Brian Ortega, the #2 ranked featherweight in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), recently joked that he would take a dive in his upcoming championship fight for a million dollars. When former two-time bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw pressed Ortega on his seriousness, Ortega said, “Bro, I’d get my ass beat for a million dollars.”
Although Ortega was joking, it is not absurd to think that many fighters would take such an opportunity without hesitating. Last year, the UFC paid its’ fighters only 20% of 980 million dollars in revenue. In comparison, the competing mixed martial arts promotion Strikeforce paid its’ fighters 63% of revenue and Bellator paid theirs 44.7%.
Although the UFC has such a large revenue flow, they continue to pay their fighters only a small fraction of what they are worth. On August 7, Ciryl Gane defeated fan favorite Derrick Lewis to win the interim heavyweight title. With this title, Gane is guaranteed to fight heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou for a chance to become the undisputed heavyweight champion. Despite participating in a fight of such high magnitude, both Gane and Lewis were only paid $32,000.
Bellator paid its fighters significantly more money at their last big pay-per view. At Bellator’s last championship event, A.J. McKee submitted Patricio “Pitbull” Freire by guillotine choke to win the featherweight championship. This main event was the last fight in a grand prix tournament for a million dollars. McKee was paid $150,000 for participating in addition to the million-dollar bonus and Pitbull was paid $250,000. Even some fighters on the preliminary card were paid more than UFC fighters Gane and Lewis who were the main event on an important pay per view. For example, the fighters Kiefer Crosbie and Georgi Karakhanyan were paid $50,000 and $70,000 to show, respectively.
Although either Kiefer or Karakhanyan could possibly become champions one day, it is shocking to see that they were both paid more than a man who actually won a belt, Ciryl Gane. With this in perspective, it becomes possible to believe that some UFC fighters would take a dive to win a million dollars. Brian Ortega is one of the best fighters in the world and even he was willing to talk about taking a dive. Joke or not.
Moving forward, the MMA community and sport world’s eyes will be directed at the lawsuit pending against the UFC. This lawsuit was class certified in December 2020. In the lawsuit, a group of former fighters filed a complaint that states that the UFC used its monopoly and monopsony power to suppress fighter’s pay. If the fighters are successful, the UFC will have to change its business structure in a way that would guarantee that fighters would be paid more than they are now. In this world, the UFC would use more its revenue to pay fighters with contracts that reflect this. For now, the fighter’s attorneys will continue to fight for the pay they are owed.