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Dana White responds to Jorge Masvidal, Jon Jones pay complaints: ‘These guys are independent contractors’

UFC President Dana White on Friday brushed off welterweight contender Jorge Masvidal’s sudden outburst over pay as a standard fight business complaint – amped up by the coronavirus pandemic.

After Masvidal blasted the promotion over an alleged pay cut in a title fight against champ Kamaru Usman, White reiterated his current position on those who want the UFC to shell out more money.

“I said it when we were going through the pandemic and the media was asking me, ‘What if the fighters are worried and don’t want to fight?’” White told reporters during a media scrum following the official UFC 250 weigh-ins. “Well, you don’t have to fight. Anybody that doesn’t want to fight, doesn’t have to fight, including Masvidal and Jon Jones and all these other guys, and it doesn’t have to be because of a pandemic.”

Masvidal joined Jones – with whom he shares a management firm – in voicing his unhappiness over compensation. The UFC light heavyweight champ asked to be released after a superfight with Francis Ngannou fizzled over money, prompting White to say Jones could sit out if unhappy.

Like Jones, the “BMF” champion cut to the quick, indicating the UFC was short-changing fighters despite “buying an island” for the promotion’s “Fight Island” events. He added the company was “playing us” by telling him that Usman was holding out for more money.

White wasn’t asked directly about Masvidal’s specific complaints, but he used the pandemic and pay complaints to frame the argument that UFC fighters have freedom to decide the course of their career.

“These guys are independent contractors,” he said. “This isn’t like the NFL, where I can make you – you come to practice, and you do this, or you’re going to get fined. These guys can do whatever they want. They can say whatever they want. I had a big thing the other day with a reporter about fighter pay. They can come out and tell you what they make any day of the week. They can do any of that stuff. These guys can do whatever they want. They don’t have to fight.”

“And we’re not begging people to fight. We’re offering fights, because in our contract, I have to give you three fights a year. I owe you three fights a year. You have the ability to turn them down and not take them. So they can do whatever they want.”

In fact, UFC fighters are independent contractors and don’t have the same obligations as employees. They also lack the freedom of movement that other independent contractors enjoy, such as the ability to work for a different promoter, because of protections built into the promotion’s promotional agreements. If a UFC fighter turns down a fight, the promotion has the right to extend their contract, typically for a term of six months. In theory, that cycle can repeat indefinitely as long as the fighter continues to turn down fights, effectively holding them in limbo until they decide to accept a bout.

UFC fighters are also held to a code of conduct that polices certain behaviors – including things like domestic violence allegations and offensive or abusive language – that have the potential to put the promotion in a negative light, though the policy is rarely enforced. More typically, the promotion defers to state authorities on conduct that results in criminal charges. They are also required to represent the promotion’s flagship sponsor, Reebok, because of an apparel deal the promotion signed in 2015.

Masvidal quickly responded to White’s independent contractor designation via Twitter.

Fighters have on several occasions made claims over pay in accusing the promotion of underpayment, prompting fiery responses from White detailing financial specifics. Former UFC champs Randy Couture and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson saw their official pay revealed by White amid a public dispute.

Jones and Masvidal haven’t revealed much in the way of specifics regarding the recent offers they’ve received from the UFC, but White has claimed Jones wanted “Deontay Wilder money” for the Ngannou bout, a purse estimated at $30 million. Jones countered that he wasn’t asking for that much and instead asked for $15 million. John Nash of Bloody Elbow believes Jones has made a maximum of $32 million in compensation between 2012-2017, while Jones himself said he makes around $5 million per fight.

Masvidal’s most recent publicly available paycheck was $200,000, which he received for a five-second knockout of Ben Askren at UFC 239 that instantly rocketed him to stardom.

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