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Morning Report: Joe Rogan decries win bonuses and judging in the UFC: ‘I just don’t think it’s fair’

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UFC 246: Pettis v Ferreira Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

In the past few months, the issue of fighter pay in the UFC has become one of the most prevalent talking points in MMA, with fighters like Jon Jones, Henry Cejudo, and Jorge Masvidal all speaking out against the UFC’s pay. But while those fighters all take issues with the overall dollars and cents the UFC is offering up, longtime commentator Joe Rogan has a separate fighter pay concern: the win-bonus structure.

In the UFC, a vast majority of fighters have their purse split into a base salary and win bonus, often of equal sum, meaning that in every bout, fighters are functionally gambling half their salary on a win. It’s a system that has come under scrutiny recently and it’s one Rogan would like to see go away.

“Don’t you think there’s a problem in incentivizing people to just win because you have a win bonus?” Rogan said on his Joe Rogan Experience podcast recently. “A win bonus, I do NOT like. I’ve said this from the beginning. I just don’t think it’s fair.

“First of all, if you’re going to do a win bonus, you need to do something about the judging. You need to have a better scoring system and you need to get rid of incompetence, and then, when you go to other states, you need to take control of the situation (and add accountability). In other states it’s dire. I don’t want to name states, but there have been states where we do fights where I’m just going, ‘What? Who watched that fight? How is this even possible?’ People just get f*cking robbed.”

The idea of the win-bonus system is that it incentivizes fighters to compete at their best but any such evidence is anecdotal. In fact, Rogan argues, the system does the exact opposite of what the UFC is attempting to do, by incentivizing fighters to take the safest course of action to ensure victory, even at the expense of excitement.

“If you have win bonuses and if a guy comes in is getting 50 (thousand dollars), and if he wins he gets another 50 (thousand dollars), you stole $50,000 from that guy by giving him incompetent judging,” Rogan said. “If you’re a fighter, you’ve got to do your best to win. If that means take a guy down and hump and throw enough punches to keep the referee from standing it up, that’s $50,000 for you.”

Rogan was having this conversation with former UFC heavyweight champion Josh Barnett who added that fighters are already incentivized to win by virtue of the UFC’s contract leverage and their ability to cut fighters at anytime, creating a system that prioritizes victory over excitement, to which Rogan agreed.

“Yep. And then you have to start from scratch,” Rogan said. “It’s crazy.

“I think no win bonus. A finish bonus sounds great. That’s just gonna entice people to fight harder. But I want a fighter to know, you’re gonna get X amount of dollars. You’re not gonna get half that because the judges are idiots.”

Rogan has been a vocal opponent of judging in MMA for years and has, on several occasions, called for an improvement to the current system. Similarly, Rogan thinks the fundamental concept behind the win-bonus system is flawed and hopes that some other organization will come along with a better way to pay fighters.

“I don’t think it incentivizes those guys,” Rogan told Barnett. “At the top level? Have you ever not tried to not win?. . . I would at least like to see someone come along with an alternative take on how fighters are paid, and we haven’t really seen that.”


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