UFC bantamweight fighter Julia Avila wants to set the record straight.
Days before UFC 278, Avila took to Twitter and opened up about her career as a UFC fighter, mentioning a few different things that were on her mind — including the fact that she had to take a job “to make ends meet and have insurance to cover my pregnancy,” as she’ll become a mom in October.
Fighter pay is great when you have a fight; I had 9 cancelled fights one year and since my injury 2021, I had to get a job to make ends meet and have insurance to cover my pregnancy. I love being a part of the UFC, it’s a dream come true. But it is a temporary dream.— Julia Avila (@RagingPandaMMA) August 18, 2022
Often times you have to choose between having a career, being in a relationship, being a mother, OR follow your dreams to being in the best fight circuit ever. Even then, sometimes you just don’t feel appreciated (as a woman) because you don’t show skin or talk trash— Julia Avila (@RagingPandaMMA) August 18, 2022
I love being in the UFC. I love fighting for the fans and putting on a show, but it’s a dog and pony show. I’m just as replaceable as anyone else on the roster and fans will be none the wiser. That’s the hardest pill to swallow.— Julia Avila (@RagingPandaMMA) August 18, 2022
Avila hasn’t competed since her June 2021 submission of Julija Stoliarenko. In addition, Avila’s scheduled fight with Raquel Pennington for this past December was cancelled after “Raging Panda” suffered a knee injury that required surgery.
Of course, when a fighter opens up about anything in regards to the UFC, it’s immediately assumed that it’s a complaint about fighter pay, or an attempt to rock the boat.
But in this case, it was Avila expressing what was on her mind.
“I’ve had some opportunities — both in and out of the UFC — but I’m just not marketable right now, I’m pregnant,” Avila told MMA Fighting. “No one wants to see a pregnant fighter, nobody wants to hire a pregnant lady, and it was radio silence — and that hurts. That’s really, really hard, especially since I was [in the middle] of my come-up — had one of the top-four fastest knockouts in women’s UFC history, a submission win over a submission specialist, and I just feel overlooked.
“It sucks, and it is hard being in the fight industry. I went to my brother’s baby shower because they just had a kid, and one of my cousins told me he wanted to be in the UFC, sat me down and said, ‘Well, you’re rich, right?’ No, absolutely not. I’m over here peddling shirts to put food on the table. It’s not as glamorous as people think it is, and it’s hard. So I felt I needed to put things in perspective and I got a lot of backlash from it. I remember someone distinctly saying, ‘Oh no, you have to get a real job.’ Well, b****, you don’t f****** know me. I’ve had real jobs, I want to work. That’s my issue.
“I don’t want to just sit here and get a monthly stipend just for training because I signed with the UFC. When my fight with Julija Stoliarenko got canceled because of her unfortunate medical issues on the scale, I actually went up to Sean Shelby, shook his hand and said, ‘Hey, I’ll be a bucket girl. I’ll clean the mats in-between rounds. I just want to be a part of it.’ And they were like, ‘Nah, it’s cool, just go home.’
“I don’t want people to give me stuff,” Avila continued. “I want to work, and I’m a workhorse with no job. I mean, I have a job, I do things, but I want to provide a service. I can’t fight right now, so I want to try something else. Being a woman, I’m really limited in how long I can fight. I have to choose whether I want to start a family or not. When I broke my finger, I knew I would only be out for a couple of months so I knew I couldn’t start a family [then]. It was always [my] fight career first because that’s the smart thing to do. Being in my [late] 20’s, [early] 30’s, that’s considered my prime and I didn’t want to jeopardize that.
“With my knee injury, I knew for a fact that I would be out for a year, so a month after my surgery, boom, I’m pregnant, but then I had to figure out how to pay for it because the UFC isn’t going to cover me. They did amazing for my knee, that was great, and they were really supportive of me. But anything outside of that, I’m pretty expendable.”
There were many articles written about Avila’s Twitter thread, mostly pulling the quote where she needed to get a job to help with the high cost of bringing a child into the world.
Avila is happy to be a UFC fighter, and is happy with the pay, but feels like some of the responses didn’t have anything to do with what she was trying to say.
“I feel like a lot of people took it out of context. I don’t have any issues at all with fighter pay,” Avila said. “I get paid great and I think it’s very fair what they do to earn your keep. If you win, you get a win bonus. It’s like any industry: If you perform well, you get a bonus and you continue to progress. If you’re static, or you’re just getting by, or you’re losing, there’s no incentive to get better. If everyone’s the same, there’s no incentive to get better.
“After my first fight, it was nine months before I got another one. There were enough girls on the roster and I would’ve fought any of them that made sense. I wasn’t going to fight Holly Holm in my second fight in the UFC, I knew that. It’s just one of those things where I want to work. In 2020, the world was shutting down and I was one of the willing participants that was like, ‘OK, put me in.’ It’s just hard for a fighter that wants to fight and can’t book anything. I don’t know what it is, but it’s not my decision.”
The 34-year-old is 3-1 in her UFC career, which includes a 22-second TKO win over Gina Mazany at UFC on ESPN 10 in June 2020.
While Avila is happy with her pay and being a part of the organization as a fighter, she believes that if the promotion could implement more programs and opportunities, they would be welcome additions — especially for the athletes waiting to get their next bout agreements.
“I love the UFC, but I know they can do more,” Avila explained. “If we had insurance year-round, that would be great. But I think having an incentive program where there would be online business learning, where you can learn about business management, or physical education or something, and then afterwards, you’re committed to working for that company for x amount of years to pay off learning. For example, the UFC gyms: If there was a business management program that the company offers, you’d have to maintain a certain GPA, and then after we’re done fighting, we’d be committed to working for one to two years at a UFC Gym, that’s amazing.
“Not only do they have someone that they know is credible, but they would also draw people because, ‘Oh my gosh, this person is in the UFC, they work out here, they run the business.’ There could be digital marketing, PR, hospitality, but reuse these fighters. You don’t have to have to outsource that. Unfortunately for me, I’m a geologist, so not much I can help with right now, but I’m also a data scientist. I can help with general demographics. Who are we targeting? Who are we missing? How could we reach them? That’s something that I can contribute. I want to show that I’m more than just a stupid fighter.
“We’re all s*** talkers, we’re all fighters, and that’s what we’re intended to be, and that’s completely fine. But when you have lulls in your opportunities to perform, then how can we help provide a service? I don’t want to just sit here and get paid to train, I want to help. This is a great company. I just want to provide something.”
When asked if she has ever approached the UFC about any of those ideas, Avila says she hasn’t. The biggest reason for that is because she doesn’t want to get lumped in with other fighters who go out of their way to rip the UFC.
“It’s been terrifying because there have been so many people that have been outspoken about it that have just been negative about it, or just want to get paid more,” Avila said. “There’s a lot of things that get lost in translation so anytime I say anything it’s, ‘She’s complaining about fighter pay, maybe you shouldn’t have been fighting,’ but they’re missing the point.
“I haven’t spoken out in the past because I had a lot to lose; at this point, what do I have to lose? I’m already sidelined, I can’t fight until late winter, early spring if everything goes well, I have three fights left on my contract and that’s all subject to what they see in me. I might as well speak up now.”
With the UFC growing at such a rapid pace, Avila would also like to see UFC fighters have the option to learn about investinh and finances, to help anyone learn more about how to make their money work for them.
Several fighters have found success with the market, and in real estate. Perhaps there are other fighters that would want to learn more about those very important topics, or want to help the promotion in whatever capacity they can. Avila would be at the top of the list of fighters interested in learning more.
“I love being a part of the UFC and fighting for the UFC, I just want to do more,” Avila says. “I want more longevity in this company, not just in the sport. It’s a hard pill to swallow when you’re expendable, when you’re just the dog in the race. The race will continue whether you’re in it or not. I don’t want to just be the dog, I want to help, I want to help be a part of something bigger than myself.
“I think fighter pay is great when you have a fight. The UFC definitely takes care of you when you’re under contract and are getting ready for a fight. I don’t know how people miss weight when the UFC provides all of these things that the athletes need, I will never understand that. But, our mental health, well-being outside of it, financial stability, like, ‘Maybe you should invest,’ well, I don’t know how to f****** invest. What does that even mean? What is the Dow?
“We get this big chunk of money just like that, and so many of these fighters just spend it on frivolous things — well, what if we knew how to invest it, or save 30 percent for taxes, or other things of that nature that we’re not taught? I just wish there was more education because a lot of us are intelligent, have jobs outside of the UFC — which is fine, because we can’t fight forever. But for all of the young people that want to be fighters, make sure you balance, focus on your career, and have a plan B.”