One of the hottest topics following any UFC fight card is who made how much money. For some reason, fans love to discuss the salaries of fighters when they are released by the various athletic commissions. Mostly, they love to opine about how badly “Fighter X” was underpaid as compared to how “Fighter Y” was grossly underpaid.
A perfect example of this was UFC 157, where the reported earnings of the main-event fighters were $90,000 for winner and UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, while her opponent, Liz Carmouche earned $12,000. By comparison, the co-main event combatants Dan Henderson and Lyoto Machida took home $200,000 and $250,000 respectively.
These figures are misleading, and UFC president Dana White has pointed that out in the past. The promotion regularly hands out discretionary bonuses that are not revealed to the athletic commissions (or the public) that can significantly boost the earnings of the promotion's fighters.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. As a privately held company, the UFC doesn’t need to reveal these things. But should they? Should they fully reveal what each fighter makes?
Dana White recently spoke on just that subject and had the following to say about why they do not reveal what the fighters make:
When we first did our deal with Fox, the Fox guys were looking through some of the stuff and were like, "holy shit, these guys make that much money? How are you guys not screaming this from the rooftops?"
Any time Mike Tyson used to fight, it would say in the paper that Mike Tyson is making $30 million, and "I said yeah and look what happened to Mike Tyson.”
White continued speaking on the subject, revealing that all UFC fighters are free to discuss what they make, but they don’t do so. The UFC president then spoke about Prince Fielder.
“Prince Fielder, when he signed that deal last year? Good for him, but that must bum him out that that’s in the paper. The guys making $300 million.”
I understand the thinking here, and White is correct that when money comes into play, all kinds of family members and friends you never knew you had come out of the woodwork. However, there is a reason players' salaries are revealed to the public, and it isn’t by mistake or due to the media snooping around trying to figure out exactly who makes what.
The reason is that the players want that information out there, the most recent example being the players of the National Hockey League.
In 1990, the NHL Players Association started to publish the salaries of all the league’s players in hopes that when the players knew what other players were making, the average salary would increase.
The plan worked.
In 1990, the average NHL player was making $200,000 a year. In 2012, that figure stood at $2.4 million per season.
There were some ugly growing pains for the NHL as some of the top-performing players found out that they were not the top-paid players on their teams, but over time that has (for the most part) worked itself out, and the NHL’s stars are the ones pulling down the huge salaries.
Did those increasing salaries leave some players with more money and more problems? I’m sure it did, but for others, it allowed them to retire comfortably and provide well for their families, which for most professional athletes is the end goal.
Like I said, the UFC is under no obligation to disclose salaries or earnings, but to paint the picture that they are not doing so in order to protect the fighters from the greed and avarice of others rings kind of hollow.