Mike Tyson is a cautionary tale for athletes everywhere for many reasons, not least of which is the story of his accumulated wealth (an estimated career earnings around $300 million) that was badly mismanaged and nearly left him destitute. Still, if Tyson is sure of anything about today's mixed martial arts fighters - a group of athletes he admires just as much as their sport - is that they're underpaid and MMA won't change until fighters earn more.
"Nothing personal to nobody, they gotta be f---ing millionaires," Tyson angrily insisted to Ariel Helwani Tuesday on The MMA Hour. "They gotta get the f---ing money they deserve. How is [MMA] going to be bigger than boxing if they don't have cash? These guys need to be multi-multimillionaires. They need to have their big f---ing mansions, their big cars and if not, they should be able to take care of their family. They should be able to live without fighting no more."
In Tyson's mind, an admittedly difficult place to navigate, the modern-day warrior in the form of a mixed martial artist still faces the same occupational hazards in terms of health and safety. And if those risks and realities are still part of a fighter's life, why shouldn't they be financially rewarded as a means to offset loss of quality of life?
"They're still getting brain damage," Tyson continued. "They're still getting knocked out. They're still going to the hospital every night, win, lose or draw," he noted. "They know something bad's going to happen eventually. Why can't we live a good life until that happens?"
"I'm just saying ultimate fighting fighters are not getting paid what they deserve," Tyson concluded. He even pointed at UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva as an example of his argument, although the boxing great is likely unaware Silva is one of the sport's most highly-paid athletes to the tune of the figures he suggest Silva deserves. "A guy with his record and his performance with how easy he beats opponents, he should be a multi-multi-millionaire."
It's not that Tyson is arguing a Bentley or mansion is they key to happiness. Rather, it's that access to those prizes as well as long-term financial stability should be available to fighters who sacrifice as much as they do. "That don't mean nothing, but he should have the security," said Tyson. "That's the main thing. He should have the security if he wants to do that."
Tyson sees fighters making blockbuster paydays as a benefit for them personally, but not just for reasons of compensating them for what's owed or sacrified. The former boxing heavyweight champion of the world also maintains extravagant lifestyles, even when they're headed in the wrong direction, are good press for the entire sport. "Even though they f--- their money up with the cars and the strippers, that's headlines," Tyson agued. "That makes them superstars. That makes them legends."
There's a flip side to Tyson's theory and one he readily acknowledges. It's one he believes is a consequence of the paydays he says are absent among today's MMA fighters, namely, the arrival of 'scumbags' with predatory interests.
On the one hand, Tyson wants fighters to earn more and for the world to know about their earnings. On the other, he also believes that will attract the unscrupulous to the sport where they'll leech off fighters and negatively impact their finances or lives.
"They ain't get the scumbags yet," Tyson said. "Let their purses be in the paper like my purses were in the paper and Floyd [Mayweather]'s. Wait until the scumbags get in that sport."
To be sure, Tyson never once personally suggested UFC President Dana White or UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta were those personally responsible for MMA fighters not earning enough. In fact, Tyson and Zuffa brass have a longstanding positive relationship. White later joined Helwani's interview with Tyson on Tuesday and argued UFC keeps fighter pay private to avoid the very scumbags Tyson was alluding to. Tyson seemed to find White's response acceptable.
Nevertheless, he sees a day where huge, publicly-announced paydays in the tens of millions of dollars for MMA are inevitable. And when that moment arrives, the boxing hall of famer believes we may all rue the day.
"Wait until they come out," Tyson warned. "The devil will show up here."