Dana White and UFC arguably end best year yet with fighter salary storm clouds looming in the distance

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If there was anyone most deserving of an MVP award after such a tough 2020 for just about everyone in the professional sports landscape, Dana White would have been an easy choice.

Despite his often controversial methods, the hot-headed UFC president found a way to safely bypass the many obstacles caused by the coronavirus outbreak not only to secure the status quo for the promotion of the fight, but to attract a new legion of fans towards the sport by being the only sport active during some of the darker days of the pandemic.

So what did White and the company do to surpass this performance in 2021? Fueled by the return of an active Conor McGregor and a huge distribution deal with broadcast partner ESPN, the UFC is set to end this calendar year as the most lucrative in the company’s 28-year history.

McGregor’s two appearances alone – a pair of high-profile TKO losses to Dustin Poirier – combined to produce nearly 40% of the promotion’s pay-per-view in 2021, per John S. Nash of BloodyElbow.com. Yet the financial reality of the promotion, as the UFC continues to eliminate any bargaining leverage left to fighters through a series of smart deals, meant that the revenue McGregor generated was only 7% of the total revenue for the promotion. the promotion.

Whether one is okay with its handling of fighter pay or not as the topic continues to become a hot topic, the UFC holds all the cards for now and has smartly used its control to maximize everything from benefits to the overall fan experience. And after such an amazing year with mouth-watering fight cards almost every weekend, it’s hard to imagine this moment – right now – as anything other than a mountain peak for aggressive vision. by White.

Whenever a problem arises, White and his team have the answer.

From aligning with liberal state commissions like Florida and Texas to ensure arenas stay crowded regardless of public health concerns, to creating one’s own “fantasy island” to escape Abu Dhabi, White has stayed one step ahead of his competition. And while the promotion is still going on for PPV events, the UFC has cleverly kept all of its little Fight Night cards in-house at the UFC Apex facilities next to its home offices in Las Vegas where the lack of ticket revenue was offset. by eliminating travel and production costs.

For anyone who has followed the meteoric rise of the UFC from Zuffa’s purchase of the dying brand in 2001 to its $ 4 billion sale to Endeavor in 2016, it’s fair to wonder if 2021 will be. a day considered the best of times for the UFC given the storm. clouds that slowly formed.

Whenever he’s asked publicly about combatant pay, White has historically dismissed the idea that there was a problem. But it’s clear that the UFC still holds the kind of control over its athletes, who are independent contractors and not employees, that no other professional sport can match.

Fans regularly benefit from UFC’s matchmaking principles of the best regularly fighting the best, something MMA’s much less organized fighting cousin could only dream of. And it’s hard to imagine any significant change until the fighters themselves find a way to join forces and firmly oppose promotion, whether in the form of a union or of an association of combatants to represent them.

While it seems unlikely that a major change on that front will happen anytime soon – look no further than the aborted 2016 launch of the Mixed Martial Arts Athlete Association for proof – the lengths that heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou going to do to potentially fight his current contract ahead of his January return to interim champion Cyril Gane is something to watch out for.

Most professional sports leagues pay around 50% of total income to their athletes, where the UFC, according to reports, pays around 15%. That, along with the draconian contract clauses that allow the promotion to automatically extend a fighter’s contract after winning a championship or declining a fight offer, are some of the issues Ngannou made public during his dispute. In progress.

Ngannou and White could be heading into dangerous waters.

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The UFC was successful around this time in creating a world of haves and have-nots, which eliminated the need for most elite fighters to publicly complain about their earnings, largely due to the length and the difficulty of the road to finally arrive at a comfortable place. But it’s hard to imagine this type of controlled success continuing in MMA as it continues to spill over into mainstream audiences due to the success of the UFC and the exposure created by its relationship with ESPN.

It is almost inevitable that more high-profile conflicts will emerge from Ngannou and former light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, the latter of whom has not fought for almost two years while demanding a fair salary that is proportionate. at his level of achievement. YouTube star-turned-professional boxer Jake Paul, for example, has built much of his platform as a boxer by explaining to his vast social media subscription base of over 50 million how much fighters the UFC are paid versus itself.

While it will take more than someone like Ngannou threatening his own future in the UFC to take a stand on what he thinks is worthwhile, his involvement in this current debate with company executives is crucial. If the UFC continues to take a stand against him without compromise, it’s inevitable that other top stars will just follow his lead.

Given how dangerous the sport can be on a fight-for-fight basis, it’s hard to look at the overwhelming success of the UFC and not say that the fighters themselves deserve better. It’s also clear that once the issue of fighter pay is resolved, the control the UFC currently enjoys over matchmaking, which directly fuels the fan experience, will never be the same again.

From that perspective, UFC fans should savor the flavor as the promotion’s most spectacular calendar year comes to an end. These are indeed the best times as it is inevitable that a change will occur.

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