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Dong Hyun Kim Speaks Out on the Disadvantages Asian Fighters Face in the UFC

(“…and don’t even get me started about these goddamned Diaz brothers.” / Photo via CombatLifestyle)

By George Shunick

With a few notable exceptions like Dong Hyun Kim and Yushin Okami, Asian MMA fighters have struggled to live up to expectations while fighting in the UFC. While there are plenty of explanations for this, it appears the UFC doesn’t do these fighters any favors. In a recent interview, Dong Hyun Kim enumerated some of the issues faced by Asian fighters that are compounded by the UFC’s policies. Kim’s comments were translated by Sherdog user Hufusopem, and touch on a number of concerns, including sponsorship issues and traveling fees.

According to Kim, “no matter how ‘fair’ the UFC is, the Asian fighters especially Korean fighters are automatically at a disadvantage. Even right before my fight with Demian [Maia] my airplane ticket cost after getting discounts, was 1,100 dollars (Not to add in me paying for my teammates and coaches to accompany me). And on top of that, it is ludicrously expensive to get ready to train and get a training camp in the US before your fights.”

$1,100, before adding in teammates and coaches?? That’s a lot to ask of a fighter. Particularly if that fighter, unlike Kim, isn’t an established star. He continues, “It’s ultimately very hard to be a UFC fighter. If you go to America, there are a lot of fighters who are barely eeking by financially. I see some fighters who have fights a few days away doing personal training. A lot of that has to do with the UFC being too stingy about sponsorships. Also because of UFC’s policies it is really hard to get sponsors for a lot of fighters… If you pay off the training camp and your coaches you honestly don’t have much left. Ultimately, you only have one maybe two opportunities to make it big. In MMA anyone can lose and when you do lose you go instantly to the back of the line.”

Kim raises an important point regarding fighter pay — a lot of their profits come from sponsorships, which often exceed the amount they earn from actually fighting. Fighters are in a bad position regarding sponsorships already, due to the poor economy. But when you add in the fact that the UFC charges some companies $100,000 annually for sponsorships — and reportedly charged Full Tilt Poker over $1 million for sponsoring multiple fighters — it makes companies exceedingly hesitant to invest in fighters, especially lower-profile fighters who compete on undercards. And, of course, the UFC can prohibit certain companies from sponsoring fighters with or without a reason.

All of which is to say that the UFC’s sponsorship policies are actively harmful to fighters’ financial well-being. For Asian fighters, this issue is compounded by the fact that they incur certain expenses that other fighters don’t. However, to be fair, some of these costs are the byproduct of atypical procedures that Asian fighters must undertake. Kim’s manager Brian Rhee — user name binjin — proceeded to clarify some of Kim’s remarks:

The UFC DOES pay for airfare and hotel for the fighter + 1. However, for fighters from Korea, we have to come in at least 10 days early (2 weeks is better) in order to get used to the time difference. The UFC tickets flights (and books the hotel) for 4 or 5 days before the fight. So, the fighters from Korea (and other foreign countries) have to pay the difference in fares and the extra days for room and board.

If you assume that a fighter is going to bring, at least, their coach and a sparring partner (for KTT, they bring me as well), that means the fighter is paying for 2 extra plane tickets (usually between $1200-2000 RT from Seoul). Add in 5 or 6 days of room and board for 4-5 guys and it starts to add up! Then take out US federal and state taxes, then the guys get taxed again in Korea. Subtract paying the fees to the coach and sparring partner… and what’s the fighter left with? Unless they get a bonus (or two), or are making a really good base pay, not much.

If you think about the fact that [Korean Zombie] (before the Poirier fight) was making $6,000 as base pay, then you’ll realize that for a lot of our fights in the US, we end up losing money. But, the fighters do it hoping to build up to bigger paydays and more sponsor money.

I think the $1,100 that Stun Gun mentioned was probably the difference in fares. The UFC pays for the basic fare, but if you decide to change your travel dates, the fighter is responsible for paying the difference.

A lot of people say it’s the same for all foreign fighters, not just Asians, but the main difference is that for South American fighters there is little/no time difference. For European fighters, the time adjustment is easier because there isn’t as much of a time difference to begin with AND it’s harder to adjust to travelling east, as opposed to west. I don’t know why that is, but it’s definitely different. We have a hard time when going from Asia to the US, but coming from the US to Asia is not as hard (same for Europe to the US).

I would honestly say that I doubt KZ would have been able to win any of his fights if he came to the US on the pre-determined date (i.e. If we didn’t come in at least 10 days early). I’ve seen the fighters on the 4-5 day in the US and there’s no way that they could compete at top form at that point. But, who knows, maybe our guys just suffer from jetlag worse than everyone else. (?)”

So basically, Asian fighters can choose to either suffer a fiscal disadvantage or a competitive disadvantage. As fighters, obviously they choose the fiscal disadvantage. As a company, the UFC should be obligated to ensure that fighters don’t have to make that choice. Sure, if Asian fighters choose to spend more days in a hotel room, perhaps they should pay for the difference. But charging them for taking a plane on a different date? Seriously? That’s bush league from an organization that should be beyond that at this point.

Fighters face enough obstacles as it is to be successful professionally and financially. They don’t need their well-being compounded by oppressive sponsorship policies and additional fees, especially when they are in the infancy of their careers. The UFC is morphing into a major sports corporation, and while many of their policies reflect this, there are still some that need adjustments. There is no excuse for the draconian sponsorship regulations and fees. And the UFC is obligated to acknowledge the inherent disadvantages faced by Asian fighters and do something to address them.

Kim has taken a serious risk in speaking out against these issues, and could suffer serious repercussions from the UFC. (Speaking of which, maybe it’s about time the UFC instituted a code of conduct so fighters actually know what they can be penalized for. Right, Miguel Torres?) Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that this risk will yield any rewards. If fighters want to see real change on any of these fronts, particularly fighters who don’t possess name recognition, then they are going to have to unionize. But as long as things remain as they are, when sponsors face enormous obstacles to supporting fighters and the UFC can cut anyone for any reason, it’s not just Asian fighters who will be at an economic disadvantage — it’s all fighters.

Cagepotato Comments

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coldbeer78- September 1, 2012 at 6:48 am
@vivahate... I always thought an asian fighter would have an advantage somehow due to eye closure. I guess I always assumed that since their eyes are closed already, you would never hear one of them have to say "cut me mick", or "cut me Stitch" as it were.
AndyInflammatory- September 1, 2012 at 3:02 am
It's quite refreshing that he's raising this disparity. And it's not necessarily "speaking out against" anything - the gripe is legitimate and is merely being aired. It will be interesting to see if the UFC takes it on board.
imnotgay- September 1, 2012 at 1:17 am
just another asian being his cheap self no biggie
Clyde- August 31, 2012 at 5:13 pm
Do they have rape jokes in Japan? I only ask because I don't think I've ever seen Japanese porn where there was consent so I don't know if anyone has ever made a joke about not having it. That's sort of an advantage, right?
Gobbleston- August 31, 2012 at 3:00 pm
Why can't he start adjusting his sleeping schedule while at home? Back in my youngin' days I used to stay up until 7 and sleep to 5. Just get some blackout blinds.
Mr_Misanthropy- August 31, 2012 at 1:48 pm
I like GETOFFME's argument for better base salaries. I also think that If the UFC is going to collect money from sponsors in such a heavy handed manner that a percentage of that income should go back to the fighter, similar to a commission. It is money they would not see without the fighter and as the fighter grows in popularity they attract larger sponsorship deals. The sponsors are sponsoring the fighter, not the UFC.
Buster Hyman- August 31, 2012 at 1:02 pm
you'd think they'd have a competitive edge based on the fury they have over rampage raping all of their women
JPfighter-DAMMA- August 31, 2012 at 11:43 am
What a bunch of horseshit. If you wanna fight in Vegas, you gotta do what you gotta do. No different than if I wanted to pursue something in Asia. I can't expect to compete doing it half-assed. If these guys like Dong don't live where the money is, that's there problem. How is that the UFC's problem? If this guy is serious about being a top competitor in the UFC, get your ass over the US, join a team, and start living and training where your job is. Otherwise, shut the fuck up.
DanFitPro- August 31, 2012 at 10:27 am
Dana and co. are just keeping the dogs hungry, if they get full (paid), then they won't be your bitch.
johnhayte- August 31, 2012 at 10:16 am
I suppose one way the UFC can address this is to hold more events in Asia.
Zescape- August 31, 2012 at 9:38 am
Good read. One of the italicized paragraphs should not be italicized. Italicized.
AlistairWolverine- August 31, 2012 at 8:25 am
At least he's fighting in China next and won't have to deal with any of that. Also, the UFC is taking 4 more shows to Japan next year, so most asians fighters will probably just be on those cards.
Viva Hate- August 31, 2012 at 7:44 am
Man, I was so disappointed in this article, I thought it was going to be about how these fighters were not made for fighting due to the small eyes which make it harder to see the strikes coming and lack of large thighs unlike other races that were bred to become athletes according to Jimmy the Greek.
Get Off Me- August 31, 2012 at 7:42 am
10k should be the minimum show salary. Offer finishing bonus of 20k for any fighter who finishes a fight. Zuffa has too many fighters signed under contract who will make >50k/yr if they do not win all their fights or get a KOTN,SOTN or FOTN bonus. Many think that by offering KOTN, SOTN or FOTN promotes finishes, but when a guy is getting 6k to fight and 6k to win, he most likely is going to play it safe to make sure he get's his measly win bonus as opposed to lay it all out to go for FOTN, SOTN or KOTN, because he may lose and may get cut. Promote exciting fights by paying all fighter's who finish their opponents and give the FOTN, SOTN and KOTN to best finshes/fight on the card.
Pen Fifteen- August 31, 2012 at 7:35 am
Overall, the UFC is reflective of the new economy of independent contractor, so the idea of unionization is pretty far-fetched. For 95% of the fighters, their labor is absolutely interchangeable; they exist only as potential fodder for the next Mega Extreme Knockouts collection. Thus, they do have an incentive to collectively bargain. However, for the remaining 5%, they have nothing to gain, and thus could cock-block the whole endeavor.

While UFC is kind of a skill sport, like baseball or hockey, it's mostly a warm body sport. As CP has remarked before, the threshold for getting in the ring is shockingly low. In the case of other professional sports leagues, like basketball and football, freakish size underpins much of the collective bargaining aspect. However, if the undercard fighters tried to rally together, the UFC could easily pick up a bunch of Joe Blows from Bumblefuck, California who are willing to throw haymakers until someone drops, which is what most casual fans want to see anyway. I mean, can you imagine Jon Fucking Jones agreeing to a union contract? As long as the promise of fabulous wealth is dangled in front of fighters, most of them are apparently willing to live in poverty for the chance to strike it big. It's the new American way.
Fried Taco- August 31, 2012 at 7:27 am
"it’s harder to adjust to travelling east, as opposed to west." - then why don't they just fly west instead? sure, maybe it costs a bit more...
jimbonics- August 31, 2012 at 7:14 am
Wanna work in the US? Move to the US.

War Stun Gun, either way.