Examining the UFC Fighter Contract: Both Sides of the Tale

Posted on May 16, 2013, 12:31 PM by Mike Drahota
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Recently the UFC released their much talked-about but unknown fighter contract. Fighter pay has been a touchy subject concerning MMA for some time, with most thinking that fighters are vastly underpaid when compared to boxing. Lorenzo Fertitta offered some explanation of this discrepancy while unveiling the contract. It appears to be a pretty specific set of provisions for UFC fighters. Let’s take a look at some of the main points.

Fertitta initially spoke up with a clarifying statement to explain that the UFC does not work like other major professional sports:

"First and foremost, we absorb 100 percent of all production and marketing costs associated with the event. The NFL gets a license fee from FOX. Even boxing gets a licensing fee from HBO. Those media entities then roll in and operate the entire production. They do all of the marketing. So those expenses are not borne upon the actual league or entity. In our case, we televise the entire card. There's over a thoUSAnd people who get paychecks when we do these events. It's a massive, massive undertaking.“ – courtesy of Bleacher Report

The owner has a good point here, as he is bankrolling the entire operation himself. Still, coupling the pay-per-view revenues with other licensing is obviously big business for the UFC. Fighters do have to sign their likeness away for all promotional needs, something that has been controversial in the past:

2. Fighter hereby grants to ZUFFA the exclusive worldwide right to use, display, disseminate, edit, reproduce, print, publish and make any other use of the name, sobriquet, image, likeness, voice, persona, signature, and biographical material of Fighter and all persons associated with  Fighter (collectively, the "Identity"), in any medium in connection with advertising, marketing, exploiting and promoting the UFC brand and each Bout and the exploitation of all rights pertaining thereto as provided herein and all rights to each Bout electronic and other (the "Ancillary Rights" and, collectively with the Promotional Rights, the "Rights").

This is one of the many extensive articles put forth by the contract. Rather than posting all of them consecutively, I’d rather pose the question asking whether this signing away of so much to Zuffa is fair to the fighters. True, their fame is most likely due to the large amount of exposure they would garner from fighting in the UFC, and maybe it’s a small concession to make for most fighters. In any case, they need to get as much exposure as they can, because they can be fired for losing any single MMA bout at any time, as explained by Article X of the contract:

d. Fighter is not declared the winner of any mixed martial arts bout (whether promoted by ZUFFA or not) by the Athletic Commission or official authority having jurisdiction over the bout

The UFC fighter contract does seem to be quite the ironclad proposition for fighters, but after all, it is the biggest promotion in MMA, and the sport would most likely die without it. Fertitta also noted that the UFC has created 70 millionaires to this point.

While the argument as of late has focused on fighters not being paid enough, there is the instance of non-declared bonuses and back-end revenues based upon pay-per-view buys. It appears from the contract, that as long as you keep winning (preferably impressively), you will keep your job. Pretty cut-and-dry when you look at it like that. And although MMA is growing fast, it still has many miles to go before it can be grouped with professional baseball, football, and basketball.

There’s an argument to be made for both sides, as you could say that the fighters are enjoying the fruit’s of the world foremost mixed martial arts promotion, while others would say that fighters deserve to be making much more declared salaries as their purse. I tend to believe that some may deserve more at times, but again, we don’t know of any locker room bonuses handed out behind closed doors. Fighting in and of itself is a bit cutthroat as a sport obviously, so it really doesn’t come as a surprise that the fighter contract comes off that way.

What are your thoughts on the UFC fighter contract? Do you agree with Fertitta’s focus on them putting on the entire show, or is that non-circumstantial given the amount of money the events bring in? Should UFC fighters have to sign their likenesses away in the contract? Does it even matter? And is the UFC’s firing policy too strict, or do they truly need to trim a burgeoning roster to keep the talent the best it has ever been? The fighter contract raises many debates on the current state of MMA negotiations, speak up with your comments below!

 


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  • 51JD51
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    One thing I've noticed about fighter's pay that everyone likes to gloss over when complaining about how little the they make is that it keeps going up. Look back on the wikipedia pages in the UFC events and just 5 years ago the minimum pay to show in the contract was only $3000-$4000 and now it seems to be $6000-$8000. I'd say that's not bad doubling fighters pay in five years. Would it be better if we could put another zero on those figures? Of course, they certainly deserve it. However, I don't think Dana/Lorenzo are misrepresenting the costs of putting on a show and how well the lower end fighters get paid especially relative to undercard boxers as much as everyone seems to think they are and as much as everyone likes to say that the UFC would be nothing without these guys but the reality is, unless you're a top 10-20 fighter, there's three other guys not in the UFC, probably just as good as you, that could take your job and 90% of the fans wouldn't know the difference [citation needed].

    Reply 1 year ago
  • enjoylife321
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    Fertita is a billionaire for one and when he hires 1000 employees he does it to get a 10,000 % return on his investment. (you get the point)

    he is entitled to becomes super wealthy but so are the athletes who make his organization what it is.

    What he is really saying is that he has 100% control ! But he makes out that the UFC are the victims having to produce something entirely. the reason it is produced 100% by UFC is for complete control, dominance and better profits. So you have to dismiss the "not for profit message he tries to sell off". They produce because they have billions of financial capability along with super rich billionaire Arab partners.

    Nike hire thousands of people and yet they sell t-shirts for $50 that were produced in a sweat shop overseas for 60 cents.

    The fertitas never get onto specifics because fighters are underpaid. Ask a question about fighter pay and you get told how many employees the company has, how much debt the UFC had when it first started...Everything is divergence tactics.

    NON-CIRCUMSTANTIAL !

    Reply 1 year ago
  • Evan Holober
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    Couldn't be more accurate.

    Great freakin post.

    Reply 1 year ago
  • KeithFarrell
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    I think their minimum pay is fair but the problem is guys who are locked on to that pay.

    Ian McCall being on minimum is a joke but then you get fighters who ae brought in to see how good they are and it turns out they are not UFC level, those guys should only be getting that minimum wage.

    I think shorter fight contracts is a much fairer way or have a clause in them saying with good performances you can get a raise

    Reply 1 year ago
  • N.C.
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    They tried to do that with Cyborg. Tito said, they wanted 3 fights. UFC wanted 10!

    But there is the flip side, look at Brandon Vera. lol How many free tv fighters get $200,000 to show up for a fight with his record?

    Reply 1 year ago
  • Evan Holober
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    Both true.

    However, I'd say any person main eventing a fight in front of 5 million people on TV should get at least 200k to show.

    Reply 1 year ago
  • Evan Holober
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    Also, he's only been getting 70 for a while.

    Reply 1 year ago
  • azzkika
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    Some fair points on here. I think some fans don't necessarily take issue on what pay fighters are on, but rather disparities like James Toney and other fighters who get paid manyfold that of other fighters who are training their heart out trying to make it MMA while they just have to open their mouth and play the 'heel' to get mega bucks.

    Reply 1 year ago
  • Evan Holober
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    The championship policy of the contract automatically renewing after winning a title, the clause about signing away all rights, and one that wasn't hit on about the promotion keeping the right to void a contract whenever it sees fit are terribly harsh to fighters.

    UFCCA

    Reply 1 year ago
  • N.C.
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    I can understand why Dana keeps pay on the down low. Look at other sports. NFL is a good example from the 70's to now. it's been insane. One big factor was the press getting access to their pay. Suddenly, everything changed. I happen to have a job where my pay went up very quickly. I don't make millions. But the day my mom found out my salary, she decided she didn't need a part time job for extra money anymore. I couldnt imagine what would happen if I made a quarter million 2-3 times a year and everybody in town knew that.

    When fights get cancelled, or various reasons and the fighter can't fight due to no fault of his own. Thats when i see them getting the base public pay. In private I've heard fighters talk about it all the time. They make more from bonuses. Its like tips at a bar. Your pay is to make sure you never go home empty handed. But if your a good bartender, you bulk of your take home is your cash tips you earn the night off.

    Many fighters have stepped forward and disclosed the pay vs bonus ratios they take home. The bonuses are the real money. It's just private.

    Reply 1 year ago
  • enjoylife321
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    Fighter hereby grants to ZUFFA the exclusive worldwide right to use, display, disseminate, edit, reproduce, print, publish and make any other use of the name, sobriquet, image, likeness, voice, persona, signature, and biographical material of Fighter and all persons associated with Fighter.

    TRANSLATION: BEND OVER PLEASE

    Reply 1 year ago