Since the early 90’s, the UFC has held the pinnacle of Mixed Martial Arts competition. Over the years and through various business acquisitions they have been able to stay at the height of competition within the sport of MMA, consistently attracting the best fighters in the world. This defines the main incentive to fight for the UFC, to be the undisputed #1 in the world.
The other obvious incentive, of course, is money. To fight for the premier organization in the world should mean you could also maximize your ability to make money off of your craft. Recently, however, that capacity to make money has been significantly slashed for the vast majority of the fighters on the UFC roster.
Although the UFC can still claim to pay the largest purses that the sport has ever seen, with Conor McGregor making a million in his last fight, it’s not the fight purses that have claimed the most recent payment controversy.
For the rest of the guys who didn’t make a million in their fight purses, the Reebok deal has cost them stupendous amounts of sponsorship money and has made the idea of free agency in MMA the most appealing it has ever been.
For those unfamiliar with the Reebok deal, it prohibits the athletes to have any outside sponsors on any official UFC time. That means that it’s Reebok or nothing during the fight, during fight week or in any official interviews and content produced by the UFC.
What seems to be the worst part of the Reebok deal is that it’s not actually based on marketability, but tenure. Fighters who have 1-5 fights make $2,500, 6-10 fights will get you $5,000, 11-15 bouts makes $10,000, 16-20 bouts makes $15,000, and 21 bouts and above makes you $20,000 in sponsorship money. Title challengers make $30k and Titleholders make $40k.
image via: fightland.vice.com
For a bit of perspective; UFC Middleweight Tim Kennedy, who is on a self-imposed hiatus from the sport, has been quoted saying that he made more sponsorship money in one fight with Strikeforce than all the athletes on the UFC Fight Night 73 card combined. Former UFC Heavyweight contender Brenden Shaub has also noted that his payouts in sponsorship money have made his continued pursuit of glory inside the octagon nonsensical, stating on Twitter that he made 6 figures from his combined sponsors before being demoted to the $10k bracket by Reebok.
image via: 5thround.com
One problem for the UFC is that they aren’t the only stage for sponsors anymore. Bellator MMA has international TV deals, pay-per-view fight cards, and Spike TV as a domestic base of viewership. They broadcast to over 120 countries into a reported 400 million homes.
Another problem for the UFC is that they also aren’t the only place to find top-level fights. Because the Reebok deal has taken so much money out of the fighter’s pockets, their minds have begun to open up to other opportunities. Bellator MMA has already started to attract some of the UFC’s top talent. Former UFC Lightweight Champion Benson Henderson talked about his switch to Bellator stating that it would be a lie if he said the Reebok deal had nothing to do with it. Former Light Heavyweight Champ Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, and former Pride Middleweight Champion, former UFC Middleweight and international superstar Wanderlei Silva are just a few of the big names that have been signed by Bellator recently.
image via: mmamania.com
As some of the best fighters in the world make the transition over to Bellator, we can start to imagine a shift in the paradigm. The most valuable incentive that the UFC has to attract the best fighters in the world and remain at the pinnacle of MMA is reliant on the fact that they have the best competition and are in fact the host to the #1 fighters on the planet. As the Reebok deal as denigrated the financial incentive to stay with the UFC, it has also denigrated the UFC’s monopoly of the best MMA talent on the globe.
Although Bellator MMA isn’t without its flaws *cough* dada5000 *cough* and still has a long way to go if they plan on overtaking the UFC and holding the true #1 fighters in the world, the Reebok deal has given them leverage in negotiations with the modern champions of MMA. There have already been rumors circulating about names like Alistair Overeem, Dan Henderson, and Gilbert Melendez thinking about making the switch over to Bellator. If other champions and contenders who have expressed their distaste with the UFC’s decision to control sponsorship potential jump ship and head to Bellator we could be seeing the birth of a new #1 organization in MMA in the near future.
Lead Image courtesy of fcfighter.com