Dennis Bermudez doesn’t have to worry about the rigors of being a pro MMA fighter anymore, but he’s still interested in seeing the sport evolve.
Bermudez was on a four-fight losing streak prior to his retirement bout, with the last three coming by way of split decision, a UFC record. Those frustrating setbacks had Bermudez thinking about how the scoring system could be changed and he suggested that having seven judges instead of three would lead to less controversial decisions. He also would like to see the introduction of flat fees as opposed to the show-and-win pay structure that exists for the majority of fighters.
Any concern that higher guaranteed salaries would cause fighters to become less motivated to win is ridiculous to Bermudez.
“The thing is if I was going in there — let’s say I was getting $100,000 a fight — if I was going in there like, ‘Alright, I’ll just fall down in the first round,’ I’m not going to stick around in your company for very long,” Bermudez said. “No fighter thinks that way, especially if they put in the proper training and anything like that.
“I’m going in there every time to try and win. I’m going in there to give it my all. And if there are guys that are willing to go in there and take a fall, they won’t last long in the company and they’ll get booted.”
In his 17-fight UFC career, Bermudez developed a reputation as a high-octane fighter, most memorably displaying that attitude in a classic February 2013 brawl with Matt Grice. The Ultimate Fighter featherweight finalist went on to win 10 UFC fights, including a split nod over Max Holloway, and picked up five fight night awards that totaled $250,000 in bonus money.
Bermudez doesn’t have too many complaints about his pay overall, but admitted that life became a lot more difficult when the wins and the bonus checks stopped rolling in. That played factor in him contemplating retirement for a good part of the last 18 months.
“That was another reason about retiring, because it doesn’t pay to lose,” Bermudez said. “For example, the Saints just lost the other day and they’re not going to become champions in the NFL, but they’re going to go home and live a very, very comfortable life. In that four-fight losing streak, I was fighting paycheck to paycheck. So even though to the average person, making 50 grand to show up, like, ‘Whoa, that’s a lot of money, I only make that in a year.’ Yeah, but now I have to pay taxes on that. I have to pay my manager. I have to pay my trainers. The diet that you have to eat is way more expensive than Hot Pockets and stuff like that. Eating very clean and the supplements and stuff like that. So 50 grand after all that is said and done is like, 25 grand or something like that? Maybe less?
“And then living on Long Island is expensive. I have two boys, I have a mortgage on a house, and so I was living fight to fight on a four-fight losing streak there.”
What Bermudez isn’t interested in doing is slagging the promotion that he’s called home since 2011. He described his relation with the UFC as “amazing” and had nothing but positive things to say about how his career was handled.
“I’m honored to have worked with the highest echelon of MMA,” Bermudez said. “Everybody behind the scenes was very nice to me and I’ve always been a yes man to the company.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to not have to have a real job, if you will, and just focus on training. I don’t have a huge house, but I own a house. I don’t have a very expensive car, but I have these things, I’ve been able to put food on the table for myself and my kids and not really have to stress about bills. So it could have been worse if I was working a toll booth or something like that.”
On the topic of unionization, Bermudez didn’t fully commit to the idea, though he agreed that it would have been nice to make more money especially during the stretch where he emerged as a top-10 contender on a seven-fight win streak.
However, given MMA’s relatively low profile compared to major league team sports, he understands why fighter compensation is where it is at the moment.
“The sport is still very young compared to the NBA and the NFL,” Bermudez said. “I’m like, ‘If I was younger and started later maybe I would get these big dollars.’ And then on the other end of the spectrum, if I’d started MMA earlier and I was older, I would have known more and been able to crush those guys that are the pioneers and that are these big stars now. I’m in that middle where I’m just a tough guy.”