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Mike Reilly: And the band played on…

When our travel agent first booked us on the HMS EliteXC we were impressed with the service and quality of the trip. Sadly the best our travel agent could do was book us in steerage but after a short talk with the 1st mate we found ourselves in a first class cabin with a private walk out balcony and personal porter.

Ten minutes later we hit an iceberg.

We now find ourselves huddled in a lifeboat with other refugees in the frozen waters of MMA limbo. What I find odd is how many people are rejoicing the death of EliteXC. Well maybe odd is the wrong word… how about horrified, angry, saddened, disgusted of just plain old pissed off?

From day one the naysayers predicted a horrible and sudden death to the promotion as they have with every promotion. They now revel in being right as naysayers always do when things go wrong for others. It is a sad sickness of the human condition to relish the failure of others. Shameful and wicked would be the Jesuit description; though I doubt today’s world allow room for such judgments.

From a personal perspective, Elite treated fighters and fans wonderfully. We were never left waiting for rides or pay or per diem. We were always provided with great opponents, venue and given the largest stages this sport has seen on which to compete. Every member of the staff including Gary, Jared, Jeremy, JD, JT, Jessica and everyone else always met us with a smile, kindness and respect. They always did their best to make sure everything ran on time; friends and family were taken care of and we always felt appreciated. That is not always the case, even with top tier events.

From the perspective of someone who works with and for fighters it is tragic to see another well-paying, well-meaning company slip under the waves. Most fans think of fighters like characters in a video game. But these are real flesh and blood people with the same concerns as every other work a day person in this nation. These are not millionaire athletes. To date there has been less then a dozen fighters who will hit $1,000,000 in their entire careers. Most “A” level fighters will make less then $100,000 with purse and sponsors combined. With Elite gone the number that will make even that amout will drop dramatically.

Simply put there are too many fighters to be supported by one or two organizations. The fewer promotions there are the more fighters who will be competing for spots that will be worth less and less. This is not a reflection on any one promotion — this is the basic nature of market forces. Fighters will be forced to take greater risks for less reward and the promotions left standing will reap the benefits. I’m not making a moral judgment here, but neither will I rejoice in a situation that will destroy the fighting careers of many fine young athletes.

As we watch the last of her stern slip beneath the waves there are those who will curse her architect. Some will malign the Captain and her crew. Still others will rage their anger at God. However, for us still among the flotsam we will simply mourn her, grab an oar and row like hell.

13 COMMENTS
  • Sensei John Creese says:

    “But these are real flesh and blood people with the same concerns as every other work a day person in this nation.”

    While I agree with the overall sentiment of the pieces, this sentiment is one that is thrown about alot in regard to MMA fighters, and I think this needs to be address. Specifically, the fact that this is completely irrelevant at best needs to be addressed.

    Fighters are nothing like “work a day” people. Fighters are professional athletes. They have chosen to fight for one of two reasons: they love to fight or they want to be rich and famous.

    If someone fights becuase they love to fight, then they are either stupid or know getting into it that it’s going to be a tough road with the possibility of no payout at the end. At the end of the day, the fighter struggling to make ends meet because of the difficulties of being a professional MMA fighter is living the life he/she chose: a life of hardship. It would be nice if every person in the world were able to live a life of luxury by earning millions doing what they loved, but this ain’t utopia. “Work a day” people exchange the pursuit of something they love for the security of a steady paycheck, insurance and a 401k. If a fighter loves to fight, good on him, but don’t bitch when it turns out that it’s a risky proposition. I’ve never set foot in a cage or ring and I can tell you how crappy it must be for a mid-level fighter; someone that has dedicated their lives to the sport should know, and if they don’t then they deserve the hole they find themselves in.

    The other reason to pursue a career in MMA is the desire to be wealthy and famous. If that’s the goal, then again, they deserve what they get if it doesn’t happen. The fact of the matter is, MMA folks don’t get paid all that much unless they’re the top guys, and there aren’t many “top guys.” If someone is pursuing MMA as a means of becoming wealthy, then they knowingly took a huge risk. Good on them, I suppose, but don’t complain when the likely conclusion comes around. You took a shot and missed; when you give up the security of a normal job with a low risk/reward proposition, you don’t deserve any sort of sympathy from people who have spent that time working at a job that has more security.

  • Davey D says:

    Mike, you failed to mention how Pro Elite wasted their money purchasing org’s like Cage Rage, King of the Cage, Icon and whoever else. Did they not incur a great deal of debt once all those transaction’s were complete? I’m asking because I don’t know?

    At the end of the day. They failed the fighter’s, the fan’s and themselves. I’m pissed about it too because they wasted well over $60 million dollar’s, two premier broadcasting outlet sources and put a lot of people out of work in a piss poor economy. I’m not happy about it. I’ll really liked watching EXC save for the few snafu’s that occurred. I hope all the displaced fighter’s will find work soon and P.E. doesn’t hold them hostage.

    I seriously don’t know what else to say?

  • Mike Wolfe says:

    Sensei John:

    I agree with your analysis. MMA fighters should take some comfort, though, because if there’s a demand for MMA fights, entrepreneurs will enter the market. That’s economics, too.

    Hopefully your analysis isn’t passe. The idea of making choices and dealing with the consequences isn’t really in vogue, and that’s a pity for MMA fans and the country, frankly.

  • ChrisC says:

    I find people like Sensei John Creese abhorrent. John, you’re so selfish and blind you fail to see anything from someone else’s perspective. They CHOSE “a life of hardship” so paying them $3000 a fight is OK? WOW.

    What’s even funnier about this is that people like you are often not rich kids(maybe you’re a spoiled rotten kid, mad at the world) , just regular working class folks. Same poor guys but with retarded mindset.

    Let me give you an example, Your university can CHOOSE to raise tuition. Your boss can CHOOSE to take advantage of whatever situation you’re in, low-ball you and give you a ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ type contract. Your boss will be extatic like you are about these under-paid fighters because he can pay you $3000 less per year.

    According to your flawed logic, you CHOSE to go to that university, you CHOSE to work for that company and apparently.. you CHOSE to get lowballed, take less pay and take unfair treament like a man you are and live a just life of hardship.

    Having the authority to do things doesn’t justify every action.

    You know, all these big-time artists signed that dotted line on the contract with major record companies, fully knowing that they”ll earn less than 50 cent off of every album sold and be forced to hand over their music copyrights. But they had to, just to get their records out there.
    They all knew what they were getting themselves into, musicans are not that stupid.
    But does that mean record companies can keep exploiting that forever?

    I’m not pointing fingers at UFC(except their perpetuity clause) or anything, I just think where you’re coming from is totally wrong. Wow.. John, you have some rotten ideals about this world.

  • Echolocating says:

    The truth of the matter is that MMA is still in it’s infancy as a major sport. It will take some time before enough people pay attention to warrant high salaries. EliteXC sugarcoated a few notable things, but in all honesty, they were rotten to the core and swindled a lot of money from investors (I’d argue at a criminal level). Also, their monetary generosity to the fighters was not fair and equal; from overpaying Kimbo Slice to underpaying Gina Carano (arguably their biggest draw), things weren’t as rosy as this article makes them out to be. In the long run, EliteXC’s demise is a good thing for the sport.

    ChrisC: Of course it’s not okay for people to be financially taken advantage of, but I’d like to think that the fighters in the sport realize and appreciate the situation Sensei John describes. John’s just being realistic about the sport’s current situation which is why so many MMA fighters have part time jobs to pursue this game; they too acknowledge the reality of it. I think that’s where you’re confused, it’s one thing to acknowledge, it’s another to accept. Nobody is talking about accepting smaller fight purses; big difference there.

  • Jason G says:

    It does suck that they get paid lower wages but on the other hand a lot of them don’t have to work a normal job which is pretty cool. I would do it if I could be successful enough to make ends meat. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication and I would imagine a lot of natural ability but John makes a good point that they know what they’re getting into. Hopefully as the sport progresses they can get paid more but money shouldn’t be a deciding factor of whether they pursue it or not (Brock Lesnar, Kimbo). No I’m sure those guys would fight even if they only made $3000 starting our right?

  • Ft. Dub says:

    Fighters are just like any other athletes – the top one percent make 95% of the money. How many high school and college basketball players are dreaming every day of making the big time in the NBA?

    If you aren’t “drafted” to the big leagues and instead choose to spend your life playing/fighting for a lower level organization and barely making ends meet, you have made a choice. I love this sport, but I only pay money for big name fighters. These younger guys who make almost nothing are “investing” their time in their dream and the vast majority of those don’t work out. Welcome to life.

    The vast majority of small businesses don’t work out either, but plenty of people still start them on the dream of making it big.

    The thing that sucks is that start-up fight organizations are trying to more or less go head-to-head with a well entrenched, well funded and well marketed mature business (UFC) and that will always be a huge hurdle to overcome. I’m not sure how someone can overcome that without sustaining huge losses to begin with.

    EliteXC was poorly managed, but I am a little shocked because I figured the best way to overcome that disadvantage of competing against the UFC was with television opportunities. EliteXC had those, but maybe their fate was already sealed by then.

  • Kuch says:

    Folk were (are) happy EliteXC is finished because they predicted it would happen and they were correct in their predictions. Whether or not EliteXC treated their fighters and their fighter’s families terrifically is not the point. Employees of EliteXC worked there and knew the risks (or at least read them on the internet). Upon the failure of the company, those employees lost in their gamble. Though it is sad that there are people who will lose out in this situation, expecting those who predicted this tragedy to do anything else other than say “I told you so” is ridiculous.

    The employees knew the risks and decided they were worth it. Don’t try to remove personal responsibility from the equation by asking other people to feel bad for them.

  • Imbecile says:

    I really agree with the sentitments of Sensei John Creese, and I feel this is often ignored in the discussion of fighter pay.

    ChrisC’s analysis is very emotionally driven, and very short-sided on the economics of the situation. Companies have to bid high for the services of the few stars out there, and they simply can’t afford to pay the average or up-and-coming fighters that much more money. If these companies are forced to pay some arbitrary amount (usually forced on by some kind of union, which so many people seem to advocate that fighters should create), then it yields a situation where they are paying out more than the market is willing to bear.

    The other reason fighter pay is so low even though some profits have increased (well, only in the UFC) is an over-saturation of low-quality or up-and-coming fighters. If the UFC was struggling to find enough people to fill out the lower ranks of their shows, they would have to pay people more. But since the sport has experienced success, there are tons of people that would kill to get in the UFC, so they don’t need to pay someone a lot of money when the guy standing next to him, of equally minimal acclaim, is willing to fight for less.

    Once these guys become stars, they will get paid more. When they are not stars, they don’t make much. All of your chants of “it’s just not right,” don’t change basic economic forces, and everytime anybody has tried to meddle with those, be it unions or government mandates, it has hurt the industry as a whole.

    Fighters make choices to pursue the lifestyle they want, and they should know what that lifestyle is before going into it. I always am a bit disturbed watching something like TUF, and seeing these guys talking about how they need the $5000 win bonus because they can barely put food on the table for their kids. I just think to myself how irresponsible it is that they are pursuing their dream (even if it is for my entertainment), over providing security for their family. I don’t respect that choice, because the risk is too great, and I don’t respect people gambling with the basic needs of their families.

    However, if they are not in such a dire situation, I am all for them pursuing their dreams, and just hope they are aware of how tough the road is. I wish them all success, but I know that isn’t realistic. I am glad they try, though, since I myself am not willing to give up the security my job brings to take that risk.

  • WarriorPoetNY says:

    In the end, lower salaries hurt the consumer… the real fan of MMA. We shouldn’t take the attitude as Sensei John Creese and accept that fighters choose this life so its OK to pay less. With smaller salaries you have less talent in the fight game. If salaries were raised in proportion to what the events take in you’d have a larger talent pool fighting. A larger talent pool means better fights for the fan, and more competition as you move up in promotions.

    The guy who could potentially KTFO Fedor maybe sitting behind a computer all day cause it pays $70K a year… but we will never know because that guy can only train in down time and will never have a realistic option to become a professional fighter since he has to take the guaranteed payday.

    It’s our money paying the salaries in part and I’d rather know a greater % goes to a fighter instead of lining the pockets of the promoters (since they’ll also still make plenty).

    My whole point is in the end the, fans suffer as much if not more than individual fighters.

  • Cooped says:

    Several ‘topics’ are getting mixed together in this soup, all of which eed to be seperated inb order to be accurately addressed. First, I agree that anyone who enjoys the sport of MMA, whether fighter or fan, should appreciate a broader market with more organizations. Competition, and not a monopoly, breeds a better product and allows more athletes and fans to participate. And so, to hate ProElite/EliteXC simply because they are not the UFC or a chalenge to the UFC, does do a disservice to the sport. However, to say that we need to feel sorrow for an organization that was missmanaged, simply because they tried to slay the giant with good intentions, is also incorrect. Gary Shaw knew very little about MMA, and his son knew even less. Maybe they knew how to treat people well, but they knew next to nothing about the business. And so, nice people did bad things.

    As far as fighters pay, no one works for free. You may play a sport for free as a hobby, but when it is your business, you expect to be, and in most cases need to be, financially compensated. Yes, fighters need to realize that it may take several years before they take home as much cash as the guy next door did on day one of his job. But fighters also agree to a contract, and so if they negotiate a contract to fight for $3000, and Kimbo negotiates $300,000, it is not Kimbo’s fault. Grow up and be glad that someone has raised the pay scale that high, and then negotiate a better contract next time.

    Where these issues meet, and the only way that they can both be resolved, is if there are more, properly run promotions with enough fan support so that fighters can be paid more money. If you are a promotor, look at becoming the next Sport Fight, not UFC. Walk before you run. For the fighters, pay your dues before you starting asking for what you think you are due. Look at what the guys in Arizona are doing with sponsorship allocation to cover training and living expenses. Stop being jealous of the guy with the better manager, and start making yourself better so you can hire that manager. Being a professional fighter is not about the ink on your skin, but on the contract.

  • MMAStation says:

    “According to your flawed logic, you CHOSE to go to that university, you CHOSE to work for that company and apparently.. you CHOSE to get lowballed, take less pay and take unfair treament like a man you are and live a just life of hardship.”

    You can always change schools, you can always change jobs. If you constantly accept treatment that you consider unfair then it is your fault alone.

    Fighters agree to fight for what they are worth or deemed worth at the time. If they dont like the compensation they shouldnt sign the contract. I agree with John that that is the life they chose.

    We all believe fighters should be paid more, but in the end it comes down to them negotiating the best contract for themselves.

  • BJJ in VA says:

    I too was an Elite XC critic, but thats not what I’d like to talk about.

    Also, you can tell none of these people are professional fighters or know professional fighters.

    I am blessed to train with a handfull of tough low level professional mma fighters.
    These guys are committed, driven and fucking broke. They live in a dorm paid for by the owner of our gym and keep jobs in addition to the brutal workout schedule they keep. For example, one of the guys walks around at 165 between fights, fights at 155 and just made a cut to 135 for 500 bucks and has a fight this weekend. So unless you have this level of dedication, SHUT THE FUCK UP, YOUR OPINIONS ARE ARM-CHAIR QUARTERBACKING. I cant believe someone who has never committed to something of that magnitude could ever criticize someone who has sweat blood for pennies and has the nerve after fighting as an amateur (unpaid), and as a pro in small local and regional shows ( barely paid) would dare to ask for as much money as they could possibly get when they get to big show.

    The only reason I can think of is that these people are hiding behind their computers because if the conversation was face to face the only thing they would be able to say would be, “can I have your autograph, youre my favorite fighter EVER.”

    On a side note that article was superbly writen. Great analogy with the sinking ship and i’ll be stealing, “shamefull and wicked be the Jesuit description.”

    Classic

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