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Can someone please offer a GOOD explanation as to why the Muhammad Ali Act should apply to MMA?

Within the past year there have been several people within the mixed martial arts industry that have gone to great effort to claim that the Muhammad Ali Act is applicable to the sport of MMA. Supporters of this position include Dallas Mavericks and HDNet owner Mark Cuban as well as Rob Maysey, the founder of a organization calling itself the “Mixed Martial Arts Fighters Association.”

The “MMAFA” claims its aim is to “establish an association comprised entirely of mixed martial artists and their trainers for the purpose of creating a truly professional structure for the mixed martial arts industry.” So far, the site does not currently list any fighters or trainers affiliated with its organization.

The Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act was passed in 2000 and is a federal law intended to protect professional boxers from being taken advantage of by managers, promoters, and sanctioning bodies. The law mandates that several legal protections be afforded to boxers due to the fact that there is not a athlete’s association to act in its best interest in order to provide representation and protection.

A general description of the type of protections afforded to boxers under the Reform Act include the following, as per Wikipedia.com:

“The boxer cannot, for example, be required to give away future promotional rights as a requirement of competing in a match that is a mandatory bout under the rules of a sanctioning organization. The act also requires sanctioning bodies to reveal to state commissions various information about matches that are held, fees charged to boxers for the sanctioning body to sanction a match, as well as any payment or comps received for the body for affiliating itself with the promoter. It also requires promoters to disclose a large amount of the financial information about bouts to the state commissions, as well as to the boxers they promote.”

The Ali Act is great for boxing and was long overdue when it was passed eight years ago. But to be blunt, I think a lot of what I’ve read claiming that the Ali Act applies to MMA is ridiculous. In fact, at times, I’ve found some of what I’ve read to be complete gibberish.

It’s nonsensical to me that are those who claim MMA is bound by the rules and regulations of the Ali Act. I’m no lawyer, but how can a law be retroactively re-written and applied to a sport is was not assigned for? Again, I’m not a lawyer, but in order to force MMA to abide by the Ali Act’s principles, wouldn’t new legislation have to be passed? Just because someone in a neighboring township happens to own a house that looks similar to mine doesn’t mean I have to abide by the ordinances of their township.

This is truly a case of apples and oranges. The business models of boxing and MMA are completely different. So different that I believe the business model for MMA is more similar to the models for professional baseball, basketball, and football than boxing.

In boxing, you have a manager and a promoter. In MMA, you don’t sign with a promoter — you sign with a promotion. What’s the difference? Well, in a lot of ways, a promoter is a second manager. The promoter controls your promotional fights and can tell you when, where, and who you will be fighting. A promotion is an actual company that has a brand identity. You sign a contract with the company but then you work with a manager or agent to sign bout agreements for fights on a case-by-case basis. There is no rankings system, thus, no mandatory challengers or deadlines.

I really have to question the motives of those championing the cause of the Muhammad Ali Act and trying to apply it to a sport it was never intended for. Is it because they truly care about the fighters? Or, is it because it’s a strategic attempt to weaken the UFC’s market share? I tend to believe that the true motive for most is the latter as opposed to the former.

Those reading this essay could try to conclude that by me being dismissive of the Muhammad Ali Act, I am not supportive of fighter’s rights. That’s hardly the case. As someone who trained in the sport of MMA before I ever wrote a single word about it, I believe that this blog is extremely empathetic to the plight of the common mixed martial artist. With a few exceptions, Five Ounces of Pain has always been a fighter-friendly website. I do believe fighters need more protection from big business and corporate greed but I just do not feel that the Muhammad Ali Act can protect all of their needs.

As I said earlier, MMA’s business model is much closer to professional baseball, basketball, and football. In the major leagues of all three sports the players are represented by a player’s union or association. A union of fighters may or may not happen in our lifetime, but it is still the best way for the fighters to protect their interests. Boxers aren’t put into positions where they are being asked to surrender their likeness for just 10% of the gross profits such as the UFC is doing. The UFC is able to get away with making such take it or leave it offers because it can play divide and conquer with individual fighters.

However, if the UFC had to negotiate likeness rights with a collective group, they would not have nearly as much leverage. The UFC would either have to satisfy the demands of the union of run the risk of producing a video game with the UFC brand name but generic fighters.

Additionally, if a UFC newcomer doesn’t want to agree to fight for the standard minimum of $4,000, unless they are Brock Lesnar, they are left with one of two options: accept the offer and fight for the UFC or decline the offer and not fight for the UFC. However, a union would have the power to go to the UFC and set a higher-standard for minimum payments. Furthermore, a union would have the power to go to a promotion and negotiate things such as improved health benefits.

But most importantly, a union would potentially have the power to go to a major promotion and demand they make revenue figures public. If fighter compensation of all kind was a matter of public record, agents and managers could negotiate better deals for their fighters. And if the UFC or EliteXC had to report their gross revenue to a union, the fighters could negotiate a precise percentage of how much revenue a company would have to allot to fighter salaries. In all major team sports leagues, there is an exact percentage of how revenue generated by a league is split between ownership and the players.

The UFC routinely claims that a reason why they aren’t able to spend more on fighter salaries is because they have to spend so much on infrastructure. But the fighters don’t have a say when and where the UFC spends its money. A guy only making $10,000 per fight with a wife and two kids really doesn’t care if the UFC needs $4 million to spend on a marketing campaign in the Philippines.

In other professional team sports, how the pie is divided is cut and dry; the owners get their share of money to do with what they want and the players get theirs. Nobody told the NFL to create their own television network; it made that decision on its own. Thus far, the NFL Network has not lived up to financial expectations but the saving grace is that the players cut of the revenue is locked in and remains the same regardless of the league’s net profit. That’s the difference between the UFC and major team sports: the UFC is constantly waving the cost of doing business in the face of the fighters whereas in major team sports, if the owners want to do something, they have to do it with their share of the revenue or they don’t do it at all (unless we’re talking about building stadiums with public money… in which case, the athletes are still not on the hook… just the taxpayers).

The issues outlined above are the kinds of things MMA needs most and they are the kinds of things that the Muhammad Ali Act would fail to address. Despite these facts, Maysey continues to try and push the argument that the act applies to MMA. But there is a fatal flaw in his argument which is that nowhere in the Muhammad Ali Act does it contain the phrases “mixed martial arts” or “mixed martial arts.” To try and exaggerate its scope and claim it applies to all combat sports athletes is also suspect, as the act specifically utilizes the phrases “boxing” and “boxers” and in no way deviates from boxing terminology.

Despite the fact that boxing and MMA are completely different sports with a different culture and a vastly different business structure, Mr. Maysey’s response to questions of how the Ali Act can apply to MMA when it was not written with the sport in mind is to cite a little-known clause in a real estate law. Maysey’s latest argument for the Ali Act applying to MMA is that the Interstate Land Sales Full Disclosure Act applies condominiums even though the legislation was written nine years before Congress used the term “condominium.”

Huh!?

If you’re confused how the government’s position on a real estate law supports an argument that a law drafted solely to protect boxers applies to MMA, join the club. I’d like to offer you a greater explanation but Maysey’s attempt to connect the dots in this instance falls way short. Perhaps I am in the minority, but I find the logic expressed in his most recent argument to be suspect, at best.

As I’ve said before, MMA is a fast-growing sport and has established its own identity. The days of being forced to take the hand-me-downs of boxing should be over by now. I don’t understand why people like Maysey are trying to jam the Muhammad Ali Act down MMA’s throat. If they truly are concerned for the welfare of the fighters, why not try to write and pass a “Randy Couture Reform Act” that applies to the specific needs of mixed martial artists? Now that’s a cause I could support.

35 COMMENTS
  • dojo says:

    Don’t forget shills like mmapayout…

    This site is run by a bunch of fanboy anti-ufc shills spinning everything.

    mmapayout = fox news of mma

  • bubbafat says:

    I think the lobbyists would call it an ‘amendment’ to the “Muhammed Ali Boxing Act”. Unless I’m wrong, it seems that you would be in favour of a MMA fighter’s union. So, how can you disagree with a law that would help fighter’s? You know as well as the rest of combat sports fans that fighters tend to be premadonna’s(not meant as an insult), which makes a union unrealistic. Why not give these guys some leverage, you’ve said yourself that they have virtually none? Or is the ‘status quo’ good enough? ‘Cause this will be as good as it gets without an amendment.

  • jdavis says:

    I’ve never understood the fascination some people have with the Muhammad Ali act myself. People like to pick and choose things out of it that they could “get” the UFC with but most of it just doesn’t apply to the sport of mma or the business model mma organizations use. I also agree that what they should be pushing for isn’t trying to fit a law that doesn’t make sense for the sport but having a whole new federal law specifically written for MMA that specifically covers MMA issues would be the way to go. Why push for something that doesn’t make sense or even apply to the sport the vast majority of the time when you should be pushing for a new law that specifically addresses MMA’s issues?

    I thought it was funny that the NFL’s business model was brought up being that the NFL owners recently voted to cancel their deal with the players union because of the size of the percentage the players were getting. No system is perfect and the players union/collective bargaining system has it’s own flaws too. I don’t think complex profit sharing schemes and salary caps is all that good of a fit for MMA either. The NFL doesn’t have to worry about failing as a business and they have already reached a high level of saturation, even the UFC has only been profitable for a handful of years so far profit sharing type deals are something once there is true future stability and market saturation. A union might be able to accomplish some improvements but it wouldn’t be anything that resembles the deals the big three sports have going either. Now a actual base pay formula, standardized contract structures and better benefits packages would be something that is needed in the now.

  • tbw says:

    One argument you didn’t address (and I have no idea if any of the Ali Act advocates are bringing it up) is that MMA is regulated by the same athletic commissions that regulate boxing. I’m no expert, and I have no clue if NSAC regulates any sports other than boxing and MMA, but I only ever hear of NSAC in the context of boxing and MMA, granting licenses to fighters, etc. More to the point, boxing seemed to be the only “combat” sport regulated by state athletic commissions, and somehow they also came to regulate MMA. One issue would be how the SACs came to regulate MMA… did they simply choose the job (in states where MMA wasn’t banned)? Were they granted authority through legislation? It seems like there might be a case here to expand boxing-related legislation to MMA through the expansion of authority for SACs to regulate MMA.

    Also, what’s the history of SACs regulation Muay Thai, kickboxing, etc? Seems like that might also give some indication on what sort of argument can be made about expanding boxing-specific legislation to other combat sports.

  • KneeToTheFace says:

    I don’t see how helping fighters can be a bad thing. Sure there are some things that don’t apply to MMA but for the most part it would be a positive change to the way the UFC and other compaines are run. Sure the infrastructure of UFC is different than the boxing promotions but as the fellow above me stated, why not just take bits and pieces of the Act and the positive things it can do and put it into a new act. I don’t think it’s necessary to cling to the “Ali Act” but instead call it something else and have it actually be beneficial and sensible.

  • jdavis says:

    I read the article at MMApayout on this, they were trying to compare airplanes and helicopters to this????????? Yes they both fly and are both under the FFA but airplanes and helicopters also have different regulations covering them because they have different flight characteristics. Some stuff applies across the board and some stuff doesn’t apply at all to one or the other. There are different licensing requirements, different flight regulations and completely different maintenance regulations. Just like boxing and MMA are covered under state athletic commissions yet they still have separate rules and regulations. The Muhammad Ali act isn’t a regulatory group it’s just a set of regulations, unless you want MMA’s business model to change to Boxing’s business model the regulations won’t all apply and that would just create more confusion. If you want to amend the act instead of passing a new law just amend it with a whole new section that is MMA specific but it’s silly to try and fit a square peg in a round hole, even if they are both made of wood.

  • SpaceMonkee says:

    Look, I read a few mma blogs/ forums/ news sites and one topic I’ve run into a lot recenly is the pay of fighters. It seems some fanboys have their panties in a bunch because their dear, favorite fighter is not getting paid what the fanboy truly believes is his fighter’s due. Those posts I ignore; more keyboard cowboys shooting off at the mouth (so to speak).

    What I am more interested in is opinions like this, opinions that actually back up statements with coherent thoughts. So, I have a question to ask. Shouldn’t we let managers and agents do their job? I mean, actually let them manage the career of a particular fighter. That is what they are paid for, right? In the article, it mentioned the $4,000 minimum for new figters in the UFC. OK, great, I guess your backround determines whether you think that is a ton of cash. But why should the UFC pay more for first fights? Who are most of these guys? Up and comers with no signifigant mma experience or exposure. In short, guys who can fight but are not selling too many tickets. And by keeping the starter pay low, doesn’t it allow the UFC to hire more of these guys and see who develops into the next contender than to pay out more and higher less while hoping with crossed fingers and toes that this fighter is the next big thing. It seems that way to me.

    The article also mentioned a take-it-or-leave-it situation when negotiating a contract. So the fighter, agent, and the UFC can’t reach a deal. The fighter should go fight for another promotion, make a name for themselves, and approach the UFC again. If that’s their wish. Maybe the other promotion is not so bad… I imagine it is similar to being drafted into the NBA or NFL. If some player is not drafted to their childhood favorite, adult man-crush loving team, does he quit? No! He works his ass off and is happy he is playing his sport on the professional level (ok, maybe that was too far, but he doesn’t quit the sport).

    I guess what I’m really peeved about is not understanding all the fuss about fighters pay. These guys made the choice to be professional fighters (wife and two kids and the three-legged dog). If it’s not paying the bills, get a job that can. Plenty of other people work at miserable ass jobs in order to make ends meet. And if you don’t think your fighter is getting payed enough, send them your paycheck, I’m sure they’d appreciate it. I guess what I really don’t want to see is millionare fighters that talk a bunch of trash and put on lackluster performances because that check had six or more zeros just for showing up at the venue.

  • dojo says:

    What these idiots at mmapayout don’t look at is how much did it really help boxing?

  • Jeremy says:

    One very major issue I can see is that there are many MMA orgs outside of the U.S. Does anyone expect them to follow U.S. rules?

    As far as a union goes, are they going to set double standards for pay? If not, how will Strikeforce and other mid-sized companies be able to afford fighter pay?

    Is it going to say that the UFC must pay more for the services of Ryan Schultz than Strikeforce? If so, then Zuffa is going to get screwed over.

    Yes, there should be some rules covering the legality of certain things, but to the Ali act would be disasterous.

  • Jim says:

    I definitely think that a union is the best way to go. The main problem with that is the central difference of the sport: team vs individual.

    Football players, baseball players, and basketball players are all used to the collective mindset that a union requires because they’re always played with teammates. Fighters are more individual than that, they fight alone and have to look out for only themselves. MMA has less of this than boxing — the concept of “teams” like Team Quest, Team Jackson, Xtreme Couture, Team Takedown, and others certainly makes the fighters more collective than boxers — but when it all comes down to the money-making, they’re individuals, fighting alone.

    I wonder if there will ever be a middle ground, perhaps teams will negotiate deals with promotions? Just thinking aloud here, but would love to know what you think…

  • EdWhitson says:

    The fighters union is a bad idea. All it will do is raise ticket prices for fans. Going to a professional baseball / basketball / football game is a very expensive proposition. Why? Because you have guys like A-Rod, Kobe, King James getting a fortune. Gee, that worked out well for fans.

    If a fighter does not like what he is getting paid – guess what – get another job. You don’t have some God-given right for the government to come to your defense like a nanny b/c you are not getting paid what you think you “deserve”. It’s called free will. If fighting does not pay the rent, work at a bank. We don’t need the government interferring in MMA.

  • Steve says:

    I for one am getting very tired of hearing about how horrible it is that a UFC fighter is only receiving a few thousand dollars to compete. Time and time again, recent history shows us that the free market is much better at assigning wages than arbitrary limits are. You said it best yourself:

    “if a UFC newcomer doesn’t want to agree to fight for the standard minimum of $4,000…they are left with one of two options: accept the offer and fight for the UFC or decline the offer and not fight for the UFC.”

    And yet every fighter wishes they could be on the undercard of a UFC Fight Night making $2,000 to show. If a fighter would prefer to fight for EliteXC, DREAM, or another org, they are more than welcome to do so. The UFC awards extremely nice purses to fighters that are difficult to replace, and every fighter dreams of fighting BJ Penn or Chuck Liddell and pulling triple digits per year just to fight. The relatively low amounts paid to up-and-coming fighters just goes to show what happens when there is an extremely high demand for work, but low, fixed supply of jobs available.

    Also, if a fighter is paid $4,000 to fight 3 times in a year, he just made $12,000. Because he’s in the UFC, he is suddenly making good money from sponsorships, so TapouT and Condom Depot each pay him $3,000/year to wear their clothes at fights, public appearences, and on television shows. His UFC credentials also give him the opportunity to train people part time at the local gym, where he makes an extra $8,000. Our hypothetical low-level UFC fighter is making $26,000 living his dream and has a realistic chance to become a millionaire celebrity fighter in the near future.

    And this is the type of person that I’m supposed to feel sorry for?

  • Sam Caplan says:

    Steve, are you serious?

    If a fighter fights three times a year, that means he spends anywhere between 6-9 months preparing for those fights. You make it sound like he’s being paid $12,000 for three days of work. He’s being paid $12,000 for 6-9 months of work. You also make it sound like $12,000 is a living wage? What are you, 12?

    Also, where are you getting your sponsorship numbers? Fighting on TV does not guarantee you sponsorships. They do not come with the contract you sign with a promotion. It’s up to the fighter to go out and get them. Most fighters don’t have the time or the skills needed to recruit sponsors, so they have to hire an agent or manager… an agent or manager does not work for free. A manager or agent is going to take anywhere between 10-20% of a fighters sponsorships. I have even heard of situations where some managers get even more than that. You are also overlooking the fact that now every UFC fighter gets sponsored. If you’re not on TV on a regular basis, and the average $4,000/fighter fighter usually isn’t, it’s very hard to attract sponsorship.

    And again, where are you getting the $8,000 figure from for being an instructor? Not every fighter in the UFC has the option to train other fighters. Just because someone fights in the UFC does not automatically make them qualified to serve as an instructor. Not to mention, if you’re fighting three times a year you might not have time to worry about instructing other fighters.

    A fighter should be happy with $26,000 a year? Only someone who lives with their parents would say such a thing. Maybe a 22-year old fighter should be happy with that, but what about a 30-year old fighter with a wife and kids?

    Steve, sorry, but you’re completely jaded. You are overlooking a great many things, namely the costs involved with fighting. Fighters are independent contractors. They do not get health insurance even though they are at a high risk for injury every day they go into the gym. They also do not get many of their expenses covered. Sure, the UFC will fly them out for their own fights along with three corner people and put them all up in a hotel, but that’s about it. Maybe you didn’t think of this, but it’s not free for a fighter to train. Just because someone makes it into the UFC it doesn’t mean they can go to their gym and tell their trainer that it’s time they get free training. In fact, some camps demand 20% of a fighter’s purse as compensation for training them and cornering them.

    You’ve also completely forgotten that fighters also don’t have 401Ks and that they have a limited shelf-life to earn income as a fighter. You and I can do what we do until we’re 70 or older. A fighter can only fight as long as his or her body will allow.

    And a realistic chance to become a millionaire celebrity? Huh!? There’s only a handful of Chuck Liddells out there. It’s a grind for many fighters. For every Chuck Liddell, you’ve got ten Jason Lamberts.

    Maybe you shouldn’t feel sorry for the Chuck Liddells and the Kimbo Slices of the world. But you should have a little more awareness and sympathy for what the common fighter sacrifices in order to provide entertainment to you. As of now, you’re totally clueless.

  • mmalogic says:

    Sam,

    The market will dictate what fighters make… not some keyboard dougie houser look a likes at mmapayout.

    The UFC is not competing with other mma orgs but every other job a fighter can take..

    So its the fighters choice if he wants to fight for said purse and it’s the UFC’s choice if it wants to increase pay to take away athletes that would normally go into foot ball for example.

    There will never be a union in mixed martial arts…

    There will never be a muhammed Ali Act in MMA.

    You heard it here first.

    The retarts at mmapayout don’t get credentialed by the UFC so they suffer looking for possibilities to break UFC’s strong hold.

    They get credentialed by elite and affliction so they basically spin everything their way.

    It’s a fanboy website.

    They can’t stand the fact that their entire existance is based on the UFC and it’s success…

    Why are mma blogs doing well in general?

    Why are mma gyms doing well in general?

    why is mma clothing doing well in general?

    Now ask why is every competitor to the UFC dying?

    Because it’s not an MMA boom it’s a UFC boom.

    Anyone that wants to ride the wave will have a good chance of doing well…

    Anyone who wants to challenge the wave will die.

    Peace.

    MMALOGIC

  • b.w. says:

    SAM. i think it is a privledge to be a pro athelete, not a RIGHT. nobody is pointing a gun to their head to sign a bad contract. alot of fighters like chuck have left good paying jobs to become fighters. i dont see where the ali reform act has helped boxing at all. it is as corrupt as it has ever been and is dying a slow death in america. i as well dont feel sorry for the fighters that have complained about money recently (huerta,tito,randy, hellbitch) but i do agree with you that making 26k per year is not making a good living for a proffesional fighter in the UFC, but i think most if not all the lower level UFC fighters make much more than that, and if not, they need to start performing at a higher level and EARN more. i know the ufc takes care of its fighters who perform well, win or lose. a union will not work in an non-team sport imo. i will say it again, it is a PRIVLEDGE not a RIGHT to make a living as a pro athelete. if a fighter is not making enough money to survive or is unhappy with the amount they are making, they are free to get a different job at anytime. i believe its an open door policy.

  • b.w. says:

    i guess i should add that there are no good points as to why the ali reform act should be applied to mma. i guess i helped make your point.

  • Glenn says:

    Some concepts in the Ali act could be applied easily to MMA whilst others Im sure would be inappropriate. Ammendments would need to be made and I think it should happen, in conjunction with the forming of a fighters union. In this 2 pronged approach, legislation could be enacted to ensure important contractual components were included or excluded for fighter contracts and more day to day type management of things could be done by the union. We are in a transitional phase of MMA right now as fighters for the first time have reasonable alternatives to fighting in the UFC. (Affliction, EXC…etc) I just wish for success for the newer promotions as I dont believe the UFC having a monopoly on the industry is good for the sport itself or for the fighters.

    And for those attacking mmapayout.com…..I am amazed. That site to me always seems to post very rounded unbiased opinions and leaves it up to the readers to determine their view. This issue in no different. I found this article on their website as well as a link to an opposing article. After reading both I form my opinion on the matter.

    Whichever way you look at it, union, new act, ammended act……etc…..something is needed, with reasonable urgency to protect the fighters. Not so much their salary as many are pointing out. I am more concerned about the rights of the fighters. Randys champion clause, merchandising clauses….etc, those kind of things. TUF fighters sign up not worrying about those things, they just want to fight and get paid. Then 4 years down the track when they are famous and making good money, they realize a standard term of the TUF contract is that should they ever resign, the UFC retains their merchandising rights. Those are the situations where I think fighters need protection as when they start out, they arent concerned about that situation.

  • Mike Rome says:

    Why is it the UFC’s obligation to provide a living wage to fighters nobody is paying to see? Arbitrary wage minimums would hurt the poorest fighters, pricing them out of spots on the UFC cards because they simply wouldn’t be worth it to the UFC. A guy like Houston Alexander would have never got his shot if there was some kind of arbitrary $20,000 wage floor set a month before his fight. They’d have found someone already on their roster, or just cancelled the fight.

    There are indeed cases of guys being paid less than they are worth in the UFC, but it is not the lowest paid guys. Nobody outside of their family is paying to see them, they are completely interchangable. They are adding no value or profit.

    Unlike many of the working poor who have structural pressure keeping them down, or come from broken homes or other terrible situations that make success hard, fighters have made a completely voluntary and unique choice to make a living while fighting. They made this choice with the clear knowledge of how much fighters make, nobody is hiding the ball from them, and there is nobody forcing them to do it. This is the perfect example of a market tradeoff where information is nearly perfect for both parties, there’s no reason to interfere.

  • DamonO says:

    For one this is not Boxing although the ideas are similar considering, fighters, promoters, managers, etc. They should just rewrite the Act in the form of MMA and throw Randy Couture’s name on there. The Randy Couture Mixed Martial Arts Reform Act. Or The “insert name here” Boxing Reform Act

  • DamonO says:

    doh!

    my bad

    I meant The “insert name here” Mixed Martial Arts Reform Act

  • MacBatty says:

    This whole thing is about Dana trying to Monopolize MMA and the fighters. This is just ONE way they are trying to wrestle some power from him. I am a big UFC fan but i think this would help me get to see the MMA fights i actually want to see as apposed to a main event of Chris Leben vs Michael Bisping…..zzzzzzz SNORE.

  • Sam Caplan says:

    I don’t see how competing as a professional fighter and barely making a living wage can be considered a privledge? This isn’t the NFL where the veteran’s minimum is approximately $800,000 or even a seventh-round pick gets a starting salary in the six figures.

    It’s not the UFC’s obligation to provide a living wage to fighters and nobody is forcing fighters to fight. But I think a lot of people are missing the big picture. The UFC is the torch bearer of the MMA movement not only in this country but the entire world. As the UFC goes, so goes the sport. It will be difficult in the long-term future to develop the next generation of MMA’s stars if they are pursuing endeavors other than fighting.

    The UFC could easily adjust their minimums to $7-8,000 for a fighter’s first fight without greatly affecting their bottom line. If the UFC awards $60,000 fight bonuses during a pay-per-view, that’s $240,000 being awarded in non-guaranteed salary. You’re telling me some of that money couldn’t be re-alloted so that the younger fighters on the card could walk away with more to show for their efforts in the gym and the sacrifices they made?

    Other promotions pay just as much or less for newcomers as the UFC. The difference is, the UFC is actually making money — and lots of it. The highest minimum payment a fighter receives to compete should be coming from the UFC. Taking a cavalier attitude that nobody is forcing these guys to fight and that they can always get a mainstream job is short-sighted. I don’t see how people can think that way if they are truly passionate about the sport. To me, what you’re saying is you’re okay with the possibility of talented fighters walking away? Well, I’m not okay with that possibility. I want to see MMA attract the best athletes it can possibly attract.

  • Sven says:

    You know, Sam, the salaries for new fighters in UFC are shockingly low to most people. It’s really small amounts compared to what the more well-paid fighters get and doubling the lowest salaries wouldn’t affect the total purse with a whole lot.

    There are of course good reasons behind this policy. One would wonder, though, if they are the right ones. At first sight it came seem strange, since the UFC are, as you say, paying less than the competition for the unestablished fighters. There are a lot of lower rung fighters who have bee offered a UFC contract, but are basically forced to turn them down for economic reasons, since other companies are willing to pay them more and there are no margins for unestablished fighters.

    That must be a negative for UFC, that they can’t even be sure to get non-established fighters because of their payment policies. The only reason I can imagine for the UFC to do this is that an increased salary for the lower rung would create ripples upwards. A doubled starting salary would certainly in the long term push up the salaries also for more well-paid fighters, since UFC is in need of a distinct salary pyramid.

    The question is of course if the current salary proportions is perfect for the long term or the long haul. As it is right now, as long as you are not a super star the only reason to go from a Japanese league to UFC seem to be to make a name for yourself or feel that you are really fighting the absolute best. This might bring the UFC guys like Fitch. But how many fighters in the world have their minds wired as a Fitch? Not a whole lot, I would think.

  • Rise of The Machines says:

    The USSR lost, but yet socialism wins. We lost the Cold War, people!

  • The argument that really bothers me is the “if you’re in favor of fighter’s rights how can you not be in favor of having the Ali Act apply to MMA?” Simple, because I think there should be an act entirely built around the structure of MMA. Why would you want to settle for an amendment to the Ali Act (an act which while well intentioned has not really had the full intended effect on the sport of boxing) when you could be pushing for something to address the problems with OUR sport?

    I’ve written several pieces over at Bloody Elbow saying the same thing as you Sam. Keep fighting the good fight…

  • Kuch says:

    Sorry Sam, but I’m willing to watch talented fighters walk away if they don’t like the pay. They can go seek employment in another organization or they can apply their college degree (if they have one). Choosing to be a fighter is just that; a choice. No one said it was easy and I think it’s a little short sighted for you to expect the UFC to pay them more just because they are the biggest promotion.

  • Imbecile says:

    I’m with Kuch, and several others above. Sorry Sam. I know it is tough, and I know you are probably feeling a lot of these pains personally, since you are now putting in the effort of supporting your wife’s dream of being a professional fighter [I really do empathize, since I am trying to support my wife through $200,000 in grad school costs].

    I think it is great that these fighters (and your wife) are all pursuing their dreams. But anyone that has the dream of becoming a professional athlete has to know that pursuing that dream comes with tremendous sacrifices and a high chance of outright failure. If just anyone could become a professional athlete then we wouldn’t have such a strong desire to watch these sports. We watch professional sports to see something extraordinary, and the most extraordinary athletes get paid the most because they are who we want to see the most. We don’t pay high ticket prices to go see the 30-and-over co-ed softball leagues down at the local field.

    The same goes with MMA fighters. They aren’t paid as much because we aren’t necessarily paying to watch them. As their recognition grows, their pay will increase. However, there is a high degree of failure, and most should be prepared to never get much financial reward for their efforts.

  • Imbecile says:

    Also…

    The truth is, a fighter is NOT paid for the 9 – 12 months they spent training. They are paid for the fight, and the fight alone. The 9 – 12 months spent training are an investment made by the fighter that they may or may not recoup monetarily.

    I don’t remember anyone suggesting that these fighters fight for free for the good of the sport when Zuffa was putting in their investment of time and money, which at the time, was pretty uncertain whether or not they would recoup. Nobody demanded Tito Ortiz cut his asking price in half when the Fertitta’s were paying him out of their own pocket and losing millions on the shows he would headline.

    I think the problem a lot of people have when talking about money in MMA is that they want to put the cart before the horse. We all want this to be a mainstream sport so badly that we forget how young a sport it truly is. Zuffa is still paying off debts, and has undertaken new debts that make that initial $40 million they lost seem insignificant. They took out nearly $300 million in debts so that they could reinvest in the sport and their company to grow MMA even bigger. That will take them years of profits to pay off, but nobody seems concerned about their finances.

    One day, when MMA is a mainstream sport, perhaps the stars will make tens of millions, and the average UFC fighter will make a good living. But right now, our instant gratification society thinks those things should happen BEFORE the sport has proven to be a long-term money maker. We are only 3 YEARS into the time when Zuffa has actually proven profitable. Only three years! And no other organization has yet done the same.

    Maybe we would get better fighters if they paid more, but that doesn’t matter yet if the sport isn’t big enough to maintain those salaries. This is a period of sacrifice for a lot of people – athletes, promoters, trainers, investors, etc. – and most probably won’t be able to be successful. It is their risk, and they willingly assume that risk.

    And comparisons to league minimums in other sports don’t fly. First, MMA is not as big as these other sports. Second, MMA is an individual sport, not a team sport. If Peyton Manning wins the Super Bowl and makes millions, he was also helped by the rest of his team, who may go unnoticed, but still deserve a cut of the money created by that success. However, if Forrest Griffin wins a fight, it isn’t like some guy fighting on the undercard helped him in any way.

    The salaries will come as the sport grows, but we don’t base salaries just on how hard someone worked – especially if it is just hard work in support of their own dream, without any real external benefit to anyone else. There are plenty of Olympians who will never make a dime, and have probably sacrificed more than many MMA athletes will ever know. But that is their choice, and their dream, and it doesn’t mean we should pay them if nobody wants to watch whatever it is that they do.

  • ihateemo says:

    Nobody is saying that the *government* should be forcing the UFC to up its base salaries but if employees are organised and have collective bargaining power then I think you would not only see happier fighters making better salaries but a higher class of fighter would be joining the MMA ranks.

    I am pretty appalled at so-called MMA “fans” who are OK with fighters getting paid poorly. The people who are making comments like “nobody is forcing them to fight” are incredibly narrow-sighted and selfish. I’m sure a lot of you have a good job, an air-conditioned office and a nice hi-def flat-screen TV to watch your pay-per-views and yet you begrudge men and women who are willing to sacrifice their health and physical well-being so you can rewind their knockouts and blood being spilled on your DVR with your drinking buddies. These so-called fans just hate to see others have a bigger payday, especially when it’s a fighter they’ve never heard of.

    The UFC is like the Walmart of MMA – it’s an omnipotent juggernaut with all the power, all the money and all the press. There’s no “market forces” at work here, except for fighters like Chuck Liddell with name recognition who could command much bigger salaries elsewhere. But for the lesser known fighter? The UFC offers them opportunities no other promotion can, and the UFC knows it which is why it can get away with its negotiating tactics.

    I agree with what Sam is saying 100% – just because a promotion can get away with shockingly low salaries for athletes on the lower rungs, why shouldn’t the playing field be leveled? That’s all unionisation is. You can joke about Commies and the Soviets all you like, but the bottom line is that MMA promotions need athletes and athletes need MMA promotions. Since the need for both is equal, why should there not be equal bargaining power at the negotiating table?

  • I applaud everyone here for making mostly informed and well-thought out points. I’ve always thought that there was too much blind support for big fighter paydays without considering the implications of the longevity of the sport so i’m glad there there’s a healthy balance of opinions here.

    Sam, you’ve always done a good job as a reporter at examining both sides and keeping your own opinion close to the middle. I understand that given your wife’s goal of fighting professionally, its now impossible for you to not lean more strongly towards one side.

    I have no problems with fighter’s unionizing. I just find it strange that fans think they need to be so vocal about it. Ultimately, its between the fighters and promotions. Why do fans need to represent fighters on the matter? Fighters should represent themselves.

  • b.w. says:

    SAM. you made a much better statement on your 2nd response than your first, but comparing the ufc or mma to the nfl, mlb, nba is not fair. those sports have been around for decades. boxing has been around for a century, while mma has only been around for 15 years and didnt even come into the publics eye until about 4 or 5 years ago. the ufc JUST started to make money on a bigger scale, so i say give them a little more time and maybee they will meet up to your standards. the payouts and bonuses have increased alot in the last few years. i can remember when the fight, fighter, ko, and sub of the night was only a 10 or 15k bonus, now they are up to 60k. every time a disgruntled fighter talks about money and the ufc, they always bring up KIETH JARDINE and how he only made 10k for his fight with wandi and had to pay for his own hospital bills (b.s.), but anytime JARDINE is aske about the subject, he always says that the ufc takes good care of him wich means he is probably making alot of money off of performance bonuses. i doubt kieth is a puppet just like i doubt that the other 95% of the ufc’s fighters who are happy with the ufc are not puppets to dana or zuffa. AFFLICTION is what has brought on all these money issues by way OVERPAYING what the fighters market is actually worth. i think affliction will be gone before the middle of next year and elitexc by the end of the year, so we’ll see what the fighters and the fans have to say then. if the ufc signs a major network deal next year and is succsesfull, i can see champions and top fighters making millions or close to it and the up and comers making tens of thousands, but this is all just speculation on my part. honestly i want the fighters to make as much as possible as well cuz they do deserve it, but i dont want mma to end up being like boxing or having all the greed that the other sports have in them.

  • j. says:

    i’m a construction worker (a concrete finisher) and i also destroy my body, the difference is not in the way fighters do and i’ll have my job for years to come. i can thank my union for that job security, the financial help with schooling, medical and retirement benefits; i will also admit there are many inherent things wrong with unions to. i just think it’s truly pathetic that at the end of the day i’ll have made a hell of a lot more money in my life time then the majority of the athletes i’ve been watching for the last 15 years.

  • klown says:

    The question of fighter unionization is persistently framed as a moral issue, when in fact it’s an issue of power. Employees who have the power to do so always fight for a better deal. If joining their efforts is in their interest and within their ability, they will do it. This process is called organizing.

    Organizing a union for MMA fighters will require an alliance between multiple forces, including regular athletes, celebrity athletes (Tito, Randy), experts (Big John), journalists/bloggers and fans. Their combined forces will be able to pressure promotions (primarily the UFC) to balance against the control promotions currently hold over fighters. Well-established fighters who can afford to must speak out on behalf of powerless fighters who are intimidated or contractually bound into silence by their employers.

    It’s a waste of time to appeal to morality or reason to convince those who will oppose these efforts. The only thing to do is to build power by organizing.

  • mmalogic says:

    There should be a “MMA Bloggers Act”…

  • ACK! says:

    Great points all around, Sam. Stuff like this is why you are one of the best MMA reporters on the net.

    Though I’m personally disturbed that so many people support low wages for fighters. This isn’t about all fighters getting paid mega-bucks, rather I think all fans of the sport should support a pay scale that allows most fighters to make an honest living by focusing on their MMA career until they lack marketyability or simply can’t compete. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

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