Fighter Pay: From The Sales Floor Perspective

Not much in the world of MMA brings about as much debate than fighter pay. The media have been beating the drum for years wanting the details of what fighters make and continuously call for the athletes to make more. I offer a different view, maybe a different measure in which a fighter “earns” their money.

Fighters have to wear many hats; athlete, spokesperson, and they have to promote too. Much like a sales job, it encompasses many skills and making the largest sum of money depends on the approach taken.

Some sales people focus on customer for customer, showing an endless amount knowledge and taking that extra amount of time to make sure that the customers experience is smooth. They’re amazing at their job with the ability to close the majority of sales they get involved with.

The best fighter comparison to this would be Demetrious Johnson. Mighty Mouse is an artist in the cage, very few in the world can do what he does. His technique is unmatched, brilliantly blending his takedowns with clinch work, and how about his insane flying arm-bar finish over Ray Borg?

There’s very few who have the skill of Johnson. One of the things that drew me to him as a fan was his ability to do everything and by watching him make elite fighters look like they didn’t belong in there.

I watched Ali Bagautinov fight at UFC 167 and he looked like a world beater. The amount of distance he was able to cover was astonishing. He floated about the cage and had his way the entire fight. At UFC 174, I attended live and Ali had no answers for Johnson, it was a clinic. Bagautinov was out classed in every aspect of the fight.

WIth all the superlatives I could throw upon Johnson, there was one thing he was never able to do, and that was selling. Johnson had all the skill in the world, nearly unmatched, but he didn’t do the volume. This brings me to my next type of sales person.

The next type would be the person who may not hold the technical aspects, but they’re great at one thing, volume. They get people in and they get them out. Able to turn over clients in a speedy manner and get them to comeback every time. This is the type of sales person who wins contests, having their inadequacies over looked due to the sheer amount of what they sell.

This is Conor McGregor, the man isn’t the most well rounded fighter on the roster, but man does he draw a crowd. The volume in which McGregor sells at is astronomical and no matter what he does. His fans are rabid and they will fight to the death to protect the honor of their Irish hero.

Conor has shown a questionable gas tank and his ground game isn’t as polished as some of his peers in the division, but none of that matter as he is able to draw like no other.

Why does any of this matter? The reality of MMA is that it needs viewers, and not just viewers, but paying viewers. While a highly skilled athlete may dazzle, or in some cases bore the audience with their high level of technical skill, it doesn’t matter.

A fighter needs to be drawing money to be making more of it. Much the same as a high volume sales person takes home the highest commission based on sales numbers and wins the contests because they have the higher number of sales. Said sales person may not possess the same amount of product knowledge or attention to detail as some of their peers, but it doesn’t matter. The skill this type of sales person has is to get a client in and get the wallet out.

While fighter pay is an issue that won’t find a resolution anytime soon, this is one way to help understand why some athletes, despite their accomplishments in the cage, are not getting the pay that one would expect for such a high level of skill.

MMA has shown that anyone who’s willing to pay based on skill alone will be setting themselves up for a very quick, and expensive, exit. It was nearly a decade ago when Affliction decided to step into the promotion business.

Their first event had a hefty payroll of $3.3 millions dollars in disclosed pay outs. This did not include the total amount of money being paid to Fedor at the time, the disclosed had him at a modest $300k. The event gate was well under this, totalling just above $2million.

The second show seen Andrei Arlovski net $1.5million in a losing effort. The show did just a mere $12k above this at the gate. That’s one fighter eating up nearly all the of gate revenue. Keep in mind Fedor was considered by many the best heavy weight in the world at the time, and the promotion did a measly 275k in buys combined for both events.

The promotion met its demise when Josh Barnett was pulled from their third event after testing positive on his PED test, but it was a formality. There was no way they were sustainable handing out hefty contracts like they did and not being able to draw a paying audience.

While the UFC’s pockets are exponentially deeper than those of Affliction, they didn’t get to where they are by handing out millions of dollars to fighters who are unable to make the return on it.

I’m all for the fighters picking up bigger pay cheques, but thats not the reality of it. I understand why the UFC does what is does, and why it doesn’t dole out million dollar pay days easily. It’s a decision a fighter shouldn’t have to make, but the reality is they need to do high volume of sales. As for dollars and cents, a fighter is worth what they bring in, or at least that’s what gets them paid.