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Criticizing Curry's Analysis of Fedor's Financial Impact on the UFC

Author : Lloyd Smith

Monday, 03 August 2009 15:04

FLD: The MMA Media watchdog presents...
With Miles Hackett being the first writer on FLD to expose the incompetence of another reputable MMA outlet, I have decided to follow suit by tackling John Curry’s preposterously titled article “Avoiding a Catastrophe: Why the NOT signing of Fedor is the best thing the UFC could do” (which can be read here).
The article discusses how Fedor’s acquisition by the UFC would lead to other fighters’ salaries increasing exponentially, using the fighters from the main card of 100 as an example. He goes into the details of the rumored contract offered to ‘the Last Emperor’, which has left an impression that the UFC offered Fedor anywhere between 2 to 5 million dollars per fight—excluding pay-per-view revenue. Regardless of whether the amount is the former or the latter, it would still be the highest base pay given to a fighter in MMA history. While it is the highest amount offered, there is no proof that it would lead to an increase in everyone else’s fight salaries, and so I am here to dispute why it wouldn’t happen (at least to the extent John suggests).
1. No other MMA promotion has the financial depth that the UFC possesses.
It is well known that the UFC is the premier mixed martial arts organization across the world, and that’s why casual fans often acknowledge themselves as ‘UFC fans’ rather than ‘MMA fans’. Along with their massive fan-base, the UFC has a wealth of money that cannot be matched by any other MMA promotion. Hence, if Fedor’s pay-day would be so prestigious, it would have no bearing on the pay of other fighters, as those fighters would have little to no power in the negotiation room, because even if they left for another promotion, they still wouldn’t find the money they had hoped for. If a fighter requests a pay increase during contract renegotiation, Zuffa would be able to come to an agreement, but if they asked for an astronomical amount, like John Curry is suggesting, then they would be told to take a hike. Why? Because no other organization in the world would be able to meet their demands, this is best exemplified by the Dana White/Tito Ortiz situation, where after a year of ‘almost deals’ with EliteXC, Affliction and Strikeforce, Tito conceded defeat and returned to the UFC, and has recently stated that he will “never complain about money again.”
2. The amounts suggested by Curry are ridiculous.
If Fedor did sign the dotted line, there would’ve been a possibility of increased pay for all fighters, but no-where near the amounts suggested. For example, Brock Lesnar’s base pay at UFC 100 was $400, 000 and Curry suggests that if Fedor had signed with the UFC, Brock’s base pay would increase to 4 million dollars, 10 times his original base-pay, which is simply ludicrous.
In his justification for this substantial pay-rise he states “Lesnar is the biggest draw in MMA right now. Whether you love him or hate him, 99% of everyone who purchased UFC 100 will cite Lesnar as their reason. Add to the fact that he is the champion who has beat Heath Herring and Randy Couture, I feel he does deserve the right to command that kind of money when compared to Fedor.”
I have quite a big problem with this justification. For starters, it is not like UFC 100 was a shallow card that just had Brock Lesnar on it. Everyone knows how stacked the card was and I’m positive that people from Canada, Brazil, Korea, and Japan would disagree with John’s reductive assessment, as they were surely intrigued by fighters such as GSP, Alves and Akiyama.
Secondly, Brock is not Fedor. Fedor is the greatest Heavyweight ever, bar none. His accomplishments in the weight-class are unparalleled with victories over fighters such as Cro Cop, Nogueira (twice), Herring, Tim Sylvia, and Andrei Arlovski just to name a few, in addition to the fact he has a perfect 8-0 record against former UFC Heavyweight champs. While Brock’s accomplishments are outstanding in their own right, he has not earned the compensation that Fedor deserves through accomplishment. Additionally, according to MMA outlets, Brock received 3 million in Pay-per-view revenue for UFC 100, so he is paid handsomely already, and would be an idiot to try and renegotiate to a 7 million dollar contract, because as previously stated, he would not receive that money anywhere else.
If you feel that there is a justification for such a monstrous pay-rise for Brock Lesnar, then I will give you another example. “Pre: Alan Belcher earned $19,000 Post: $75,000”. This is where it gets even crazier. Regardless of what the fans thought of the decision with Sexyama, Alan still lost the fight (I thought he won). John further explains that the reason for the nice pay-rise for ‘the Talent’ is because he is ‘not too far off becoming a headliner’. When I think of fighters that have the potential to be stars, or superstars in MMA, Alan Belcher is not among the names that come to mind. He is a mid-tier fighter who is only recognized by hardcore fans, nothing more and nothing less. He would have no bearing on the pay-per-view buys, or on the fan-base of the UFC. If he demanded a pay rise four times his original amount, or threatened to walk because Fedor got paid so well, Dana would give him a pleasant ‘get the f*ck out’.
In addition to disagreeing with Curry’s assessment of increasing fighter pay based-on one fighter’s signing, I also don’t agree with his statement that certain fighters should not be making the money that they are. The one fighter from the main card of UFC 100 that Curry felt was unworthy of a hefty pay day is the very fighter Belcher lost to ,Yoshihiro Akiyama, and his reasoning behind it is quite staggering. Simply put, according to Curry, “To most of the American MMA audience it is ‘Aki-who?’ Enough said.” When I read this I was quite shocked, and I genuinely had to question John’s knowledge of Japanese MMA. Akiyama brings in a legion of fans from Korea and Japan. Whether the fans choose to tune in with the hope of watching him win or lose, it does not matter, because like it or not, he is a draw with the Asian market, an audience that the UFC has shown an increased interest towards. With the absence of cohesive Japanese promotional giant (on the same level as PRIDE), Zuffa is trying to solidify a stranglehold on global MMA, and no longer just the western hemisphere.
3. The big names in the UFC get a lot of their money through PPV revenue.
Curry asks “Do you think Rampage, Couture, Lesnar, Liddell, Franklin, Silva, GSP or any of the other big names will settle for $250,000-400,000 a fight knowing that Fedor is pulling in $6 million or even the $2 million that M-1 claims they were offered? Of course not.” That may be true, if the fighters he mentioned were actually receiving the amounts he stated. It is well known that Zuffa LLC, a privately held company, chooses to keep the financial part of their business away from the public, which is why base pay is the only thing we can work off. It is also known that many of the top fighters receive pay-per-view revenue. Concrete evidence that we have of pay-per-revenue influencing a fighter’s salary is evident during Randy Couture’s dispute with Zuffa, where Randy reported that he was to be paid $1.186 million and $1.072 million for his fights with Tim Sylvia and Gabriel Gonzaga respectively (article can be found here). This is proof that the amount Fedor would receive would not be much more than some of the other fighters in the UFC who are rolling in pay-per-view dough. Obviously he would be paid the most, but not by as much of a margin as Curry is suggesting.
4. The UFC isn’t Affliction.
What I mean by this is the UFC isn’t going to throw large sums of money at mid-tier fighters like Affliction did with Paul Buentello who was receiving $90,000 (incl. a $20,000 win bonus), or ridiculous amounts to A-level fighters (Tim Sylvia earning $800,000 for his 1st round loss to Fedor). In my opinion, the fighters in the UFC are paid quite fairly (with a few exceptions), taking into account their sponsorship revenue. Sure, there is room for improvement, but people seem to forget that Zuffa is in the money-making business, not just the fight business. And with Curry’s predictions of a main-card costing $14,685,000 compared to their actual $1,474,000 (base pay), does anyone really think that the UFC would increase certain fighters paychecks up to 16 times for a single fight?
Obviously Curry’s article is founded upon hypothetical speculation, so I’ll introduce an analogy of my own. If John Curry was the president of a mixed martial arts company, it would certainly be Affliction. Paying their fighters an unheard of sum of money, to try and keep them happy, but at the end of the day, that choice would be his company’s ultimate demise. The fighters’ salaries would simply be too much for his company’s budget and would lead to its downfall, all because he gave one fighter a higher salary than all the others, feeling that the other fighters deserved more in comparison. John, this isn’t communist Russia.
Ultimately, again, the main reason I formulated this article was to indicate the lack of logic from John Curry’s to members of the MMA community who may accept it on face value alone. As a writer of one of the more recognized sites to MMA fans (fiveouncesofpain), there is a responsibility on Curry’s part to present arguments that are rationally conceived and substantiated. But, to be absolutely honest, his article not only displays a lot wishful thinking as to what one fighter can do, and what a fighter should receive, but it’s actually quite disrespectful towards Zuffa, a group that was $40 million in the hole in attempting to salvage the UFC. Now, that they have turned the promotion into the preeminent MMA organization across the world, which only occurred through a lengthy and arduous process, one that John perplexingly believes they are suddenly going to throw away. I assure you, if Fedor ever fell into the possession of the UFC, Zuffa would find a way to make a killing from it, not ending-up with a mammoth deficit, and death knocking on their door.
[Special thanks to Miles Hackett for giving me the template to this article, and I also would like Aaron Webster and Chris Bailey, the founders of Fightlockdown and everyone who posts on unquestionably the best MMA forum on the planet.]