When the salary information for a Mixed Martial Arts event is released to the public, while fans and media often discuss who is being over/underpaid, rarely is it considered how the involved individuals are actually affected by the pay.

In the following piece, new Five Ounces of Pain writer Jarred Mercado – who wrestled at Northwestern University and trains/competes under the Grudge MMA banner – examines the effect training with close friends has in comparison to boxing, where multi-million dollar payouts allow for the ability to bring in not only specialists but relative strangers.

It is not uncommon to hear MMA fighters profess during UFC countdowns or interviews how close they are to their teammates and that their gym is more of a family than workout partners. While their statements indicate the strength of their training environment and support system, it also exposes flaws in the current MMA training model.

The team based model is one born out of convenience and economic necessity. It’s no secret that the superstars of MMA make considerably less than their counterparts in other major sports specifically boxing. Manny Pacquiao, the top pound-for-pound boxer in the world, is likely to make upwards of $20 million for his recent domination of Antonio Margarito. The battered and broken Margarito received roughly $6 million for his efforts. Conversely, Georges St. Pierre, the UFC’s beloved Canadian welterweight champ received a purse of $400,000 for his last title defense. Of course MMA athletes receive additional pay aside from what is reported, however, it is still a far cry from the likes of what Floyd Mayweather, Oscar De La Hoya, and Pacquiao can pull in.

Due to this pay discrepancy most MMA fighters cannot replicate the same training methods as boxers i.e. hired sparring partners, and training camps designed specifically around them. The fall out of from this is that fighters form teams with other athletes in their area or weight class. As the fighters themselves have told us, strong bonds are built and a family like atmosphere is put into play.
The negative consequences of this are twofold; can fighters maintain the same level of intensity and killer instinct when sparring twice a week against someone they consider to be a great friend or family? In comparison, Pacquiao’s camp brings a set of hired fighters to spar during camp. Mercenaries brought in to push the champ, no friendship exists, and the sole focus is to give the proper looks needed to prepare their fighter for battle. Pacquiao’s camp even goes as far to pay the sparring partners additional fees if they are able to knock down “Pac Man” during sparring. The second issue is one that is currently a dilemma that UFC head Dana White has spoken out against. Because of the team dynamic, many fighters refuse to fight another teammate. With top fighters from each division joining forces in camps like AKA, Black House, Xtreme Couture and Jackson’s MMA, potential chaos could ensue as camps would have be split apart, forcing coaches to choose sides or fighters leaving to train elsewhere.

To be clear these are two different sports that require different training methods. This is not to suggest that MMA fighters should adhere strictly to the training done by boxers. Mixed Martial Arts takes elements from a number of sports such as wrestling which is also built around a team training based model, though of course in wrestling you are not being punched or kicked in the face with violent intentions. Instead, though it is pointed out that while MMA is a sport on the rise, it still has a large room for growth in both pay and training.

This idea is not lost on the fighters, as Rashad Evans former UFC 205-pound champ, discussed the issue of teammates fighting on his Twitter account.

“(Boxers) can afford to bring people in just to train & spar with no connection, but in MMA we can’t afford to do that so we form teams..Boxers pay their training partners, MMA fighters don’t! If we got paid $40 million to fight then I would form my own team & fight who ever!”

For a sport less than two decades old, change and growth is inevitable. As more money flows in, training with family may eventually be too big of a price to pay.