(“It’s an ‘undisclosed locker room bonus,’ okay? That means we don’t tell the media, we don’t tell the IRS, and we especially don’t tell my wife.” / Photo via TerezOwens.com)
For years, the UFC’s end-of-night performance bonuses have rewarded fighters for outstanding battles and finishes in the Octagon, as well as given fans a metric to determine which fighters are the most consistently entertaining. But now that more and more fighters are publicly coming out to blast the promotion’s pay scale, UFC president Dana White says he’s thinking about ending the practice altogether, and using that money instead to bump the guaranteed salaries of lower-tier fighter. As he explained to media yesterday:
“The bonuses were something we’ve been doing out of the kindnesses of our (expletive) hearts,” White said. “That’s not something that was ever done or structured. We started doing it and that was it. It was something we liked to do, thought it was a cool thing to do. Apparently people don’t like it. They want the lower-level guys to get paid more money.”
Asked to clarify if this was really a move the promotion could make in the not-so-distant future, White answered emphatically.
“(Expletive) yeah, it could happen,” White said. “That’s what I’m thinking about doing. All the (expletive) lower-level guys think they need their money boosted. Everyone thinks it’s not enough money, so that’s easy to do.”
This, of course, is nothing more than a transparent bluff, on par with your father threatening to “turn this car around, goddamnit!” 30 minutes into a family road trip. Now that Dana has suggested that the UFC will transform its pay structure — sacrificing those $50,000 end-of-night awards to fatten the paychecks of prospects — here’s what he expects will happen next:
- Fighters who are notorious for gobbling up performance bonuses, but who have relatively modest base-salaries — think Donald Cerrone, Nate Diaz, Joe Lauzon — will scream bloody murder at the thought of their $50k bumps going away. I mean, those guys depend on that money. How else are you going to convince 10 or 12 girls to come out on a pontoon boat with you?
- The lower-level fighters who actually stand to benefit from this pay-restructuring are going to have a change of heart, once they realize that there’s no possibility of earning a life-changing amount of money in a single fight. Right now, a newbie like James Krause can step into the Octagon for the first time and leave $100,000 richer. Under DW’s new proposed system, an $8k/$8k fighter might begin to earn a living wage, but those jackpot days would be over.
Either way, Dana’s betting that a lot of his contracted fighters will start to cry out, “No, no, we liked things the way they were, PLEASE DON’T TAKE AWAY OUR BONUSES DADDY!!!”
Again, that’s what Dana hopes will happen. But look, he’s not really going to eliminate end-of-night bonuses; it’s just a publicity stunt to keep the loud-mouths in line. What makes this threat so aggravating is that it’s based on such an obvious false choice: Low guaranteed money with the possibility of end-of-night bonuses, or higher guaranteed money with no possibility of end-of-night bonuses — pick your poison.
The thing is, there are other ways to fix the UFC’s pay structure that don’t involve eliminating those $50,000 bumps that everybody loves so much. For example, the UFC could do one of the following things for all new contracted fighters, going forward:
- Keep FOTN/KOTN/SOTN bonuses, but eliminate win bonuses: Nearly all UFC fighters double their show-money by winning. This financial arrangement is apparently designed as an incentive for UFC fighters to fight hard and try to pull out a victory until the bitter end. But winning fights in the UFC and advancing up the ladder are major incentives in themselves. So instead of those win bonuses making UFC fighters push harder, the fighters became aware that half of their potential payday is based on winning the match. And so, safe-fighting was born; win each round in the most risk-averse way possible, and double your money when the last bell sounds. One solution to this problem would be giving all new fighters a flat fee for showing up and fighting, which would be higher than their show money under the existing structure. Therefore, new prospects get paid more in guaranteed money, and there would be no incentive just for winning — but those incentives for entertaining performances would still remain.
- Put the fighters on salary: Can you imagine only getting 2-4 paychecks a year? It’s hard to plan for the future when you don’t know when the money’s coming in, or exactly how much it will be. So what if the UFC signed new prospects to an annual contract that paid them twice a month like regular working folks? Even if the money still isn’t fantastic — today’s $8k/$8k fighters might instead start off with a $40k/year salary in this scenario — it would give the lower-tier fighters some semblance of a normal life, and the stability they need to continue living as fighters.
Got any better ideas? Fire away in the comments section…