It’s unlikely anybody competing in mixed martial arts expected YouTube star turned celebrity boxer Jake Paul to become the champion for better fighter pay but that’s exactly what’s happened in recent months.
Now how much the 24-year-old Ohio native truly cares about MMA fighters versus his own desire to ruffle the feathers of UFC president Dana White is unknown, but he’s certainly been banging that drum a lot lately while he’s been called out or calling out a slew of veterans from his promotion.
Just recently after signing to face former UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley in a boxing match, Paul blasted White and the pay that his fighters receive versus the money earned when crossing over to another combat sport.
”I think there’s a movement moving forward that is going to show that fighters should be getting paid more,” Paul told reporters in early June. “It’s unfair. The UFC fighters don’t have fair pay. Out of all the sports, the percentages that the owners get versus the athletes, they’re the lowest.
“These fighters are risking their lives - you can quite literally die in the ring - and they need to be compensated more. I’m a big proponent of that movement and being in control. F*ck that sh*t. F*ck Dana White.”
Those comments created quite a buzz amongst fighters and while UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture, who has been a longtime proponent for better pay for MMA athletes, wonders why it’s a social influencer making the loudest noise about this subject, he just hopes the spark might actually catch fire.
“Why is Jake Paul the one to step up and poke Dana and shine a light on what’s going on and the difference between our sports?” Couture said when speaking to MMA Fighting. “What the Ali Act does for boxers that doesn’t happen for the rest of us in combative sports. I think that’s what needs to change.
“If it takes Jake Paul to run his mouth and get that done, then great. As long as it gets done. It just seems kind of crazy to me that it’s coming from there and we as athletes in mixed martial arts can’t come together and can’t hold these promoters to a higher standard and create the transparency that we need in the sport.”
The Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act, better known as the Ali Act, was enacted in 2000 to protect the rights and welfare of boxers, aid state boxing commissions with the oversight of boxing and “increase sportsmanship and integrity within the boxing industry.”
Of course there have been plenty of criticisms about the Ali Act when it comes to actual enforcement of the rules as well as promoters being held to certain standards in the sport but the law itself exists, which has fighters like Couture trying to get those same protections extended to MMA.
Couture believes one particular UFC superstar had a chance to show the differences in the rules governing boxing and MMA just a few years ago but failed to do so.
“The guy that really had a chance to shine a light on it was Conor McGregor,” Couture explained. “He got a boxing license. As soon as he got a boxing license, he rendered his UFC contract null and void. He had the protections of the Muhammad Ali Act when he became an official boxer with that boxing number and he chose to bring Dana White and company back into that fight when he could have done all that on his own, kept all that money to himself and shined a light on the problem in mixed martial arts.
“He chose not to do that. He made $100 million off that fight with Floyd Mayweather. That’s more than he’ll probably ever in mixed martial arts to be truthful.”
According to Couture, the situation with McGregor was really just a small piece of the puzzle when it comes to real institutional change in regards of fighter pay in the sport of MMA.
“I think there’s three things going on,” Couture said. “The first thing is obviously the class action lawsuit. That is the long play. It’s going to take a while to settle all of that. The affidavits are in, it’s been certified as a class. If they’re successful in proving their case, it’s going to force the biggest promotion in this sport anyways, the UFC, to do business differently. That’s the first scenario.
“The second scenario is the MMAFA, the Mixed Martial Arts Fighters Association, and I’m part of that group, have been lobbying to see the Ali Act amended. Just change the definition from boxer to mixed martial arts or combative sports athlete. Then we enjoy the same transparency and restrictions on promotions and promoters that boxers have been enjoying since 1996. Now the UFC is lobbying very, very hard and spending a lot of money to keep that from being voted on. It’s gotten us tossed out of the Energy and Commerce Commission, where it was originally voted and voted in. They’re doing their thing to keep it from being a vote and being voted on.”
The third tenet to what Couture believes could make real changes in the sport comes down to competition for the UFC, which includes promotions like his current employers at the PFL as well as organizations such as Bellator MMA and ONE Championship.
“The third thing is organizations like the PFL that have taken the sport and put it in a regular sports format, that are paying the athletes very well,” Couture stated. “A million dollar purse at the end of each season with a new champion. I think that’s another avenue as well. They’re creating an athlete’s advisory board and doing some things some of the other promotions aren’t doing. I think that’s a third potential to see some change in the sport.
“We’re obviously attracting a lot of big names and top names from the sport that want a shot at that money and want a chance to know when their fight is going to be and not have to worry about it. So I think those are all three things that are a positive change in our sport.”
As far as the class action lawsuit filed against the UFC, which is still winding its way through the court system, Bloomberg recently featured a story about the ongoing fight, which prompted a response from a lawyer representing the UFC.
“UFC has spent many years building a world-class organization, enhancing the brand of our athletes and championing the sport of MMA,” William Isaacson, a lawyer for the UFC told Bloomberg. “UFC pays its fighters more than any other MMA promoter, with average fighter compensation rising by over 600 percent since 2005.
“Our efforts have raised the global popularity of the sport and the overall revenue potential of all MMA organizations and athletes.”