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Trying to make a win/win out of MMA’s show/win pay structure



In MMA, questions and concerns about fighter pay are not new. For the longest time, an abundance of fighters have been making their unease known when it comes to how much they get paid to fight.

While much has been made of the amount, the actual pay structure for most fighters is now being brought more into question.

In a scrum for his upcoming Bellator MMA fight, Matt Mitrione called the idea of getting paid in traditional show/win purses, where 50% is earned up front and 50% is only earned if you win, “ignorant.”

“All it is, is a way for promoters to save money and to put a carrot in front of a horse.” Mitrione said, “That’s all it is. Like, if you win you’ll get 24 grand. All that does is make guys fight like bullshit or it makes it so you can’t base your financial life. You can’t say, after this fight, I’ll have 24 grand.”

In his example of a fighter that makes $12,000 to show and $12,000 to win, Mitrione explains that the fighter, if he loses could end up with around $4,000 in his pocket, after expenses.

That might even be on the high end, considering that a couple of years ago, UFC fighter Myles Jury broke down how a fighter making entry level UFC pay ($10k/$10k) could end up with roughly $5,500 for a win and as little as $1,500 for a loss.

Ryan Bader, who recently fought out his UFC contract and is negotiating a new one in the free market, recently went on The MMA Hour and talked about how, among other considerations, not having a split purse is a term he’s aiming for in a new contract.

“The whole show and win purse system, I don’t believe is the best either.” He said, explaining that the incentive to win overrides the incentive to go out and put on an exciting fight.

He pointed out that with a guaranteed purse – “You go out there and you can let it all loose, and go out there and fight the way you want to, without having to say – hey, I need to go in there and wrestle this guy because I know I can beat him doing that.”

There might also be a health and safety issue to this topic. Earlier this week, Ariel Helwani wondered, in the form of a tweet, if corners are less inclined to stop fights where their fighter has taken significant damage, in part because they know half the fighter’s pay is on the line.

To see if we can find a meaningful alternative pay structure, let’s look at the disclosed payouts for three recent UFC events – UFC 207, UFC on Fox 22, and UFC Fight Night 103. This will give us a pretty large spectrum of pay scales the promotion has to budget for.

Now, let’s say that instead of splitting purses 50/50, that the UFC decided to pay the full purse up front as a guarantee. While this benefits the fighters immensely, the UFC would have to increase their budget an average of 14.78%. This could very well be done, as most pre-UFC sale speculations were that the fighters were only getting somewhere between 10% and 17% of total revenue (a figure that is closer to 50% in most big league American sports). With that being said, WME-IMG has been doing nothing but cutting costs since acquiring the UFC for $4 Billion last August. They might not be inclined to increase their budgets by 15% when cost-cutting seems to be the main priority.

So what would happen with a 70/30 split?

In this instance, fighters get a large portion of their up front and still have a smaller back end payment if they win. This gives fighters a 40% increase in guaranteed money. Meanwhile it still would increase the UFC’s budget an average of 5.91%.

Now, let’s say the UFC did not want to increase their budget at all, there is still a way they can restructure the payouts to guarantee more money to the fighters. They could increase the fighter’s show money by 65.50% and eliminate the win bonus.

This option, while not giving fighters a win bonus, would give fighters a flat rate that they know they can count on, win or lose. It would also decrease the UFC’s budget by an average of 0.81%.

It’s hard to tell when the 50/50 show and win pay structure began. The one thing we know is that as the sport grows and becomes more mainstream, more fighters and managers will probably be looking for more guaranteed money instead of having to wager half their salary on a win.  We have already seen it with higher profile fighters negotiating a flat fee for their fights, on UFC 207 alone there were three fighters who did so (Ronda Rousey, Cody Garbrandt, and Dominick Cruz). It will be intriguing to see if more fighters will follow in their footsteps.

This article comes to you via @GavelPro 

Richmond, VA by way of San Juan, Puerto Rico. A long time combat sports fan, Felix has spent years covering the regional Virginia amateur and pro MMA scene. He now shifts his focus to writing about national MMA.

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