Does professional mixed martial arts have a salary problem? And if so is the flawed model of professional boxing the way to help cure what ails a sport that despite its rise in popularity sees fighters overall taking home a lot less than what their organization is worth. When the UFC is worth one billion dollars is it fair for fighters who make such worth and revenue streams possible to get the short end of the stick?
Will we ever see a prominent UFC fighter ink the kind of deal similar to Floyd Mayweather? One solely focused on the fighter and the network as oppose to the organization, the fighter, and the network. More over, if you look at boxing often times the fighter will have individual deals with cable networks despite any promotional ties. One example being Abner Mares who is the current WBC Featherweight champion and former IBF Bantamweight and WBC Super Bantamweight champion of the world. Mares was signed to Showtime and competed in their Bantamweight tourney at a time when his promoter, Golden Boy had an exclusive relationship with Showtime's rival HBO. That didn't keep Mares from winning the tournament, which he did, and it didn't create an environment where Mares couldn't capitalize on the exposure and financial benefit of being a headlining young star on the network in which his promoter was not exclusively linked at the time.
Eventually Mares moved on to HBO when his contract with Showtime expired only to end up going back to Showtime when HBO announced they would be severing ties with Golden Boy indefinitely.
Andre Ward's career was built on Showtime like Mares's. He was a featured young prospect on Showbox, and he became the breakout fighter of the year during the Super Six Boxing Classic as he went on to dominate his competition and capture the trophy along with Carl Froch's WBC Super Middleweight belt to add to his WBA and The Ring Super Middleweight titles.
Ward, like Mares eventually moved to HBO when he signed to defend his 168 crown against now former Lineal and Undisputed Light Heavyweight champ (WBC, The Ring) Chad Dawson back in September of 2012. After his comprehensive victory over Dawson, Ward become the official "Golden Boy" for HBO. Not only does he receive a purse but with his contract HBO likely pays him 1-3 million dollars for his services as a fighter; not to mention he has a regular gig as a solid commentator.
Here's my point in throwing out these examples: Why can't UFC fighters or mma fighters in general, but mainly UFC fighters establish for themselves the kind of deals boxers have in place? This by no means suggests boxing has the most perfect system when it comes to fighter pay; Iran Barkley once received a mere 200 bucks for a fight, though at that time the former Middleweight, Super Middleweight, and Light Heavyweight champ and only man to defeat Tommy Hearns twice, was at the declining stages of his underrated career.
Though not perfect, perhaps boxing has the most effective model when it comes to fighters and their financial earnings because of this one key component: Independence
There's no question boxers enjoy a lot more independence than mma fighters. Boxers essentially control what they earn, how they increase their profile, how they go about getting big fights, and ultimately how they can maximize what they've earned to a point in their career. Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones are famous for basically cutting out the middlemen in order to make sure they kept all the money they felt they deserved to keep.
In boxing you might have two fighters. One is the star and the other, though good, might not be as attractive in terms of drawing power. However examples over the years show us that fighters who lack star power can put themselves in a position to earn 3-10 million dollars a fight.
Look at a guy like Timothy Bradley Jr., former Light Welterweight champion and current WBO Welterweight champion. Timothy Bradley Jr. may not be biggest star in boxing but his skills and his WBO belt prove positive for him because he's earning 3-6 million a fight. Now it doesn't hurt to have Top Rank backing you, which helps explain my point on independence. Timothy Bradley Jr. and others before and after him have left their promoters for greener pastures. Devon Alexander left Don King for Golden Boy, his salary likely increased as a result. Bradley himself left Gary Shaw for Top Rank and he was rewarded with a Manny Pacquiao fight and over 5 million dollars.
Why can't UFC fighters have the option of going elsewhere for more money? Why is it: The UFC or something far less than that? The UFC has created an environment where most of the fighters who leave either do so because they were fired after one loss or they're damaged goods and need a second life in Bellator or the WSOF.
Compare Bradley who got 5 million for the Pacquiao fight to the Korean Zombie who reportedly was offered 40K to fight Jose Aldo. Now, I would assume KZ is a lot more popular in the UFC than Bradley is in boxing, and that the UFC is a lot bigger financially than Top Rank; thus has more money to offer.
It doesn't add up, it's like the UFC wants to be the lone organization on the planet as far as professional mma is concerned, yet they refused to pay their fighters the type of purse that would reflect the growth of the company.
Let these fighters get paid, let them sign Mayweather type deals independent of the organization they work for. Let them make money off endorsements without the Zuffa cutting in as a middleman who tries to make money off fighters' endorsement deals which are suppose to be separate from the organization.
Let Jon Jones and George St. Pierre sign a deal with Fox instead of the UFC signing a deal. Let the fighters dictate the terms of their contracts in a meaningful way that actually gives them the power to control their careers. Of course all of that would depend on the UFC eliminating their "We don't co-promote" policy. If the UFC co-promoted with other organizations then the landscape would change for the fighter in a positive way. The financial stakes for a unification bout for example between Jon Jones the UFC champ at 205 and Bellator's 205 champ would increase so that both parties, meaning the fighters would walk away with a lot more money.
That's all apart of negotiating terms in boxing. I understand it tends to kill a lot of super fights like Mayweather-Pacquiao, Sergio Martinez-Miguel Cotto, Sergio Martinez-Canelo Alvarez, and a host of others but when Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao can't agree on how to split 100 million dollars between each other I see that as a good thing. It means both fighters want to get paid and just won't accept what's put in front of them.
When mma fighters start rejecting 50/50 splits of 70 million dollars or a fighter in mma turns down a 13 million dollar payday because he feels he's worth 25 million plus PPV, that's a day we should welcome and quite frankly hope for.
When Tony Thompson got more in two losing efforts against Wladimir Klitshko than most UFC heavyweights probably got challenging for the title, you know something's wrong.