Fighter pay is one of the most controversial topics being discussed in every MMA circle around the world. It is widely known that fighter pay does not stack up well with the money being earned by elite athletes in other sports. At UFC 168, Anderson Silva, arguably the greatest fighter of all-time, made $600,000, which would have been $800,000, had he won. So here we have the greatest fighter of all-time, and he only made a paltry $600,000? Now, I know what you are thinking; how can that sum of money being considered paltry?
By comparison, the highest paid baseball player, Alex Rodriguez, would have made 30 million this year, had it not been for his suspension. This, of course, does not include the endorsement deals that he has. According to Forbes, Drew Brees was the highest earning football player in 2013. He has a salary, which includes winnings, of 40 million. His endorsements, which totaled 11 million, brought his earnings to a staggering 51 million. However, Drew Brees isn’t even close to being the highest paid athlete.
That honor belongs to Kobe Bryant, who according to Forbes, will earn 64.5 million this year. If we divide that 64.5 million by the 82 games that Bryant could play, he would earn $786,585 per game. That is only $13,415 less than Silva could have potential earned had he defeated Weidman at UFC 168. To be fair, Silva’s figure does not take into consideration his own endorsements, but the point here is that fighter pay is paltry. There’s that word again.
This leads us to a fighter that has very much been in the headlines the past couple of weeks, Gilbert Melendez. Last month, “El Nino” had apparently signed with Bellator. The deal was rumored to be for $200,000 per fight, and included a 24k signing bonus, PPV points, and Spike TV appearances. The x-factor to this deal was that the UFC had matching rights, but were more than likely not going to match. Well, not only did the UFC do an about-face and resign Melendez, they offered him even more, and in the process, either increased or decreased the value and potential value of the fighters currently on their roster.
According to MMA Fighting, the agreement states that at least 75% of Melendez’s fights will be on pay-per-view, his PPV points will be in effect at a lower buy rate than any other fighter on the roster, and that he will earn PPV points regardless of where he is placed on the main card. Melendez will also have a coaching spot opposite Anthony Pettis on TUF 20, which will feature 16 female strawweights. Upon completing their coaching gigs, Pettis will defend his lightweight title against, you guessed it, Gilbert Melendez.
So, just to be clear, defeating Diego Sanchez and threatening to sign with Bellator, gets you a hefty pay raise, a coaching gig, and a title shot? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not mad at Melendez. My fury is aimed at the UFC. How and why on Earth, do you give a non-champion such a lucrative deal? While Melendez’s record would appear to command such a deal, if you look closely at his resume, a pay raise and high profile fight with Pettis isn’t warranted. The worst thing that happened here isn’t that Melendez got his money, it is that the UFC is setting a dangerous precedence for negotiations with their elite fighters.
For a sport that is only 20-years-old and that does not have the sponsors that the NFL, NBA, and MLB have, paying such a premium for fighter that may never become a champion, is dangerous and reckless. By the way, I’m no advocate of low fighter pay; I’m merely playing Devil’s Advocate on this one. Anyway, going back to the point I just made, what is going to stop Anthony Pettis, Jose Aldo, Renan Barao, Chris Weidman, Cain Velasquez, Ronda Rousey, Demetrious Johnson, Jon Jones, and the winner of Hendricks vs. Lawler from commanding more money than Melendez did, if they aren’t already making as much?
Common sense will tell you that they have every right to ask for more money. After all, they all have or will have something that Melendez does not, a title. I want to reiterate that I am not mad at Melendez. But, while all of you are celebrating this as some great victory, consider the fact that Melendez will make more money than Anthony Pettis, a man that has twice defeated the fighter responsible for Gil’s last loss, Ben Henderson.