Back in 2000, federal legislators enacted the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act to protect boxers from exploitation, rigged rankings and rigged matches. The law pulled back the curtain on some of the dishonest conduct occurring in the boxing business and paved the way for more “lucrative contractual terms and freedoms” for the sports’ participants. But years’ worth of lobbying (in Washington) on behalf of the UFC has prevented mixed martial artists from enjoying the same transparency and as a result, BMF champion Jorge Masvidal said the promotion continues to “put money in their own pockets, before we [the fighters] get any money in ours.” It was revealed back in August (in a lawsuit filed by Cung Lee and some other former UFC combatants) that the company is only paying out +/- 20% of the revenues is generates. By comparison, players in each of the big four sports are entitled to +/- 50% of the dollars coming in and Top Rank promoter Bob Arum has claimed that his promotion pays out upwards of 80% to those responsible for bringing the money in the door.
Howie Long-Short: Back in ’15, the UFC implemented a pooled sponsorship model (which is tied to the “Reebok-helmed uniform deal”). Masvidal acknowledges that the change in strategy has helped the company draw “huge sponsors, like Monster Energy and cbdMD”, but it’s indisputable that the inability to sell promotional space on their walk-out shirts or shorts is costing fighters money. “[The UFC] has created a huge monopoly. There are a lot of sponsorship dollars is being left on the table.” Perhaps as hundreds of thousands of dollars for a fighter of Masvidal’s stature. UFC champions receive just $40,000 in sponsorship money per fight. “[A single sponsorship patch] would be $100,000 – not exaggerating – [if a fighter could negotiate their own deals].” Of course, anyone who has ever watched a professional prize fight knows that a fighter’s trunks often contain multiple sponsor logos.
In addition to short-changing fighters on fight night compensation and sponsorship dollars, the UFC does a disservice to those in the Octagon by classifying them as independent contractors (i.e. forcing them to pay for their own health insurance, no benefits). While that’s not atypical for fight sports, the restrictions the promotion places on its fighters are; the limitations are more akin to the organizational controls an employee would face (see: long-term contracts, uniforms) than the freedoms afforded to an individual running their own business. There have been several efforts to change the dynamic (including the failed the Ali Expansion Act spearheaded by U.S. Representative Markwayne Mullin), but there’s little hope legislation will be passed anytime soon; certainly, not as long as Trump is in office.
Unfortunately, for those fighting in the UFC, the formation of a players’ association also appears unlikely. Masvidal explained that despite the obvious upside, the “lone-wolf” mentality that fighters maintain makes it difficult to get everyone on the same page. Furthermore, “while the guys at the top and the middle see [the value in banding together] and believe [the promotion’s fighters] should be getting more money, the new guys coming off the regional circuit – where they were lucky to make $3,000 per fight – are happy to have the chance to make $15,000 to show and another $15,000 to win. New guys will always be coming in, so if [the established fighters decide not to work for the money being offered], the promotion will just take the guys that are fighting and bump them up through the ranks. It’s just a big factory.”
Last weekend, Terence Crawford made $4 million headlining the Top Rank show at MSG – more than everyone fighting on the UFC 245 card (including: Colby Covington, Kamaru Usman, Max Holloway and Amanda Nunes) combined. If boxing is so much more lucrative than mixed martial arts, it begs to wonder why a fighter like Masvidal – a star with an established fan base – wouldn’t look to switch sports. The answer is that a fighter’s contract with the UFC prevents them from working for another promotion (editor note: that certainly doesn’t sound like an independent contractor agreement). While the BMF champ’s options are limited until his bout and promotional agreements with the Ultimate Fighting Championship expire, he says there is a chance he could step into the ring sooner than later. “Mayweather is coming over to Zuffa Boxing (which is owned by the UFC). [The promotion is] going to be looking for [a mixed martial artist] to fight him [in a boxing match] and it appears as if I’m the top candidate. That’s the fight we’re all looking to close.”
Fan Marino: Jorge stopped by JWS headquarters on Thursday as part of a NYC press tour that he was doing for cbdMD. There are a laundry list of high-profile athletes using the company’s products – everyone from Lolo Jones to Bubba Watson and Ryan Sheckler – so I asked the BMF champ why the demographic was gravitating towards this one manufacturer (there are certainly no shortage of CBD products on the market). He said, “cbdMD is the only company that has their products tested by an independent third party and [athletes] can’t afford to have any malarkey – any THC – in the products they take. They’ll get in get trouble with USADA and/or their respective governing bodies.”
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