Dana White is unbothered by the number of complaints by high-level fighters over the UFC pay scale.
Marquee stars like champs Jon Jones and Jorge Masvidal are loud and clear, however, the UFC president is digging into his position that their pay is justified.
White has been hit with numerous complaints from Jones and Masvidal over their compensation as recent negotiations hit a brick wall. Champ Henry Cejudo retired after his last fight, rumored over money.
Jones erupted after the UFC scoffed at his request for higher pay when a potential heavyweight fight against Francis Ngannou was in the works.
Meanwhile, Masvidal claimed the UFC offered him less money to fight for the welterweight title against Kamaru Usman. He claims the paycheck he received for his previous showdown with Nate Diaz eclipsed a championship bout offer.
In addition, fighters have raised issues about how the UFC pays out a smaller percentage of revenue to athletes when compared to other professional sports leagues.
By The Numbers
In 2019, more than a third of professional athletes in the UFC earned less than $45,000.
The UFC signed a $1.5 billion deal for airtime on ESPN. More recently, in February 2020, UFC handed more than $300 million to its shareholders, including a $3 million payment for White, whose net worth tops $500 million.
“Jon Jones just signed a new deal less than a year ago,” White countered when appearing on ESPN’s First Take. “He’s got eight fights left on his deal. What do you want me to tell you? The guy’s got a deal.
“Same thing with Masvidal. Masvidal just signed a new deal seven months ago. These guys both got brand new deals that they were more than happy to sign less than a year ago.”
When pushed on the fighter pay question by retired NFL cornerback Domonique Foxworth, White doubled down.
“Does anybody feel like they make too much money?” White said. “Nobody does. If we were talking about a thing where these guys had old contracts from three years ago and it’s like ‘that was three years ago that I did this deal, let’s [renegotiate].’ They signed these less than a year ago. This was months ago.”
Is it because Foxworth previously worked with the NFL Players Association that White cleaned it up?
“By the way, I don’t know if you know this but we’re in a pandemic and no other sports are going. Oh, by the way, every other sport out there is arguing about money right now. I haven’t laid off one employee. I haven’t asked any of my fighters to take less money, and you don’t hear me out here crying about, ‘No, I don’t get any gates, I don’t have this, I don’t have [that].’
“You don’t hear me crying. I’m running my business. I’m paying everybody. Right now, if you think it’s easy to be a business owner right now here in today, you are right out of your mind. There has never been a harder time to do business than right now. Guess what? I’m pulling it off.”
However, Foxworth fired back at White.
“Saying that they just signed contracts doesn’t speak to the leverage that they have in negotiations,” Foxworth said. “Just because they signed contracts doesn’t necessarily mean the contracts are fair.
“I’m not informed enough to know whether contracts are fair or not, but I understand when there’s a track record of a number of athletes over a period of time having an issue with someone or a company, then that seems like a group that needs unionization in order to have the leverage to get the things that they want.”
Unions To The Rescue?
There have been numerous efforts to organize fighters into a collective bargaining unit. have been However, none have formed that represent a huge swath of athletes.
In 2017, Kobe Bryant held a Q&A at the UFC’s athlete retreat in Las Vegas.
Bantamweight Leslie Smith asked Bryant, “How essential to your personal negotiations and the success of basketball in the world do you believe a players association has been?”
Bryant replied that NBA players “understand completely that a rising tide raises all boats,” adding that when fighters are similarly unionized “it will 100 percent fortify the sport and make the sport better, not just for the present but for future generations coming.”
In August 2016, MLB player agent Jeff Borris launched the Professional Fighters Association, a group that also sought union status. The PFA is no longer active.
In December 2016, Bjorn Rebney, the founder and former chairman and CEO of Bellator MMA, launched the Mixed Martial Arts Athletes Association. Athletes included Georges St-Pierre and Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone as founding members.
But the MMAAA does not appear to be active anymore. Although it has a website, the phone number listed is out of service. Rebney did not return inquiries for this story.
The MMA Fighters Association has been around for many years but is a trade association, not a union that collectively bargains terms and conditions for workers.
Some of the organizers of the MMAFA, which is still in existence, are part of an antitrust lawsuit that has been filed against the UFC. The group is also seeking to extend the protections of the federal Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act to MMA fighters.
Another roadblock for unionization of MMA fighters is the fact that the UFC classifies them as independent contractors. Independent contractors cannot form a union as they are not employees of the UFC.
Until a solution is hammered out, the UFC will continue to run roughshod over its biggest commodity, the talent.