Typical Dana White. He gets asked a question, or is reminded of something that he doesn’t like, and he throws an adult temper tantrum. He yells, curses a mile a minute, and defiantly points his finger like Rafael Palmeiro in front of Congress. All to convince you that he is right because he is the UFC President, and he knows more about the organization than you do.
Dana, every leader of an organization or business knows more about it than the people asking questions. You have to make major decisions on a regular basis on behalf of your business so if you want to stay in your position, you had better know more than someone asking you questions and/or writing about you.
That doesn’t make the questions that you’re being asked or anything published that you don’t agree with beneath you. You have something to protect, and naturally, you will do so. You can yell and scream all you want whenever the topic of fighter pay comes up while you’re talking, but there’s a reason it won’t go away: It’s newsworthy.
One of the UFC’s biggest stars is fighting Saturday. Kamaru Usman will be defending his Welterweight Championship against Leon Edwards. If Usman wins, he will tie UFC legend Anderson Silva’s record for most consecutive victories in a row at 16. Usman is 35 years old, and as great as he has been fighting recently, there are only so many more years he will be able to perform well enough to be regarded as one of the best mixed martial artists on the planet.
Naturally, he wants to maximize his earning potential. In the buildup to his 15th consecutive win in November, Usman volunteered to ESPN’s Max Kellerman that he wants to take on boxing superstar Canelo Álvarez. The results in the ring for high-profile UFC stars who have laced up the mitts in the squared circle have not gone well. The results for their bank accounts, however, were victory by unanimous decision. Tyron Woodley had never made $600,000 in a single fight in the UFC despite holding the welterweight championship for three years before he lost to Usman in 2019. The first time that Woodley fought Jake Paul he took home $2 million, not including the PPV split.
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So when White does a “Replies to Fans on the Internet,” GQ video, his response to a question about fighter pay will be notable. The fan’s question was, “Why do you think people seem to talk about UFC fighter pay? FWIW I would like to get paid more at my job.”
White’s response was the UFC is so successful that people are looking for anything to criticize, also of course fighters want to make more money. He also claimed that money ruined boxing. It is so ruined that one of his former champions just received the two best paydays of his career by fighting a social media influencer.
If anything is wrong with boxing it’s that many legendary fighters went broke, because promoters didn’t give them their fair share of the profits that their bodies created. Who plays the Don King role in the UFC to help maximize fight interest? I do believe it’s the president of the organization who does press conferences after the PPV events — Dana White.
What White said that went viral was also spelled out in the reply box: “It’s never gonna happen while I’m here, believe me, these guys get paid what they’re supposed to get paid. They eat what they kill. They get a percentage of the pay-per-view buys that is spread out amongst all the fighters.”
He was upset when asked about the video during an interview with Yahoo Sports’ Kevin Iole, specifically when Iole referenced an article that was written by ESPN’s Marc Raimondi about the GQ video. White dropped f-bomb after f-bomb, and referred to the writer as “some piece of shit journalist,” because he was mad that someone took words seriously that he said in an interview in what he claims was supposed to be a “fun” video and wrote a story about them.
No matter how much “fun” White was having, the quotes were in line with what he always says about UFC fighter pay, and what the data shows about it. In Raimondi’s story, he stated UFC fighters receive about 20 percent of the revenue, as opposed to the other major American sports organizations — the NFL, MLB, and NBA — in which the athletes receive close to 50 percent.
That 20 percent number comes from an antitrust lawsuit that was filed by former UFC fighters in 2014, a case that is still being litigated. In 2020, The New York Post was informed by their sources that UFC fighters received 16 percent of the revenue in 2019. On a CNBC interview in 2021, David Faber said it was 18 percent and asked White about it. White replied that it’s been that way for 20 years and “it’s gonna stay that way for the next 20 years.”
White had more to say in the “fun” video.
“If you don’t like it, there’s a simple solution,” White said. “Go start your own MMA organization. No barrier to entry. Knock yourself out. Pay ’em whatever you want to pay ’em. It’s been done before. How’s it worked out for other guys? Not well. Mind your business.”
That sounds like a whole lot of fun. Water slides, ice cream, and roller coasters on a summer day type of fun — if you happen to be White, the UFC, and its investors. The UFC is no different than any other league, organization, or business. The main concern is not to be fair to its labor force. What is paramount is to maximize profit.
Decades ago, the MLB was brought kicking and screaming into a world without the reserve clause. Lawsuits were filed against both the NBA and NFL to get free agency. The Ali Act is a law passed by the United States government that requires boxing promoters to reveal how much money they are receiving from the fighters. There is a movement to apply that act to all combat sports, but, according to Raimondi, the UFC has “spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying against it.”
White can be as dismissive as he wants and speak as loudly as he desires on the subject of fighter pay. Iole said during their interview that he disagreed with White’s argument that an article should not be written based on his statements in the GQ video.
Near the end of the interview as White rambles about how it shouldn’t have been taken seriously because he wasn’t fucking sitting down with 60 Minutes, he demands twice for Iole to “say you’re wrong.” Great work by White, attempting to bully a journalist on a video call.
A UFC fighter is going for a record Saturday night, and is also on the record that he wants a fight in a completely different sport that there is no way he can win. Francis Ngannou — the current UFC Heavyweight Champion — also wants to take on a boxing champion — Tyson Fury — and is always speaking out against the pay that UFC fighters receive.
He still hasn’t signed a new contract with the UFC, and tweeted out Thursday that he lost $1 million because of UFC’s control over individual fighter sponsorships. White did not come to the octagon to put the belt on Ngannou after his last title defense in January, and the champion reiterated his problems with the UFC during his post-fight press conference.
White can cherry-pick arguments, and Saturday he can attack a reporter with all of the bluster and machismo he can muster when he’s inevitably asked about fighter pay in his press conference following the conclusion of UFC 278. It’s all he’s got. There’s no argument that can be made that the fighters are compensated fairly. It’s also not his job to do so.
His job is to make sure he and the people with the highest financial commitments to the organization profit. It’s been the way of sports business for decades. He’s no different than any major sports league owner or commissioner that came before him.
White can try to convince us otherwise. He can say that people are going out of their way to criticize the UFC, journalists aren’t using his words in proper context, or that no one outside of the UFC office and the investors has any basis to question him about how much the fighters make.
You can say whatever you want, Dana, but we most certainly can hold your words against you, no matter what platform upon which you spoke. Especially, if your words line up with your previous statements, and your organization’s actions.