Former UFC strawweight champion Carla Esparza would never begrudge anyone for wanting more money.
Esparza completely understands the desire to earn a higher salary voiced by several high-profile fighters, who’ve recently spoken out about career earnings while competing in the biggest MMA promotion in the world.
Reigning light heavyweight champion Jon Jones has said he’s willing to sit out indefinitely to force the UFC’s hand to pay him what he believes he’s worth. Jorge Masvidal initially walked away from a title shot because the UFC wasn’t offering him a deal that he felt was comparable to his drawing power. While he eventually came to terms with the promotion on a deal just six days before UFC 251, Masvidal said he was still going to battle for athletes in the UFC to receive a bigger portion of the revenue earned.
Paige VanZant has repeatedly raised concerns about the money she’s been earned in the UFC and is now testing free agency with her previous contract fulfilled.
For her part, Esparza sympathizes with the gripes from many fighters. But after inking a new four-fight contract in advance of her return to action at UFC on ESPN 14 this Saturday, she’s also thankful that the promotion is giving athletes a chance to compete when so many are struggling during a global pandemic.
“All power to those who want what they feel they deserve,” Esparza told MMA Fighting. “I completely understand people’s want for more money, but coming from a time where fighters made only a couple hundred dollars, and currently living in a time where a majority of people are out of work and losing their businesses, I am just grateful to be with the UFC, able to fight and earn a paycheck at all.
“The UFC has bent over backwards and defied all odds to be the only major sports organization to be running events. So maybe now when everyone is struggling is not the time to be asking for more, more, more, and maybe just the time to be grateful.”
As a former champion and cast member on The Ultimate Fighter 20, Esparza understands the various contracts that are typically signed when fighting for the UFC.
She readily admits her deal after first leaving the reality show was excessive in terms of total fights, but she has since renegotiated several new contracts, including her recent deal with the promotion.
“I had signed another deal before but just being in that (Ultimate Fighter) contract. When you win it, you’re like stuck in this really long 10-fight contract, so it’s a really long deal,” Esparza explained. “So to get another contract and just feel like the UFC still wants me and to be part of such a great company is awesome.
“On a personal note, I’m super happy with the new contract that I got.”
The battle over fighter pay has raged on for several years, but it’s become a much more prominent subject after the UFC sold to new majority shareholders at Endeavor for more than $4 billion in 2016. Add to that, an ongoing antitrust lawsuit against the UFC has revealed financial details from the privately-owned company for the first time in history, which has given athletes a better idea of the revenue earned by the organization versus what they are being paid.
After wrestling in college and then turning to MMA more than a decade ago, Esparza has seen all sides of the pay scale in the sport, particularly when there wasn’t enough money to really call fighting a career.
That changed for her largely thanks to a successful career in the UFC, and she’s never forgotten it.
“I understand what everybody’s saying,” Esparza said. “Of course, who doesn’t want more money? If you ask anyone in the world who wants more money, I’m pretty sure there wouldn’t be a hand down. I get where people are coming from. Of course, people want to be compensated and get what they feel they’re worth, but I mean, I come from a time, I’ve been doing this so long where we were getting paid a couple hundred dollars to fight.
“As a woman, before having this opportunity to get in the UFC, I don’t even know how I’m going to pay my rent. I don’t even know if I can keep doing this because financially it just doesn’t make sense as a fighter. But the UFC has given us a stage and given us opportunities like to where I can do this as a full-time career. Of course, me and everybody else in the world would like to make more money, and I totally understand that, but as far as my personal stance, I’m happy that they’ve given me the opportunity to make more than I would pretty much anywhere else.”
Ultimately, Esparza believes every fighter has a right to determine their own value. But following her own contract negotiations, she’s got very little to complain about.
“I’m definitely satisfied,” Esparza said. “I had a nice little bump from my last contract, and I’m satisfied with what I have. Like I said, who doesn’t want more, but we also have to be grateful for what we have and what the UFC has given us cause they built this huge thing from nothing and now this is a legit career.
“People are making more than they ever have in this sport, in this last couple years. As much as people want more, I feel like we should also feel grateful to be able to fight for such a great company and making pretty decent money. It’s a hard one. I get where [other fighters] are coming from, but I’m also grateful to do this for a living and be able to make decent money.”