A brief analysis of the fallout following the cancellation of UFC 151 with UFC bosses blaming one fighter for other fighters' lost wages.
A few days ago it was announced that UFC 151 would be cancelled, eight days before it was due to take place. Former Strikeforce and Pride champion Dan Henderson was forced to pull out of the headline fight due to cruciate ligament injury. Henderson was due to face current light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones on Saturday 1st September.
As you'd expect, injuries are common in fight sports, and this year in particular has seen many injuries leading in changes to fight-cards. If there's enough time a fighter usually steps in, sometimes at short notice. In this instance only one fighter was reported to be stepping in, Chael Sonnen, former middleweight title contender who offered to jump up weight for the fight.
What was interesting in this instance is that defending champion Jones said 'NO'. On the advice of his coach Greg Jackson, Jones declined the short notice challenge form Sonnen. Most people won't be interested on here, but Jones' refusal to fight pissed off UFC bosses royally and lead to a series of accusations and guilt mongering against Jones, so much so that bosses have now pitted other fighters against Jones.
It started with the announcement via conference call by UFC president, multimillionaire entrepreneur, Dana White. White bucks the trend for visible company bosses, he swears, he wears CBGB tshirts, and 'tells it like it is'. In short, he's the worst boss you can imagine. He has labelled the Culinary Workers Union as 'like oldschool gangsters' for daring to criticise the conditions of MMA fighters and trying to organise casino workers in the chains owned by UFC co-owners, the Fertittas.
In the call, White says Jones' trainer, Jackson, is a "fuckin' sport-killer" and that he and co-UFC-owners are 'disgusted'. Jackson's crime was to advise his fighter against taking a high-stakes change of opponent at such short notice. Tactically this is understandable. While Jones is considered possibly the best pound-for-pound fighter in MMA (a bold claim), he has spent the last few months training for Henderson, his 'employers' attempted to change the fight at 8 days notice, giving hm 3-4 days to train for a new, and very different opponent, who's southpaw to boot. Jones decided to say no. He has more to lose than Sonnen, both financially and in terms of pride. But the bottom line is that his 'employers' changed the terms at very short notice, and he didn't like them, so he declined.
"[Jones] should be applauded for that. He's the first fighter that I'm aware of to have the clout or the will, to say NO" said Rob Maysey of the MMA Fighters Association on the No Holds Barred podcast this week. The MMAFA is not a union, but it is a professional association for fighters and the coaches.
I've written before about the deference with which fighters normally address the UFC bosses.
Watch any UFC event and in the post fight interviews you'll hear deference to bosses unlike anywhere else.
"I just wanna thank Dana White and the Fertittas for giving me this opportunity, I hope you guys like me and will have me back"
That sentence could be from ANY of the almost weekly events that the monopolistic UFC franchise is running. It's extremely uncomfortable to watch grown men pandering to their bosses like that, thanking them for coming to work and basically begging for more work.
It's apparently not enough getting punched in the face for a living. Imagine having to THANK your boss for going to work. It's disgusting. The fighters are the people putting in hard time at the gym, getting up at stupid-O-clock to do roadwork, risking serious injury with every fight and often being away from family and friends during fight camps.
It's clearly problematic talking about professional sports at this level and antagonistic relationships with bosses. Someone like Jones is almost certainly a millionaire by now, even in this relatively early stage of his career. But the vast vast majority of MMA fighters earn little, those like Jones are an anomaly, so it's interesting what happened later in the conference call.
The UFC made a decision to cancel the show. The blamed Jones. They blamed him for them losing money, for advertisers losing money and for all the fighters on the undercard losing wages. All because he wouldn't take a change in the conditions of the fight at short notice. It's evident that White's disgust is more about losing promotional money, but he'll live, so will the Fertittas. The UFC brand is worth $150 million, the Fertittas own Station Casinos. The fighters on the undercard however, were to be paid a combined purse of half-a-million dollars.
UFC bosses don't really care about fighter wages, if they did they'd have went ahead with the fight card, paid the other fighters, and took whatever hit they got. But they didn't, and instead pitted every other fighter on the card against Jones. Jones never asked for it to be cancelled, he simply refused their new fight at short notice. It was not his fault that Henderson got injured, it was not his fault that the UFC bosses decided to cancel the whole event.
Eddie Goldman and Rob Maysey are few and far between in the MMA world for defending Jones' refusal to fight on the UFC bosses new conditions. Most UFC fighters are terrified to criticise their paymasters. When ESPN covered fighter wages earlier this year this became very apparent:
It would be the end of my career," said another current fighter, a former champion, when asked for an on-the-record interview about the UFC's fighter pay scale. "
While paydays for top draws like Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre can run into the millions (St. Pierre recently told Agence France-Presse he earns between $4 million and $5 million per fight), entry-level fighters who compete under the banner of the UFC do so for as little as $6,000 if they fail to win their first match.
"We're basically fighting for crumbs," said one current UFC fighter, a veteran of more than a dozen years in the sport who also asked that his name be withheld for fear of reprisals from UFC management.... "The top 5 percent [of fighters] are definitely making good money, but you've got to look at the guys at the bottom of the card," the fighter said. "They can't fight anywhere else. If they make $10,000 a fight and fight every six months, they can't make ends meet
So bottom line, the loss of wages is not Jones' responsibility, it's that of the UFC bosses. To blame Jones is a disgusting attempt to pit fighters' interests against each other in the most opportunist and cynical way possible. No doubt there is a wage hierarchy in MMA, but that's not Jones' fault, he doesn't employ those other fighters and he doesn't have any say in what they get compensated, White and the Fertittas do. The UFC bosses could look after those fighters in a second, run the card anyway, take a slight hit, pay their wages. But no, they didn't, they cancelled it and blamed another fighter for the rest going without a paycheck this month.
If a sport has ever needed organising it's MMA. White's the gangster here.