Fighter pay is one of the most important topics in professional mixed martial arts today. From sponsorships and performance bonuses to show and win money, the various avenues for fighters to make a living are often analyzed and critiqued.
When an event like UFC Vegas 5 goes how it did last weekend, the topic of fighter pay is going to come up. The event had several last-minute cancellations, and seemingly endless card adjustments along the way.
Afterward, it was reported that promotional veteran Ed Herman, whose fight with Gerald Meerschaert was canceled after Meerschaert tested positive for COVID-19, was offered $10,000 for showing up, weighing-in, and being ready and able to fight. That figure is significantly smaller than his most recent disclosed show purse.
These reports prompted long-time MMA journalist, and current writer over at The Athletic, Ben Fowlkes to share his thoughts.
If this is true it’s outrageous. Fighters showed up during a pandemic, made weight, took a risk that they might get sick and bring it back to their families. UFC lost zero dollars as a result of those fights not happening, and it’s not the fighters’ fault. Pay them their money. https://t.co/5LgTcGgwvA
— Ben Fowlkes (@benfowlkesMMA) August 2, 2020
Per usual, Fowlkes makes some great points. But he’s looking at the issue mainly from the fighter’s point of view. What of the UFC’s side of things?
What really is “show” money, anyway?
What does it mean to “show” for a fight card? Is it showing up, making weight, and being prepared to fight? Or is it actually putting on a show, and fighting?
For the Average Joe, it’s simply not enough to show up to work on time, ready to do whatever job you have. You have to actually do the work to get paid. Sure, the Average Joe doesn’t work in a unique industry in which they work a few times a year, have to pay for a training camp, sort out travel and lodging for several people, and cut weight in order to do their jobs. But, so what?
Why should the promotion pay for fighters to not fight? Why should the promotion pay for work (done specifically on fight night, not the weeks beforehand training and cutting weight) that isn’t done? Sure, the UFC agrees to pay a fighter after all of the pre-fight requirements that are set in place by the promotion. But if a fight doesn’t happen, regardless of the circumstances, what is the promotion really paying for? Where’s the “show” in that?
Yeah, the UFC is somewhat inconsistent on what “show money” really is. Sometimes fighters get it for weird circumstances surrounding the cancellation of their fight. Sometimes not. But what other options are they given?
If fighters were guaranteed their contracted show money every time they made weight, it would not only be a dumb financial move, it would also lead to other dangerous lines of thought.
It sets a bad precedent
First, it’s guaranteed show money. What’s next? Health insurance? Supporting a fighter’s union? It’s not like fighters are employees.
Sure, there are uniforms, drug testing, and non-compete clauses. But what essentially equates to giving away free money is a step too far. There would surely be a rash of late cancellations and abuse of the system were show money consistently implemented.
Plus, the UFC has been one of the few promotions/leagues to put on events throughout the majority of 2020. Paying for the added costs of anti-COVID measures taken for each event is no small feat. Who knew healthcare was so expensive?
Fighters should be happy events are happening at all. If their fight gets canceled, it’s no big deal.
We can get you another fight
Picture a rather one-sided conversation going something like this:
“Okay, so your fight got canceled this week. Got plans five weeks from now?
Yeah, another mini-training camp, set of travel plans, and weight cut will dip into your pocket. And might not lead to optimal results come fight night. But, assuming it happens, you’ll totally be able to afford all of that after your next fight. No harm, no foul.
If that doesn’t work, we could just not book you. The UFC’s got a pretty sizable roster. Even during a global pandemic. Just sayin’.”
The UFC decides what show money is, and that can change whenever they like. While being wary of setting bad precedents, they have the ultimate salve in a quick turnaround for a fight and a payday. And if the quick turnaround doesn’t work for that fighter, oh well. What’s the promotion supposed to do about it?
The UFC is clearly not interested in answering that question. Without more pressure, say from a large group of fighters working together to argue for basic rights and benefits for all fighters in the promotion, it’s hard to see any better options for fighters in this situation coming to the table anytime soon.