Forever and a day, fighters pay has always been a hot topic for debate. In bygone years, stories of young up and coming boxers being paid barely enough to cover the cost of their local hotel stay come fight night, by their promoters, were commonplace. With combatants risking life and limb to put on a spectacular show for the fans. From the outside looking in, it seemed very much as though these athletes were being taken for a ride, budget airline-style.
Rollon several decades and the sport of mixed martial arts or MMA, under the careful stewardship of Zuffa LLC with it’s President Dana White at the public helm. Became the fastest-growing, most talked about combat sports promotion since the inception of boxing itself.
Surely this combat sport, designed and built for the new Millenium would treat their fighters better than those who had come before? For the boxers that had built their sport and the promoters that had made millions off of their blood sweat and tears, new era, new rules? Not quite.
MMA like boxing has for the most part seen a continuation very in the same vein. Sure there have been some developments along the way in terms of how the promoting is now done. The slick edits for TV and quickly expanding online presence, the pre-fight fly on the wall behind the scenes all you can see, wanna see or would want to see, it’s all there. As no stone is left unturned in the fight’s promotion, it’s as always very much down to the fighters to sell their fights. But as per usual, for the most part down to the promoters to pocket the lions share.
With massive gates, along with online streams, Pay per view buys and handpicked sponsorship deals. These fight promotions now run like regimented clockwork, week in week out, cranking out regular events. And I think that right now it would be fair to say that both boxing and MMA are healthier than they have ever been.
With promoters like the infamous Don King making a mockery of his fighters, most famously Mike Tyson. Skimming millions from their earnings and leaving them hanging out to dry. Now more than never, with the internet and social media offering people a direct line to the public, these types of scenarios should surely a thing of the past?
The UFC Big PayDay
With the biggest company sale in sports history, in 2017 the Ultimate Fighting Championships sold for over 4.25 billion dollars. It’s a testament to just how profitable MMA under Zuffa has become. With performance centres, gyms, national and international events, all under the banner of one company. In just 15 short years, the UFC has gone from a crumbling promotion that was haemorrhaging money, to the biggest single sports company sale in history.
As Forbes reported that 2015 was a massively successful year for the company. With names like Conor McGregor becoming the biggest star in MMA, perhaps in all sports. That very same year still did not see any of the UFC stars break into top 100 paid athletes list. With the vast majority of their fighters making enough to get by. While at the very same time the UFC continued to increase revenues and break new records.
UFC Fightpass Disruption
As internet speeds have steadily increased over time, so too have the number of services being made readily available. To a somewhat lukewarm reception in 2013, the subscription-based online streaming service UFC FightPass was launched. Its aim was to leverage away from the vice-like grip of the TV networks and take a larger cut of the PPV market share.
Today the service sits at the helm of the promotions offering, streaming many of it’s paid for and free events directly to its subscribers. Now offering a whole host of combat sporting events including kickboxing, submission grappling, Muay Thai and many more. The vision as set out by Zuffa and Dana White was for it to become;
“Netflix for fight fans”UFC President Dana White (2013)
And now looking back, as the service continues to expand, few can say that this very vision has not indeed been realised. Even more to the point, others looking on from the sidelines have felt spurred on by what they see in their own space. And the huge potential gains that may come their way by jumping on the online streaming bandwagon.
But as the suite of services and corresponding profits continue to expand. What if anything has happened in terms of quantifiable changes in fighters purses? Does a rising tide lift all boats or just some? There’s no doubting that the sport has made some fighters very rich indeed. But in terms of numbers, it’s a small pool, a really small pool. And it terms of its combative cousin boxing, those numbers are not even comparable!
The sweet science, the gloved version of bare knuckle that ruled the roost up until the late 1800s? What goes, now that we have transparency, multiple streams of income, online streaming platforms and of course the much-coveted PPV buys? How are its main pugilists and protagonists fairing?
The Rise oF Dazn
Well, with companies such as the online sports streaming service DAZN also changing the face of the game in the boxing world. The move away from the traditional television networks model to an internet-driven service is becoming more pronounced by the day. While DAZN launched in 2016, it has taken its time to build up a full head of steam as it charges headfirst into the marketplace.
And with its expansion into the US in 2018, we finally see the service going mainstream. The company now finds itself in a market-leading position as it offers up a whole range of sports to its monthly subscriber base, with the sport of boxing very much at the forefront of its branding.
And with its growth, the sports streaming company has looked to capture its very own piece of the pie. With some audacious offers being made and money being paid. It’s most publicised of which was the signing of multiple world champion 29-year-old (52-1-2, 35 KOs) Saul Canelo Alvarez on a five-year, 11-fight deal, for a reported $365 million, making him the single highest-paid athlete in world sport. Earning the Mexican superstar a minimum of $35 million every time he steps inside the ring.
When Canelo took on WBO light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev in November 2019. DAZN confirmed a live gate worth some 8.173 million and a growing global subscriber base somewhere north of 4 million-plus. Offering yearly subscriptions at $99 or $19.99 per month. Whether or not their business plan will pay dividends, in the long run, fails to be seen. But in terms of what they are offering their biggest star, the UFC pales in insignificance.
Who is the Bigger Global star, Conor McGregor or Canelo Alvarez?
So when it comes to disclosed purses and the biggest earners, you would have to ask yourself, who in recent years was the biggest star in combat sports. Is it boxings Saul Cancel Alvarez, or MMA Kingpin Conor McGregor? A simple litmus test would be to ask the average sports fan and I have very little doubt they would quickly reply UFC megastar, Conor McGregor!
McGregor took the MMA world by storm and in just a few short years became perhaps the biggest name in all sports, if only for a relatively short period. But no matter where you went, everyone was talking about the brash, marketers wet dream from Ireland. And while the UFC cashed in massively on McGregor’s success. How did the numbers stack up when it came to take-home pay?
McGregor vs Diaz
While McGregor reigned supreme as MMA’s biggest draw. It’s wasn’t truly until his first fight with Nate Diaz that he put himself on the map in terms of earnings. With their first fight at UFC 196 brining in 1.5 million PPV buys and a live gate of $8.1 million, the McGregor factor broke the UFC’s previous record numbers.
In the second of their fights, Conor McGregor earned a disclosed $3 million, plus his $100,000 win bonus. Along with a tiered slice of the 1.65 million PPV buys at $5 apiece. His opponent Nate Diaz earned an estimated $2 million, plus his own portion of the PPV buys. But nowhere near that of McGregor who was seen very much as the driving force in the record-breaking event.
McGregor vs Nurmagomedov
It wouldn’t be until UFC 229 when McGregor faced the reigning lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. That yet another UFC PPV number of 2.5 million buys at $64.99 per buy would be set. Earning a reported $3 million for McGregor and $2 million for Nurmagomedov.
Boxing PPV paydays
But it would not be until his fight against boxing great Floyd Mayweather. That McGregor would see a kind of payday which no other fighter in his sport has or may ever see again. But it took a jaunt into the sport of boxing and Money Mayweather to multiply McGregor net worth. Earning him an unprecedented $85 million for a single fight, while Floyd pocketed a cool $265 million.
While these numbers are very much the exception, it still does show us that when compared to MMA. There is at the very least much more money being paid to boxings biggest stars. A fascinating and insightful investigation by John S. Nash at bloodyelbow.com blew the argument that boxing pays better because it is a more lucrative sport.
Because while the promoters and lawyers alike claim a multitude of reasons leads to the discrepancies between the sports payouts. The UFC has, in fact, led the way, beating out boxing in terms of revenue over the last several years. With their Fox deal paying almost twice as much as that of HBO or Showtime and boxing.
And let’s not even go near the whole sponsorship conundrum. With UFC fighters tied into contracts under Reebok deals seeing main event payouts to Jorge Masvidal of $20,000 and another big name in Nate Diaz of just $20,000. While big-name boxers are hauling is deals sometimes worth several million.
What Next For Fighters Pay?
In any sport where the participants put their very lives on the line, the pay should reflect the danger involved. While many athletes around the world make massive money for kicking a ball or swinging a stick. It is truly only in sports such as mixed martial arts, boxing and the like in which the athlete’s immediate health is directly in the firing line.
With so many of the greatest nights in sporting history being as a direct result of fighters risking it all. How or even will we see a more even playing field materialise in the years to come. Which reflects the risks for relatively little reward for most of the protagonists. It’s a convoluted and confusing situation, purposely, in which we as fans want to see the very best for the athletes involved.
And with talk of fighters unions coming and going like the seasons. Should we hold out any hope for a situation that would see fighters receiving their well earned just deserts? Is it too much to hope for that finally, after so many years of these great athletes being treated very unfairly. That a more equal and honourable settlement is finally achieved. And that fighters do finally see all their hard work paying off. Let’s hope so and keep pushing to see it happen.
Images courtesy of dazn.comT: twitter.com/MMAmicks