for the superfight. This amount of cash makes sense no matter how you slice it: if he loses, then that’s 3-4 years of salary to compensate for his dwindling purses; if he wins, then there won’t be a payday like that coming his way ever again, and he has stated that he might even retire after besting a fighter like Silva since there wouldn’t be any challenges left.
Regardless of the reasoning, if the UFC ever passes a mark like that for a fight, it is inevitable that it would become the norm. If Silva was to beat GSP, then the insatiable public would be clamoring for a Silva-Jones match; and of course, there’s no way that Jones would take much less money than Rush got. Every major fight from there on out would be anticlimactic unless it featured something similar; even fighters that stated in the past that they wouldn’t fight teammates, would suddenly be chomping at the bit. We never got to see a Wanderlei Silva/Mauricio Rua bout because of such understandable loyalties; but in the days following a $50 million paycheck, you can bet the house we’d see plenty of those. Even Cyborg would quickly change her tune and make 135 lbs. faster than you could say “weight” if there was a pot of gold at the end, instead of the current pot of silver. Dana White would see the gap between his $150 million fortune and his fighters’ quickly dwindle – even if ticket prices rose.
So, while we all want to see these superfights almost as badly as the UFC wants to make them, it might be worth it to consider the changes to the business model. No matter who was to win a Silva-GSP bout, things would probably never be the same again for the UFC.
What are your thoughts?