James Krause is not unhappy in the UFC. This is where he wants to be and he freely admits that he has made more in the organization than he ever has in his life.
But Krause, like many of his peers, has concerns about compensation and financial stability -- which is why he now owns two gyms, a Metro PCS franchise and his very own MMA promotion in the Kansas City area.
Krause is setting himself up for the future, because, well, he doesn't exactly know when that future is going to begin.
"The window that we as professional athletes have, especially at the high level and especially in the UFC, is very small," Krause told MMAFighting.com. "Hell, for all I know, this could be my last fight in the UFC. You don't know that. You never know. So you have to be prepared for everything. In the NFL, you have contracts and stuff like that. In the UFC, our contracts don't mean sh*t. For us, anyway. For them, they do. There's no security behind it."
Krause meets Valmir Lazaro on the Fight Pass prelims of UFC 184 on Saturday in Los Angeles. The exciting 155-pounder is 2-2 in the UFC with wins over Jamie Varner and Sam Stout and losses to top-tier lightweights Bobby Green and Jorge Masvidal.
Krause, 28, fully understands the money that can be made in the UFC. He took home $100,000 in bonus money after the Stout fight at UFC 161 in 2013 by winning Fight of the Night and Submission of the Night honors. Still, he admits that MMA can give and take away very quickly and it's not always consistent.
Like the UFC's Reebok deal for example. Krause does not know much he'll be making from the uniform partnership when it begins in July, but he does know that he's already lost $20,000 in sponsorship money. In-cage sponsors bailed on him knowing Reebok would force them out sometime in 2015.
Even when the Reebok contract starts, fighters will not get paid monthly like they would from some sponsors. This money will only get distributed after fights. Krause is uneasy about this, especially with a daughter on the way.
"You just never know what's gonna happen," he said. "What if I break my leg and can't fight for a year? I have no money to raise her. I have to create monthly, recurring income. It seems if your only job is the UFC, especially now after the Reebok deal, it just seems impossible to get that. Maybe not impossible -- very, very difficult."
Krause (21-6) doesn't want to throw the UFC and Reebok completely under the bus, because he doesn't know yet. Maybe he will get $20,000 per year back, but he doesn't think so. The pay distribution will be determined by fighters' rankings and Krause is not currently ranked in the lightweight division.
"I definitely don't want to act like I'm underpaid, because I've never made this much money in my life," Krause said. "So, I'm not trying to bitch and complain about pay. However, I am trying to bitch and complain. I don't know the answer."
Three former UFC fighters, Cung Le, Jon Fitch and Nate Quarry, are named as plaintiffs in an antitrust lawsuit against the UFC filed in December. One of the claims made in the suit is that fighters are underpaid by the UFC, because they have no leverage to go elsewhere since every other MMA organization is a "minor league" and can't afford to pay top dollar.
Krause isn't so sure about that. He thinks Bellator MMA is on the rise. In Krause's mind, he and his peers are disenfranchised with pay because of the riches pro athletes in other sports get.
"I think that's what we're all upset about," Krause said. "It's tough for me to watch a field-goal kicker that sits on the bench the entire game, maybe not even a first-string kicker, make the league minimum of what, [$420,000] a year? He gets paid that no matter what. If I get hurt, if I break my hand and I can't fight in six or eight months, I don't get paid."
Krause doesn't think a fighters union will happen any time soon, but believes if the highest-profile names in the UFC come together to rebel, things would change. Not that they would have any incentive to do that.
"If you put Jon Jones, Anderson Silva, Conor McGregor, Ronda Rousey, if those four said, 'Look, we're done,' I think it would change," Krause said. "But the UFC takes so good care of that tier, why would they ever say anything? They take care of their stars, for sure. Those guys aren't hurting for money at all."
Krause is not completely, either. But much of that has to do with how he's invested what he has earned -- in businesses that are doing well. Not all of his fellow fighters are doing the same thing.
"I'll be damned if I get cut one day, and I'm just sitting there with empty hands saying, 'What's next?'" Krause said. "That doesn't make sense to me. I don't want to be a guy that's 35 years old, fighting to keep my life going."