MMA Pay Sits In The Shadow Of Spectacle Sport

Amanda Westcott / SHOWTIME

This weekend YouTuber-turned-Boxer, Jake “The Problem Child” Paul takes on five-time UFC champion Tyron “The Chosen One” Woodley.

Woodley, who is three years removed from his winning ways in mixed martial arts, will receive a record $1 million payday for his career with some global pay-per-view points.

However, his new stint as a boxer might be the new blueprint for a second financial act for success.

After defeating former UFC champion Kelvin Gastelum, Jared Cannonier, one of the highest-ranked UFC middleweights, wants to see fighter pay align closer to other elite athletes.

Cannonier is the number 3 ranked UFC middleweight, took a unanimous decision win against Kelvin Gastelum at UFC Vegas 34 inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Sat., Aug. 20, 2021.

He expressed his frustrations with being an elite athlete not getting paid for the efforts he has put in.

“It’s not dire; it’s just a natural occurrence if you will,” Cannonier said on The MMA Hour. “Of course, coming off the injury, I’m not balling out of control or anything like that, and a lot of people don’t understand that when we have these fights that we owe people money after these fights.

“After this win, 60 percent of my money is already gone. Between the gym, between management, between taxes, on top of that, I’ve got bills, credit cards, I got kids, I’ve got a house up in Alaska, I’ve got a house here, I’ve got car payments. That money goes. Money don’t last forever.”

Sports leagues like the NFL or NBA have collective bargaining agreements negotiated with player unions that guarantee the athletes a certain percentage of revenue earned.

The portion is typically around 50 percent.

However, the UFC has no similar agreement with fighters because it only appears as a league for the public but hires all its fighters as independent contractors with autonomy over their respective athletic fight brands.

Based on an ongoing class-action lawsuit against the UFC by a group of ex-fighters, it was revealed that the promotion has typically paid out 20 percent of revenue or less to the athletes over the years.

The UFC doesn’t have a “minimum” contract where athletes are guaranteed a base bottom line salary. For example, the NHL league minimum earns at least $750,000 per year for the 2021-2022 season.

“Right now, fighting is our only revenue,” said Cannonier. “I don’t have sponsors or anything like that. Fighting is my only focus. I’m not out here doing commercials or anything like that. Nobody’s asking me to be in the next Marvel movie.

“Not being able to fight for the last 10 months put a strain on our pockets. So I’m glad to have gotten back in there. I’m glad that I get two checks plus that main event bonus. I’m glad I’m not injured so I can do it again.”

With Conor McGregor on the downslide of his career, his historic 2017 bout against Floyd Mayweather has buoyed him financially. The cross-sport spectacle made him millions and catapulted him into the pop culture stratosphere.

Tyron Woodley’s success this Sunday isn’t predicated on his winning or losing; it is the fact that for the first time in a 12-year career, he is finally getting paid close to what he deserves.

Too bad he had to learn to be a professional boxer in three months to accomplish it.

Rhett Butler is a Boxing Writer Association of America Journalist, Play-By-Play Commentator, Combat Sports Insider, and Former Mixed Martial Arts and Boxing Promoter. The New York City native honed his skills at various news outlets including but not limited to: TIME Magazine, Money Magazine, CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports, and more. Rhett hosts the PRITTY Left Hook podcast, a polarizing combat sports insider's take featuring the world's biggest names.