(Photo courtesy of Esther Lin.)
It’s a fact of life in the world of MMA: when it comes to getting big paydays in a hurry, fame trumps skill every time. We saw it with Kimbo Slice, who made half a million to dollars to lose to a mid-level fighter in the weight class below him. We saw it with Brock Lesnar, who debuted in the UFC with just one pro fight to his credit and made $250,000 in guaranteed show money. But we also see it in small ways, such as Kim Couture’s $10,000 take for her losing effort in Strikeforce Challengers last Friday. By comparison, Kerry Vera, who starched Couture in the first round, made four grand to show and another four to win. Main eventer Tyrone Woodley made $3,500 and $3,500. His losing counterpart in that bout? He took home just $2,500.
So how is it that a 1-2 fighter who has yet to prove that she has the skills to warrant an appearance on TV can pocket the biggest check of the night on a card that features several more experienced up-and-comers? Simple. She shares a famous person’s last name, which makes her kind of famous. Sort of.
It’s depressing, when you think about it. The people who want to do this, and only this with their lives, they don’t typically have the time or the means to get famous before they start fighting. That’s why they have to fight for puny sums just to prove themselves, and even then the bumps in pay come incrementally at first. And yet someone with a recognizable name, for whatever reason, can jump into the cage and get paid like a veteran despite having the skills of a novice.
In no other sport does this happen. Herschel Walker couldn’t decide to become a pro tennis player and instantly get paid like Andy Roddick in his first match. He couldn’t just make up his mind to join the ATP in his forties, citing some country club tournaments he won, and get the same money the veterans of the tour do.
And yet, we can probably assume that Walker (0-0) is not going to make less than a grand to show in his Strikeforce debut, like most guys in their first pro fight. He’ll probably even beat Woodley’s $3,500 show money, and Couture’s too. Something about fighting makes it more intriguing when famous people do it, and that intrigue adds up to money. It makes sense, in a way. If Walker turned out to be terrible at tennis, it would make for a laughable match that gets boring inside of five minutes. If he’s terrible at MMA, he’ll get physically beat up in a bout that probably won’t last five minutes. People will pay to see humiliation when it’s lumped with pain.
Still, if I’m Woodley or Rudy Bears or any of the other fighters on the Strikeforce card who got paid like part-time help, I’m not sure the logic of the situation would offer me any comfort as I prepared myself another dinner of hamburger helper. It might just piss me off more, and it might make me want to take out my frustrations on one of these celebrities when they’re finally forced to fight someone.