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By: Jamie Penick, MMATorch Editor-in-Chief
During his 45 minute interview with ESPN reporter John Barr this summer, UFC owner Lorenzo Fertitta explained the UFC's pay structure, from their contractually obligated and disclosed pay rates to the multiple levels of "discretionary" bonuses the organization hands out for performance.
It's an interesting look into the organization's structure that wasn't much touched on in what aired during ESPN's "Outside the Lines" segment on the subject, and something a few of the UFC's higher-tiered fighters discussed in the UFC's response video to the ESPN piece. But what about the lower end of the scale? Those the ESPN piece was attempting to highlight when they were talking to "disgruntled" fighters or those unhappy with their pay structure?
Well, one such fighter along the level of pay the piece was focusing on is heavyweight Sean McCorkle, who appeared three times in the UFC in 2010 and 2011 before being released. McCorkle gave his own anecdotal evidence regarding his pay experience with the UFC in a post on The Underground Forum, and believed his story is typical of most fighters in the UFC.
"During my three fight stint with the UFC [they] paid me exactly 150% what they were contractually obligated to pay me," McCorkle revealed. "That is without a KO/Sub/Fight of the night bonus of any kind. That is even though I lost two of my three fights."
"I got a discretionary bonus after all three of my fights, even an amount equal to my what would have been my win bonus after my embarrassing performance against Stephan Struve. I was told that was given to me based strictly on the effort I put in to promoting the fight, and not because of how I performed."
"I am currently unaware of any pro sports franchise that pays any player more money than they are obligated to do so."
But that wasn't all. Another important piece of a fighter's income that didn't receive much focus was their opportunities for sponsorship pay. McCorkle said in his experience, he was able to make another 75% on average per fight of what his contracted UFC pay was.
"Take an average fighter's reported pay for a televised fight, and double it, and you'll have a rough number of the amount he made on that fight," McCorkle said. "So if a guy is reported at $12,000 to show, and $12,000 to win, chances are he'll make around $50,000 by the time it's all said and done for that fight."
"As far as the main event fighters and big stars like Brock, GSP, Anderson Silva, who share in the PPV revenue, the reported numbers are not even in the ballpark. GSP might be reported to make $250,000 when he in fact made $3-$4 million."
McCorkle also gave an example of the UFC's pay level compared to fighting anywhere else. He revealed that in two of his three UFC fights, he made more in each than in all 12 of his non-UFC fights combined, and in the bout with Christian Morecraft, he made just slightly less than those 12 fights combined.
"As an employee, you are only worth as much as someone is willing to pay you," he continued. "If guys are unhappy in the UFC and someone is offering them more money, then by all means they should jump all over the opportunity. Affliction paid Tim Sylvia $800,000 to fight Fedor, when his contract at the time with the UFC was around $100k to show, and $100k to win. Who could blame him for taking the Affliction offer? I know that's what I would have done. Andrei Arlovski got $600,000 to fight Ben Rothwell so he left the UFC when he also was making approximately $100k/$100k."
While many already have and will continue to claim he's "just trying to get back into the UFC," McCorkle insisted he's simply being as honest as he can be.
"Now I realize I'm going to get hit with 'you're just kissing the UFC's ass because you want back in,' and that's fine," he said. "Because if I said negative things about them, it'd be 'you're just mad that they cut you, so you're trying to settle the score.' I lose either way, so I might as well be honest."
Ultimately, McCorkle expects to see the pay go up, and if fighters are truly that unhappy with what they're making and think they can make more elsewhere, that's what they should try to do.
"As the sport continues to grow, the fighter pay will as well," he said. "Until the UFC has a complete monopoly on the industry and there literally is no other option, like the NFL has on football, then the discussion of fighter pay is irrelevant. If guys are worth more than they are being paid, then they should go out and get it. I always told that to my employees, and I never begrudged even one of them for taking a better job somewhere else. That's life."
Penick's Analysis: Now, McCorkle's feelings are surely not shared by everyone, but I'd be willing to bet his experience with the organization is fairly typical. If a fighter helps promote themselves and the card they're on and makes people want to see them - whether to see them win or lose - they'll get paid for those efforts. If they have a really good performance on a card, they'll likely get more than they were expecting to. And all of this is on top of what they've signed a contract for. Fighters sign these contracts, they know how much they're signing on for, and the UFC doesn't owe them a cent more than what that contract states. Yet, more often than not, many of those fighters will get more than what's on the page, and here's an example of that at play.
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Jamie Penick, editor-in-chief
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