Light heavyweight champion Ryan Bader made headlines ahead of last week’s Bellator 180 event when he said he was making “at least three or four times” more in sponsorship earnings for his Bellator debut than he did under the UFC-Reebok deal.
Bader has been long a critic of the Reebok partnership — a deal that saw him earn just $15,000 for his 20th and final UFC fight last November — and Bader flatly dismissed the idea that the sponsorship well has dried up for fighters since Reebok entered the MMA space, reasoning that fighters and managers simply had to work harder to foster long-lasting relationships with worthwhile companies.
But complaints about sponsorships in MMA are nothing new. Whispers about sponsorship money in the sport running low have been heard all the way back to several years ago, when the UFC first imposed its controversial sponsorship tax that charged prospective sponsors $100,000 to team up with a fighter. That tax sent a shockwave through the sponsorship market, taking out a litany of smaller companies that didn’t have the cash to pay the UFC an upfront six-figure fee just to support an athlete.
And according to Bellator president Scott Coker, the strategy is one that Bellator never plans to implement.
“We’re not going to do that,” Coker said Monday on The MMA Hour.
“(When you say the tax hurt smaller companies,) that is the truth. You are speaking the truth right there. That’s gospel right there.”
Coker went on to say that he remained baffled by the situation UFC fighters now find themselves in, with some fighters having given up significant portions of their income due to a UFC-Reebok deal that was neither collectively bargained nor negotiated with the athletes in any way. Coker openly wondered how the partnership isn’t violating labor laws given that UFC fighters are independent contractors.
“Listen, they’re independent contractors. How they’re forced to wear a uniform, to this day, still baffles me,” Coker said. “It should be against the labor laws or something, because you have to wear this sponsor thing? You have to wear this certain uniform when you fight? To me, they’re independent contractors. They should go out and get whatever sponsors they want, and if Ryan Bader or whoever went out and made a million dollars in sponsorship, good for you. We don’t touch any of that.”