The UFC is currently embroiled in an anti-trust lawsuit with a host of ex-fighters who believe the UFC’s alleged monopoly is leading to lower fighter pay and hostile working environments. The reality of the situation is that, yes, fighters aren’t making enough pay relative to them putting their lives on the line, and the Reebok partnership, while streamlining the look of UFC fighters, is affecting them monetarily by paying far less than what’s expected of a AAA sponsor.
The other dark cloud hanging over the UFC is its arbitrary and non-committal view of fighter rankings. In 2013, Chael Sonnen was awarded a light heavyweight title fight against Jon Jones. At the time, Chael hadn’t won in the light heavyweight division for nearly a decade. So what did the No. 2 do to not get the title shot?
Reebok, fighter pay, and the fact that the heads of the UFC usually decide on who gets a title shot by way of who’s the most marketable, not by who is next in line. Ex-lightweight champ Ben Henderson, who went 2-0 in the welterweight division, took this into account when recently making the choice of joining the smaller, but more fighter-friendly Bellator, instead of staying with the UFC.
In an interview with Fansided, he made his reasons on why he left the UFC crystal clear:
“If your boss tells you that he’ll pay you a bunch more money if you become the champion but your boss is the one who decides whether or not you’ll ever get the chance to fight for the title well that doesn’t look quite as appealing when you break it down that way now does it?”
“The UFC can sit there and promise you the moon, but it’s ultimately up to them to actually give you the opportunity. What’s the point of having that stipulation if it’s beyond my control to earn it? This is about legacy for me. I’ve always strived to be the type of man who stays true to the things I stand for. If I say something I hold to it because it’s not just what you say it’s what you do and what you stand for that determines the type of man that you are.
Whether it was the right move will remain to be seen, but right now, Henderson is making a case for fighters to stand up and get what is theirs in the face of record UFC profits, and stunningly low paychecks. The average UFC fighter (the largest and most popular MMA organization in the world) averaged about the same amount as an NFL practice squad player in 2015.