Sara McMann headlined a UFC pay-per-view, competed for a world title and won a silver medal as a wrestling Olympian. She's one of the most well-known women's fighters in the world.
Yet, the next time McMann steps into the Octagon she'll only be paid $2,500 by Reebok, the UFC's new uniform partner.
McMann is one of the unluckiest ones -- a popular, ranked fighter who has five fights or less under the Zuffa banner. She'll be slotted into the first tier of the UFC-Reebok payment structure based on tenure.
Under the terms of the deal, fighters will not be able to wear any of their own sponsors in the cage, during fight week or any other event hosted by the UFC beginning July 7. So, the only money McMann will make from in-cage sponsorship the next time she fights will be that $2,500, a figure, her manager Monte Cox said, is half of what she used to be paid for just one patch on her shorts.
"There are people who are getting that to fight in Legacy and other smaller events," Cox told MMAFighting.com.
When the Reebok pay structure was announced last week, there was immediate concern from fighters on social media and none of that has eased up, according to managers contacted by MMAFighting.com in the last few days.
Mike Roberts of MMA Inc., who represents the likes of Anthony Pettis, Urijah Faber and Paige VanZant, said that only "10 to 15 percent" of his fighters will benefit from the UFC's uniform deal with Reebok.
"The other 85 to 90 percent, it's gonna hurt," Roberts said.
Someone like Chad Mendes, an MMA Inc. client, is affected the most. He's a title contender and has headlined in his last two bouts, including a pay-per-view. But unless he's fighting for a title, his next bout will only get him $10,000 from the Reebok deal. Roberts said Mendes made "considerably more money" in the past.
Brendan Schaub, who hosts a popular podcast "Fighter & The Kid," tweeted last week that he usually makes six figures per fight on sponsors. He'll also only make $10,000 now.
I've made six figures in sponsorship in each of my last 6 fights https://t.co/gotToaSDJh— Brendan Schaub (@BrendanSchaub) May 6, 2015
"This Reebok deal is not going away," Roberts said. "It's just not gonna go away. It's gotta be fixed. It's gotta be tweaked, because everybody is not worth the same."
Roberts and his partner Jeff Meyer have organized a meeting of MMA managers in Las Vegas next week before UFC 187 to discuss the business of the sport. The Reebok deal will surely be a hot topic.
After the entry-level rate of $2,500, fighters with six to 10 fights under the Zuffa banner make $5,000. The figure goes up to $10,000 for fighters with 11 to 15 fighters and then $15,000 for 16 to 20 bouts. A fighter with 21 or more fights makes $20,000. Champions get $40,000 and title challengers pull in $30,000. Fighters will also earn a percentage of money from merchandise sold with their name and/or likeness. That percentage will depend on a separate deal they broker with the UFC.
"I don't have anyone on my team that thinks it's a good deal," Cox said. "The only people who like it are the guys who have 20 fights and still aren't title contenders."
Roberts is in a unique position. Pettis and VanZant both have individual Reebok sponsorships apart from the uniform deal, so Roberts is working with Reebok on a daily basis. He knows it is not the apparel company's fault and firmly believes the UFC had the best intentions for fighters when the deal was brokered, but doesn't know if there is a way to do this deal that is completely fair to all parties.
"For years it was, you can get your own sponsors and that was a way for [the UFC] to be able to compensate you less on the purse," Roberts said. "There has to be a way to figure this out."
Sources told MMAFighting.com that discussions have gone on behind the scenes and UFC officials have shown concerns with how the fighters will be affected. Matt Mitrione, a popular heavyweight, expressed his anger last week on Twitter and he has since been contacted by UFC president Dana White, according to his tweet Monday.
It was immediately unclear, though, if any changes will be made. A major sticking point for many managers is the existence of another spot for a logo on a fighter's gear aside from Reebok. That sponsor, though, will be one sold by the UFC and the fighters will not see any of that revenue.
"Everyone wins and is happy if every fighter is allowed three to four sponsors on their shorts and a banner," Hass said. "I truly hope Dana and [UFC CEO] Lorenzo [Fertitta] will approve that into the uniform policy to eliminate all of this uniform talk and then have everyone excited about the change."
Jury tweeted a picture of his Reebok sneakers in the trash two weeks ago, expressing anger about the brand. Jury has since deleted the tweet. White said last week that Jury and Reebok had a separate deal. Hass told MMAFighting.com: "Dana helped mend fences already and we're all good with Reebok. The whole situation was a misunderstanding.
"He's a man of his word and he definitely stepped in and helped out when he didn't need to," Hass said. "I have nothing but respect for who Dana is as a person and how he handles everything behind the scenes. Most don't hear 90 percent of all the great things he does and how genuine he is."
Brian Butler-Au of Sucker Punch Entertainment, who represents the likes of Max Holloway, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Carla Esparza and Felice Herrig, agrees the UFC should allow a few more in-cage fighter sponsors as well as credit former champions in the tier format. Now, though, Butler-Au said the pay structure is a "slap in the face" to Esparza, especially, who was the UFC women's strawweight champion and now is bumped down to $2,500 per fight with the Reebok deal.
"To me that is a huge insult and I can understand the fighters' frustrations," Butler-Au said. "If you are one of the small percent of fighters that manages to stay in the UFC beyond four fights then you would more than likely be able to get at least what the Reebok deal is offering. It's a shame that the fighters that can shine above those levels are being restricted in this program. This is pretty much a socialist sponsorship model. It gives a little security -- not value -- to the fighters that have not made a name for themselves yet, while restricting the fighters that have worked hard to build recognition for themselves."
Butler-Au said the deal is also bad for Holloway, who has earned more than his $10,000 tier his last eight to nine fights in the UFC. Even Jedrzejczyk, the UFC women's strawweight champion, stands to be hurt by the deal, Butler-Au said. If she loses her title after defending it a few times, she'll be bumped down to $2,500 or $5,000 from the $40,000 a champion makes.
"Makes no sense," said Butler-Au, who would also like Ultimate Fighter bouts to be credited to a fighter's record.
Cox's biggest concern is the criteria with which fighters will be compensated. Someone like McMann, he said, shouldn't be making the same as a UFC newcomer. Cox's client Tim Boetsch fights Dan Henderson in the main event of UFC Fight Night 68 on June 6 in New Orleans. If the fight was after July 7 when the Reebok deal goes into effect, Boetsch would only make $10,000 despite his headlining status.
"One of the big plusses for the UFC was the amount of sponsorship money fighters can get," said Cox, who doesn't broker sponsorship deals for his fighters personally. "It was one of the big selling points to try to get in there. Now it's not. I'll have guys in Bellator making more money than the guy I have headlining a UFC event."
Not every manager is against the Reebok pay structure. John Fosco of VFD Marketing, who reps the likes of Travis Browne and Clay Guida, is firmly behind the UFC. He doesn't believe fighters should have ever had the ability to get their own in-cage sponsors, since the fights take place on UFC television and pay-per-view. He calls the UFC allowing it for so long "a gift."
"[Managers] are selling those ratings [to sponsors] and shame on us for f*cking saying, 'Oh my fighter is going to lose money,'" Fosco said. ... "You do not sell your athlete based on who they are, unless they're special. You sell it on ratings. You sell it on the UFC's TV time."
Fosco said athletes like Browne and Guida will not take any financial hit, because he has groomed their sponsors over the last two years to be ready for the Reebok in-cage exclusivity. And any manager or agent who has not done that, Fosco said, is either incompetent or negligent.
"The barrier for entry to become a manager or agent in this space does not exist," Fosco said. "So when you have zero barrier to entry, a lot of the people are viewed as whatever in the industry. They haven't really done sh*t, but talked their way into some young kid's brain who has a fantasy and capitalized by signing him."
To Roberts' point about purses being lower than they could be because UFC fighters could always attain outside in-cage sponsors, Fosco said he believes that the UFC pays its athletes "100 percent" fairly.
"These guys who do not sell tickets and do not get ratings with the crop of talent out there, what the f*ck are they worth?" Fosco said. "They're not owed anything. There's this mentality, 'Oh, I'm owed something.' You're given an opportunity. You want to make money? Go knock the f*ck out of people, because I promise Dana will pay you if you go out there and knock the f*ck out of people."
Nima Safapour is in favor of the idea of a built-in sponsor. His client Gegard Mousasi is currently suing sponsor Fear the Fighter for not paying him money he was promised. Still, he said his fighters will lose money with Reebok.
"It is obvious that there are going to be a significant number that will also be impacted in a material and negative way," Safapour said. "I hope some new, creative solution can be found to mitigate that impact. Even with the sponsorship problems we have faced, the new numbers are a decrease to the averages out there that we have obtained historically."
The UFC instituted a hefty sponsor tax about five years ago that helped dry up the sponsorship market. Maybe the plan was to counteract that with Reebok money. White and Fertitta have promised that the "vast majority" of the funds from Reebok will go toward the fighters, but the numbers don't seem to bear that out, either -- if the reported terms of six years and $70 million are accurate. Neither the UFC nor Reebok have confirmed those figures.
Fosco urges all fighters to complete their contracts and test their value on the open market. He said Browne got a big deal from the UFC to re-sign last year, because Bellator was in hot pursuit. Cox said this sponsorship business might be "the first thing Bellator can claim a win on."
Bellator president Scott Coker told MMAFighting.com's Luke Thomas that he has already taken phone calls from potential UFC castoffs, but won't speak to them unless they become free agents. Roberts said every fighter has to decide whether he or she wants to fight the best in the world or get paid the most possible money. Those two things don't have to be mutually exclusive, but they might be in this instance.
With all the clear discontent, the onus seems to be on the UFC to alter things and make it right -- if something like that is even possible.
"I really believe when this deal started that Dana and Lorenzo had good intentions," Roberts said. "The problem is I don't think there's a way to do it that's gonna be fair for everybody."
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