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Matt Mitrione slams ‘ignorant’ tradition of win bonuses in MMA

Matt Mitrione talked fighter pay and win bonuses in a scrum after Bellator 170.
Matt Mitrione talked fighter pay and win bonuses in a scrum after Bellator 170.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

LOS ANGELES — Win bonuses are so commonplace in mixed martial arts that they’re an afterthought. The practice of having a show purse and doubling it if a fighter wins is just a regular, everyday aspect of the sport.

It shouldn't be, though, according to Matt Mitrione. The Bellator heavyweight is not a fan of win bonuses. He believes fighters should have the security of a flat, determined purse.

“It’s stupid,” Mitrione said Friday during a scrum interview following the Bellator 170 weigh-ins. “A split purse is ignorant. All it is, is a way for promoters to save money and to put a carrot in front of a horse. That’s all it is. Like, if you win you’ll get 24 grand. All that does is make guys fight like bullsh*t or it makes it so you can’t base your financial life. You can’t say, ‘After this fight, I’ll have 24 grand.’”

Mitrione, who fights Fedor Emelianenko in the main event of Bellator 172 on Feb. 18 in San Jose, has been vocal about the need for fighter pay and protections to rise. The former NFL player puts win bonuses in that same category. He said if a fighter getting $12,000 to show and another $12,000 to win loses, he could end up with as little as $4,000 after paying coaches, taxes and other expenses.

“Good job, you got 4,000 bucks,” Mitrione said, sarcastically. “Good for you. And that’s the way it is. You end up like, what the hell do I do? You’re living on a couch with some guy that you don't know that well. You’re living in a gym just to have a shower. … And you’re on the main card. Everybody knows your name now but you ain’t got sh*t for it. Good job, Chuck. That’s the way it goes. It’s a rough gig.”

Mitrione, 38, moved over from the UFC to Bellator in free agency last year. He said in his first eight fights in the UFC, also his first eight as a pro, he made less than a total of $100,000. That’s over a four-year period.

“We’ve been taken advantage of — willingly,” Mitrione said. “Because I don’t think any of us are educated enough on the finer aspects of a business or being an athlete. I think we were taken advantage of for a long time. I think that we were naive about a whole lot and I think that we were so afraid of either being cut or being blackballed or getting really bad fights or whatever.”

Mitrione (11-5) firmly believes that MMA fighters need to unionize. He’s not pleased that three different organizations — the MMAAA, the PFA and the MMAFA — are attempting to organize athletes, saying “egos” are getting in the way of what is best for fighters.

The Ultimate Fighter alum said a friend of his just got signed by another organization to fight against a ranked opponent and his pay is “peanuts” for it. Mitrione said his friend is afraid to ask for more money, because he wants a shot in this promotion and not any kind of retaliation.

“That’s madness,” Mitrione said. “You’re gonna risk never being the same human being again every time you walk in the cage and you’re there for peanuts just to appease these dudes, that hopefully they’re gonna come back and give you some kind of a fair shake? What happens if you beat this guy who’s ranked in the world? They’re gonna give you an easier fight next time for pennies? Hell no.”

If fighters had a union, Mitrione said, something like that wouldn’t happen.

“I think we’re always so afraid of the retribution of that,” Mitrione said. “I think that’s the reason why we need a union. I think the fact that we could have somebody that we can lean on, that can go fight for us when some sideways stuff happens, which it does happen on a regular basis.”

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