(“Apologize or Dana will do WHAT to my butt?” Photo via OTM.)
By Elias Cepeda
Looks like someone got a call from their boss. Former Strikeforce fighter Tim Kennedy is set to make his UFC debut July 6th against Roger Gracie but made news yesterday for an interview he recently gave in which he criticized UFC fighter pay.
“It’s a good thing I have another job because the UFC doesn’t pay very well,” he told GrappleTalk Podcast.
“Anybody who accepts [fighters being underpaid] as a reality of the sport is sad and pathetic,” Kennedy went on. “I hope this isn’t the reality of the sport. If it is I should probably go do something else, like empty trash cans. I’d make more money than I do now.”
It didn’t take the middleweight long to regret his words, however, and he issued an apology to UFC brass for the interview through his facebook fan page yesterday. “I recently made comments regarding fighter pay. The intent of these statements was to highlight that professional fighters incur significant expense associated with their preparations to fight and that fighter compensation is still not on par with other major sports,” Kennedy began.
While I am fortunate to have various revenue streams associated with my business interests, most fighters do not have that luxury. When you spend training camps with great guys with amazing talents and you see them barely making ends meet, while simultaneously seeing athletes in other sports with far less character and a far smaller work ethic making exponentially more, you can get frustrated.
Unfortunately, I made statements that alluded to how the UFC in particular pays its athletes. This was particularly offensive as Zuffa has taken better care of me than any other organization, even giving me a bonus for being amusing on Twitter. My choice of words was poor, not properly informed, and did not match my intent. Additionally, my comments were taken out of context. I can tell you that I have been fighting longer than most people and I remember all too well the days when there was no regulation or standard for an MMA promotion. I fought many times in Mexico where the rules were negligible, there were no physicals, and being paid was a luxury we didn’t expect. Our sport was shunned and was considered ‘human cockfighting’. Today, we are on Fox. We have doctors and insurance. We make more money than the average American. And we get these things by playing a sport we love. The only reason this is possible is because of Zuffa. They have legitimized the sport and taken better care of the athletes than any other organization, and the trend is only improving, with athletes making three times what they made on average five years ago.
My comments were hurtful and inappropriate. I accept full responsibility for the statements and apologize to the UFC, Dana White, Lorenzo Fertita, & Joe Silva as well as anyone I might have offended with my comments. Fighting for the UFC is an honor and a privilege. I look forward to putting this situation behind me and focusing on my upcoming fight with Roger Gracie.
There are two sets of things to take issue with in Kennedy’s twenty four-hour public relations whirlwind. First, his notion that UFC fighters are not paid “on par” with other sports.
Assuming that we ignore the importance of the fact that MMA has only really existed in North America for less than twenty years, as opposed to over a hundred for all the major sports, Kennedy is still wrong.
Sure, athletes in unionized major sports leagues like the NBA, NFL and MLB get paid a lot more than UFC athletes, at the low-end, the middle range and at the top. But that’s not a great comparison. Those players bargain collectively, as associations and unions. More often than not, union work is higher-paid work in most fields. If UFC fighters want the benefits of unionization, they should unionize.
In comparison to boxers, however, it is a simple truth that UFC fighters get paid more than most of their counterparts in boxing. There are maybe three or four professional boxers in the entire world that get paid more than the top UFC champions. Other than that, fighters on a UFC card usually get paid more than boxers on top cable and pay per view boxing cards. Top level professional MMA has a much healthier middle class than top level professional boxing and the UFC has probably created more new fighter millionaires than boxing has in the past ten years.
Kennedy, no stranger to sounding out of touch, also said that he could make more money emptying trash cans. Listen, I’m not saying that fighters and athletes and everyone in the world shouldn’t get more money for honest work than they currently receive. Go for it. If you want to go that direction, see the above advice on banding together to get better wages and treatment. But Kennedy’s garbage man comparison and complaint is pretty silly for two reasons.
First off, let’s say that garbage collectors make more than a mid-card level UFC fighter. What’s wrong with that? We actually need functioning garbage collection in modern, healthy society. I like watching Tim Kennedy fight but I sure as heck don’t need him as much as I need the local garbage man or woman to come pick up my bags of filth every Friday.
Second, if Kennedy is complaining about low pay and has identified an alternate career path where he could earn more, then why in the world doesn’t he switch careers? Kennedy is a decorated, elite war veteran. Want to bet that he couldn’t walk into most cities in the U.S. and get a streets and sanitation job easier than most? Deservedly, government jobs often consider past military service quite favorably in evaluating potential hires.
If Kennedy were a garbage man, he could still train and fight MMA, like he loves. Then he’d have that high-paying job he’s always wanted and still be able to practice MMA. Chances are, however, that Kennedy likes fighting in the UFC for other reasons as well – notably the fame and opportunities to fight the best in the world.
All that is one set of issues with this Kennedy story. The bigger one, however, is how quickly he wilted under pressure, felt or anticipated.
Maybe Kennedy, in the midst of a training camp, thinking of lesser paid fighter friends of his, said some out of touch things in regards to UFC pay. But, there’s nothing wrong with him advocating for even better pay, overall. What’s really disappointing is that Kennedy is apparently willing to denounce important positions of his so easily. In his apology, Kennedy said, that his “choice of words was poor” and “not properly informed.”
Kennedy has been an MMA pro for years. Why wasn’t his opinion “properly informed?” And, what could have possibly happened in just a few hours to make Kennedy’s perspective more informed? Also, his apology wasn’t just a change in “choice of words,” it was a philosophical about-face.
Tim, does the UFC pay well or doesn’t it? You should have an answer, even if it’s a personal one. And, if the answer to the question is that, no, they do not, why back down from defending the low-paid fighters that you said you were concerned about in the first place?
For a more well thought out, balanced, and less likely to be so quickly denied view of UFC pay, check out Nate Quarry’s recent interview with BloodyElbow.
In it, Quarry provides a nuanced, first-hand perspective on the UFC being both cut throat and generous, the balance between what fighters give to the organization and what the UFC gives to them, the value of competition in the MMA promotions business, the value of sponsorship money and the possibility of unionization. Check it out.