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A Bridge Too Far: Fighter Pay in the UFC

One of the things I love about Pandora Radio is the opportunity to tune in to a comedy channel and listen to some standup comedians on the way home. It gets me laughing and relieves some stress so that by the time I get home, I'm in a good mood and ready to spend my evening with my family. Since I started to listen to that station, I've come to really appreciate the brilliance of Daniel Tosh's show. You may or may not think he's funny, but what I love about his show is that he incrementally pushes the line of what's funny and a joke, getting the audience to laugh at some insanely sexist and racist and crude stuff, then when the audience finally hears something that they just can't get behind he reminds them that earlier in the show the hypothetical rape was funny, so why isn't this particular joke about racial generalizations? It's brilliant in that he shines the light back on the audience and reminds them he's not the bad guy for telling the joke, but maybe we're not as clean as we want to be because we were laughing. Why was that joke a bridge too far?

That's how I feel about this fighter pay debate. If the standard show money for low level fighter is 6k to show and 6K to win, why is 8K or 9K or even 12K a bridge too far? What changes there? We can argue all day and night about contracts and how much the UFC makes and production costs. We could even have a more political argument about how much the UFC "deserves" to keep or "owes" its fighters, but none of those really address the problem. We're dancing around the subject at that point.

I'm more concerned about the visceral rejection of paying fighters more. As fight fans, for all intents and purposes we should be shrugging and going "Eh, fighters want more money" and move on, because it's not a subject that really involves us. Yes we can have an impact if we collectively demand that major fight promotions pay more, but, being real, it's not a subject that we're party to. Yet, across fandom, this is a divisive topic. Why are so many of us so against the idea of an increase in fighter pay? It won't affect the product. [Most likely] it won't increase costs to us. We have no skin in this game.

The people who do have skin, and blood and bones and tears and health, are saying that they'd like to be paid more and, unlike a lot of professions, they have an employer that could realistically increase the baseline pay with negligible effect to their bottom line. To me, it seems like a no-brainer: fighters can focus more on training, instead of hustling for pay, the PR coup would be ridiculous, and brand loyalty would be even more ensconced with fans and fighters and all for a negligible/ fractional increase in base pay. I believe it's been shown across the public and private sector that employees are exponentially more productive when they get paid enough by their one employer to live and take care of their families. When an employee doesn't have to juggle bills due to too low a pay or worry about a second job or worry about health care costs for them and the family, when an employer takes the stand that they will adequately compensate that employee for 100% loyalty and work effort, you get a workforce that wants to do its job and wants to do it well. This is not a new or radical concept.

How exactly did we get here, because I’m not seeing how this lack of empathy does anyone any good. Think about it every time you walk into Wal-Mart or McDonalds or Home Depot and remember that you’re looking at someone who is, most likely, working for minimum wage (or less for restaurant servers), working a split shift that has them working a couple of flex periods during peak hours and inhibits them from finding another job, and/or working just enough hours to not qualify for benefits. I realize this isn’t the same thing as fighting, but we’re still talking about people who are trying to do the best they can with what they have and the moment we start saying "fuck your family, entertain me monkey", maybe we need to re-evaluate our values as a society and as fandom.

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