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Dana White tells critics of UFC fighter pay to back off: ‘This is mine and this is the way we’re doing it’

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Dana White
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

UFC President Dana White is growing weary of the constant criticism surrounding how he compensates his fighters.

In the past few months, the latest headlines concerning fighter pay have mostly revolved around the negotiations for a Francis Ngannou vs. Jon Jones superfight that have come to a standstill as the dispute between both fighters and the UFC has spilled into the public eye. YouTube star turned pro boxer Jake Paul has also pushed for UFC fighters to be paid more.

Whether UFC athletes—and MMA fighters in general—are being paid fairly has long been a topic of conversation in the media. But if it were up to White, there would be a lot less chatter from those he perceives to be uninformed outsiders.

“The reality is anybody who’s being critical outside of the fighters themselves don’t know anything anyway,” White said in an interview with journalist Manouk Akopyan. “They don’t actually know what these guys are making. And the fighters don’t ever come out and tell you. There’s no gag order on any of these guys. These guys can come out at any time and tell you what they’re making. I have no problem with that. But they don’t, do they? No, they do not. So it’s sort of a Catch-22.

“Fighter pay has continually gone up every year since we owned the business. Obviously, there’s been tons more opportunities with the outfitting policy, some of the sponsors that we’ve brought in that spend tons of money with the fighters too. There’s a lot of opportunity here for the fighters. And listen, there’s never gonna be a guy that’s coming out and saying, ‘Yeah, they’re paying me too much. They’re overpaying me. And all of these guys that are champions share in the pay-per-view revenue.

“Listen, if you don’t like it, go start your own MMA league and pay ‘em whatever you want to pay ‘em. This is mine and this is the way we’re doing it.”

Following the boom of MMA in the 2000s, several promotions emerged in North America to provide an alternative to the UFC, including Strikeforce, Bellator, and the World Series of Fighting (now the Professional Fighters League), with each providing their own incentives to entice fighters to sign. Even so, the UFC has continued to hold the lion’s share of the MMA market.

The promotion has a lucrative broadcasting deal with ESPN as well as multi-million dollar sponsor relationships with companies like Venum, the official apparel brand of the UFC, Monster, and, most recently, Crypto.com. In 2019, as part of an ongoing anti-trust lawsuit against the UFC, it was reported that the promotion was forecasted to make $980 million in revenue for 2020, with fighters receiving 20 percent of that revenue (approx. $196 million).

Strikeforce was revealed to have paid fighters 63 percent of revenue, and Bellator 44.7 percent of revenue.

The UFC’s financial success that has prompted some fighters to speak about what they consider to be an inequitable share of the profits. Three-time UFC light heavyweight champion Jones is one of them, and his career threatens to be stalled until until next year unless he and the UFC can work out a substantial pay raise. According to White, his relationship with Jones is in good condition.

“I don’t think it’s about repairing the relationship with him,” White said. “Jon and I have gone round and round for years. It’s not like— listen, we’ve had our good times and we’ve had our bad times, Jon and I. I say it all the time: We put on fights every Saturday night. When Jon’s ready to fight again, I’ll have a Saturday night ready for him.

“Jon doesn’t owe me anything or any apologies or we should sit down and kiss and make up or any of that. We’re cool. We’re both very opinionated, we’re both very hard-headed with things. I don’t like dislike Jon Jones, I don’t think Jon Jones dislikes me. When he’s ready, we’re ready, and we’ll get it figured out.”

When it was suggested that discussions about fighter pay have become more and more prevalent lately, White laughed off that notion.

“It hasn’t been lately, it’s been 20 years,” White said. “And guess what? It will for the next 20 years too.”