It’s often said that the UFC shares a great deal in common with professional wrestling and the WWE. With a bombastic and controversial leader atop each organization (Dana White and Vince McMahon respectively) and a business structure that prioritizes monthly pay-per-view events, fans have frequently drawn parallels between the two organizations. But for all their similarities, WWE Hall of Famer Booker T believes that fundamentally the companies are in a very different business.
“I look at the two so separately,” Booker T told Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour. “The only way I look at professional wrestling and MMA along the same lines is where professional wrestling has to try and really walk that tightrope as to make it real, and we know it’s entertainment but still trying to suspend the imagination of the fan to buy in. I think that right there is where wrestling and MMA come into play. But as far as fanbase from wrestling to MMA, I really think it’s totally different, even though we’ve got a lot of fans on both sides. But I think MMA fans, it’s a different feeling in the arena for MMA, it’s a different feeling in the arena for boxing, it’s a totally different feeling for professional wrestling.”
But for whatever differences the UFC and the WWE have, both companies appear to find themselves facing similar issues of late, including increased scrutiny around issues of athlete pay. Despite shattering their annual revenue record in 2021, the WWE released more than 80 athletes last year as a result of “budget cuts” and has also faced criticism for its athlete compensation.
If all that sounds familiar it’s because the UFC has found itself in a similar situation recently. The UFC had a tremendously successful 2021 but has continued to part ways with well-known talent in favor of signing athletes off of Dana White’s Contender Series. On top of that, YouTuber-turned-boxer Jake Paul has put a spotlight on the UFC’s pay structure and some of the biggest stars in the UFC have begun to speak out against the UFC’s business tactics. But though Booker T believes the two companies are different, he acknowledges that the pay structure is fundamentally similar and — in some ways — that’s never going to change.
“It’s always gonna be kind of like professional wrestling: the top guys are gonna be the guys that are making the most money,” Booker T said. “It’s just always gonna be like that. But to be able to negotiate when you are good, when you are the top guy, you should get paid that money. When your name is on the marquee — like, we always used to tell The Rock, ‘Thanks for the house, brother.’ [Laughs]. It’s no different and I think those fighters should get treated no differently.”
That isn’t to say that Booker T wouldn’t like to see improvement. Currently, UFC fighters collectively take home roughly 20 percent of revenue on an annual basis. That number stands in stark contrast to other sports leagues like the NFL and NBA, which have a revenue split closer to 50/50. And considering the risks that fighters face every time they compete, Booker T says he would like to see the athletes be properly taken care of.
“The fight game is rough and most of those guys do not leave unscathed,” Booker T said. “It can be a hell of a a deal after their careers. That’s why I’m an advocate for the fighters. I think these guys should get paid as much money as they possibly can make for those fights they go out there and have because it is a life or death situation every time they step in there.”