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UFC will use tenure, not rankings, to determine Reebok money distribution

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UFC president Dana White (from left), UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta and Reebok president Matt O'Toole at the UFC-Reebok announcement in January.
UFC president Dana White (from left), UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta and Reebok president Matt O'Toole at the UFC-Reebok announcement in January.
Brad Barket/Getty Images

The UFC has listened to criticism and is making an alteration to its Reebok uniform deal.

Instead of distributing the money based on the UFC's official division rankings, as originally planned, the UFC will now pay fighters from the Reebok endorsement contract via a tiered system based on tenure, UFC senior vice president of public relations Dave Sholler confirmed with MMAFighting.com on Monday.

The Sports Business Journal reported the news in a lengthy article about the UFC's Reebok deal Monday morning. The contract with Reebok goes into effect in July.

The tiers for compensation will be 1-5 fights, 6-10 fights, 11-15 fights, 16-20 fighters and more than 21 fights, the SBJ reported. UFC champions and title challengers will be paid differently -- and more handsomely. The promotion did not disclose exact monetary figures associated with those tiers. Fighters will also be given credit for bouts in WEC and Strikeforce, which were purchased by UFC parent company Zuffa and absorbed into its brand in recent years. However, it will only be for fights during the time period when Zuffa owned those organizations.

According to the SBJ, the UFC made the change from rankings to tenure after discussions with fighters and their managers. There was a concern among those in the know that the rankings, voted on by media members, were not going to be a fair way of distributing the Reebok money.

"I don't like the rankings system at all," veteran MMA manager Malki Kawa, who represents the likes of light heavyweight champion Jon Jonestold MMAFighting.com in January when the Reebok deal was announced. "I thought it was BS from day one. At first they say it matters, then they say it's just for the fans. The rankings, you never really know what's going on with them."

The UFC believes the tenure model is preferable for fighters, because it is an objective number rather than a very subjective ranking. The plan is to notify fighters of the change in the coming weeks. The UFC's contract with Reebok is worth $70 million over six years.

There is still concern over exactly how much fighters will be getting paid through the Reebok deal. Multiple UFC athletes, like Brendan Schaub and James Krause, have said publicly that they are not sure if the Reebok money will be enough to make up for how much they were getting paid from other sponsors.

In the new uniform deal, Reebok and another sponsor, determined by the UFC, will be the only logos a fighter can wear on his or her shorts during a fight. Also, the fighter and his cornermen will only be able to wear Reebok apparel during all UFC-sponsored appearances, including fight week events like media day and weigh-ins.

Krause told MMAFighting.com in February that he has already lost $20,000 on the Reebok deal, because his normal sponsors bailed out knowing they would not be able to have any in-cage placement on his gear after the Reebok deal goes into effect.

There is also worry that fighters will only be paid by Reebok when they fight, like a regular fight purse. Many sponsors sent UFC competitors a check on a monthly basis, even if they were out of action.

"You just never know what's gonna happen," Krause 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."

Authentic Sports Management CEO Glenn Robinson, who runs the Blackzilians camp, told the SBJ that most of the sponsor market has dried up over the last few years. Many other managers have echoed the same sentiment. Part of that is also because the UFC made companies pay a sponsor tax to endorse fighters.

"There was once a real big heyday of sponsorships," Robinson said. "There was a time when companies like Tapout were paying $50,000 to $75,000 per fight, and people were living off that sponsorship money. But those days are gone. That income level of sponsorships is not there anymore. It doesn't exist, and a lot of fighters still count on that money."

Tracey Bleczinski, the UFC's senior vice president of global consumer products, told the SBJ that the UFC has had many conversations with fighters and managers and are taking into account their input. She also said that fighters have not been involved in the design process in terms of aesthetics, though originally the UFC said they would be able to keep some of their individuality. Fighters have been enlisted regarding their performance needs and been involved in testing the products.

The athletes will be able to choose from a variety of styles and color preferences prior to fight week. Mike Lunardelli, Reebok's director of combat training, told the SBJ that fighters' nationalities will be reflected in their gear, too.

"We've had some great discussions, and the fighters and managers have asked some terrific questions," Bleczinski said. "There's been some good debate."