Paddy Pimblett and Molly McCann both received bonuses at UFC London | Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images
The UFC could remove a lot of criticism about fighter pay very easily and relatively cheaply.
Dana White delivered a shocking announcement on Saturday. On a 12-fight card where nine of the bouts ended inside the distance, the UFC handed each of the fighters who earned a finish a $50,000 bonus.
“They had already done all the bonuses and they were walking me through it and I was like, ‘F-ck it. I’m in such a good mood, give everybody a bonus,’” White said at the post-fight press conference.
“And they all deserved it. Tonight couldn’t have been a better night, you couldn’t write a better script. It couldn’t go any better than it did. The fights were awesome. Everybody fought their ass off. Kids who won, kids who lost.”
With rare exceptions, the UFC hands out two $50,000 ‘Performance of the Night’ awards and a set of $50,000 ‘Fight of the Night’ bonuses to the pair of combatants who deliver what matchmakers feel ended up being the best fight on a card. Making a grand total of $200,000 in extra bonus money delivered to fighters each week.
With the promotion recently touting 2021 as the “best financial year in its 28-year history” and that “all Pay-Per-View events sold out, sponsorship hit record revenue highs and international rights deals saw significant increases,” it’s worth asking why the UFC can’t—or won’t—make the $50,000 bonus awards for every fight that ends in a finish a permanent fixture.
According to MMA Junkie, the UFC had 243 finishes in 2021. If the promotion had awarded each of those fighters a $50,000 bonus, it would have cost the UFC $12.15 million—just $7.85 million dollars more than the $4.3 million they already spend on PotN bonuses. That’s not nothing, but consider the deal the UFC signed with just one sponsor last year, crypto.com. That deal is reportedly worth $175 million over 10 years, or $17.5 million a year. The money to pay out an extra $7.85 million is definitely in the bank.
When compared to sports with collective bargaining agreements — NFL, MLB, NHL, NBA — the UFC pays its fighters a pittance of the revenue those athletes generate. While those stick & ball athletes get close to 50 percent of the generated revenue in player compensation, the latest numbers on the UFC have the fighter’s share at below 20 percent.
Even increasing compensation by $7.85 million per year wouldn’t put them anywhere in the ballpark of that 50% figure, but it would be a nice PR boon that would at least make them appear like they’re addressing the issue. The move would also allow the promotion to further sell one of their core ideologies, that fighters control their own destiny when it comes to their ability to increase their earnings.
Of course, now that the promotion is part of a publicly traded company with investors putting their money into play and looking to capitalize on maximized returns, the chances of the promotion making even small changes to increase the fighter revenue split feels just that much more remote.
UFC London highlights the fact that the UFC could flip a switch at any time and make a guaranteed $50,000 finish bonus a reality. The fact that they won’t only goes to show that the focus isn’t on producing the best fights or the best fighters, but simply the most profit.