Sports

ESPN Hits New Low With OTL Piece On UFC Fighter Pay

Dana WhiteMMA fans waited all week for the ESPN Outside the Lines story on the UFC pay system. ESPN’s piece says fighters aren’t getting a fair shake, the UFC says this was a hatchet job and after watching I have to agree 100% with Dana White on this one.

The piece takes a look at fighter pay and whether or not the UFC fighters are getting a fair piece of the pie. The first portion of the piece features interviews with Zuffa, LLC owner Lorenzo Fertitta, Ken Shamrock, and an MMA trainer on the subject of UFC’s pay system. No current UFC fighters were interviewed.

Lorenzo is proud of the current pay structure and proud of the number of millionaires the company has made since he bought it for $2 million and turned it into an over $500 million conglomerate. Shamrock and the trainer on the other hand believe that the UFC is not paying out its fair share of the pie to fighters. Obviously the sides are far apart here but I think the reporter did a great job of pointing out the pay per view bonus system that the headliners enjoy in the company, something which rarely is mentioned in these kinds of pieces.

The pay of opening card fighters is examined and the report suggests that if a new fighter entering the UFC wins all three of his first fights and fights three times in a year that he would make an average of $48,000 in base pay. That is certainly an alarming number and one I always thought was a problem. The time and money that these guys put into camps likely doesn’t allow for the fighters to keep a lot of that $48,000. At the same time, all of those fighters will get bonuses on big shows so the $48 grand could be $100 k with a few bonuses along the way.

My thoughts are that while the $48,000 in base pay is measly compared to what the company brings in, I am still not ready to cry foul for those fighters. For one thing, again there are bonuses and sponsorships that come with the territory. Nobody is taking home just their base from a UFC pay per view. I’ll agree with Dana here in that the piece seems very slanted to make its point while not bringing up these facts which would in turn, ruin their story.

Additionally, these fighters are given a great opportunity. How many times have you seen these fighters on the Facebook fights come out unprepared, fight boring fights, or say nothing in their promos? These fighters only have to do two things to greatly increase their pay, win and develop a personality. Winning will solve everything. The UFC will have no choice but to promote you if you go on a winning streak. Plus, with a personality you can market yourself and win or lose, you’ll put yourself in demand. It is a pretty easy formula.

It amazes me when I watch a post fight interview in the UFC and a fighter says nothing or just sits there and thanks his sponsors. Take a page out of the WWE here or even Floyd Mayweather, Jr. Call someone out! Challenge another fighter in your weight class! Create a storyline whether fictitious or not and go with it! This is your opportunity to make more money yet it amazes me how little these fighters actually do to promote themselves or future fights. Do this and your $48,000 base salary will be history!

While the piece was fair to a point, the segment lost all credibility when it went into the second portion of the story, the panel. The second part of the segment featured a panel with follow up opinion on the segment. This is where the story lost all objectivity and really painted a picture of a company that was more interested in backing up their slant than actually debating both sides of the story.

Former UFC champion Ricco Rodriguez was the lone fighter on the panel. I can’t think of a worse guest to offer objectivity here than Ricco. Ricco begins the segment talking about being blackballed by the UFC because he knew what was in the books and that Dana White has a grudge with him for this. Ricco says that is why he isn’t in the UFC. Ricco later goes on to say that he didn’t make a fair amount of money and as one of the building blocks of the company, should be back in.

How ESPN could have a guy that was featured on Celebrity Drug Rehab confessing that drugs ruined his UFC career and bragged about the millions he made on that show here as the poor blackballed fighter who knew too much is about as disgusting as it gets. Nobody from MMA reporter Josh Gross (I’ll get to him in a minute) to Bob Ley once brought this up! I was stunned when I saw this and even more shocked that ESPN provided nobody to counter Ricco (or anyone else’s) criticisms of the UFC.

Josh Gross was also on hand. Josh is a respected MMA reporter with ESPN.com. My problem with this is that Dana White hates Josh Gross and has banned him from receiving press credentials at several Zuffa e events. While I enjoy Josh’s reporting, he is the last guy I’d come to for an objective opinion on the UFC. There are hundreds if not thousands of MMA reporters floating around that have no beef with the UFC. Offering up a banned UFC reporter as your one journalistic expert is beyond insulting to anyone that knows the background of the heat between White and Gross.

MMA reporter Dave Meltzer said on his F4WOnline.com podcast that he was interviewed for the piece but was left out of the final edit. I find that curious because Dave was critical of the report when discussing it on his podcast. Did Dave not offer the opinion they were hoping to hear? Did whatever Dave said skew the entire point of the report? It is quite a mystery isn’t it?

Finally some guy who was interested in starting a MMA union rounded out the panel. While I have no issues with this, his rhetoric was beyond ridiculous. He talked endlessly about the UFC monopoly, as did Ricco. To the viewer watching at home with little education on MMA they probably made a heck of a case. What nobody brought up however was Bellator. Bellator was just purchased by Viacom and will begin airing on Spike TV. Yes, Viacom owns an MMA company.  It is certainly not the UFC but it is proof positive that there is no monopoly here by the UFC. Ricco of all people should know about Bellator. He just got knocked out by Seth Petruzzelli in the first round last August fighting for Bellator. Once again, nobody brings any of this up.

Unfortunately the UFC president is doing himself no favors with the constant curse-filled tirades on Twitter bashing the piece. I get it and UFC fans have come to accept this from Dana White, but to the objective eye that isn’t a UFC fan, he comes off as a big piece of trash. It doesn’t paint the UFC in a positive light, it doesn’t paint the fighters in a positive light, it doesn’t paint the Ferttitas in a positive light, it doesn’t paint Fox in a positive light, and it hurts the sport more than anything else. I can understand the outrage, but it only helps support the propaganda that ESPN promoted today.

I am not carrying water for the UFC. Search Dana White on my blog and you will see that I have probably been more critical of him than almost anyone in the almost three years I have been publishing this blog. But what I do appreciate is objectivity, especially when it comes to journalism and reporting. What ESPN produced today was pure and utter garbage and they should be ashamed of themselves.

This story will certainly make me think twice the next time I watch any kind of journalistic piece on ESPN. Today was a bad day for sports journalism.

Update: The UFC released a video clip on their You Tube page of Lorenzo Fertitta’s unedited sit down with ESPN. It is a fascinating video that shows Lorenzo pointing out that the UFC pays their fighters ten times what the boxers make for ESPN fighting. What is fascinating about this is that ESPN conveniently left this out of their piece.

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Eric G.

Eric is the owner and editor-in-chief of the Camel Clutch Blog. Eric has worked in the pro wrestling industry since 1995 as a ring announcer in ECW and a commentator/host on television, PPV, and home video. Eric also hosted Pro Wrestling Radio on terrestrial radio from 1998-2009. Check out some of Eric's work on his IMDB bio and Wikipedia. Eric has an MBA from Temple University's Fox School of Business.

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