White responds to question about fighter union

November 24, 2012

As part of the ESPN duties to promote UFC 54, Dana White took part in a chat with fans. The issue of fighter unions came up again and White offered up his opinion.

When asked about whether the UFC will ever see a fighter’s union, White responded:

I doubt it. The thing about fighting is, fighting is not a team sport, it’s an individual sport. It’s going to be tough to see a day with Silva or GSP is giving up big chunks of their money to guys who won’t make two fights in the UFC. Different sports. But if it happens, it happens. I have to negotiate with somebody on the fight contracts.

Payout Perspective:

The issue of a fighter union has been discussed in the past.  Earlier this year, ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” reported on fighter pay which drew the ire of the UFC.

In a web chat with The Seattle Times in March 2011, White said that it would be up to the fighters whether they wanted a union.  In the past, White has also cited union problems in the NBA and NFL as reasons why unions may not be the answer to labor peace.  This time around, we see White explaining the issue a little more.

White’s most recent explanation alludes to the fact that if a union is set up, fighters at the top of the pay scale such as Anderson Silva and GSP, would have to give up a portion of their pay to take care of fighters at the bottom of the pay scale.  Without true incentive except to help fighters starting out, it would be hard to see fighters at the top of the scale concede a portion of their fight purse.  Another good point made by White is that its an individual sport.  Unlike the NFL or NBA, fighters fight as individuals and are not on teams.  Despite being aligned with a gym or fight team, fighter pay is based on their individual performance in the Octagon.

Despite being independent contractors, the UFC has done enough to make the issue of a fighter union a non-existent issue.  One of the most important is fighter insurance which has taken care of fighters under contract.  Also, incentive programs offering monetary rewards such as social media bonuses and fight night bonuses.  Yet, White seemed indifferent about the possibility of a union which is a little surprising.  With the recent issues with fighters not taking fights, one can only imagine the issues that he might encounter with a union: pay, fight schedules and general grievances just to name a few.

7 Responses to “White responds to question about fighter union”

  1. Weezy02 on November 24th, 2012 6:06 AM

    Just my opinion, but the more physically dangerous the sport, the less likely that they will have a strong union. The reason for this is that the more physical sports have a short window of opportunity for their athletes to make money. The one tool that a successful union HAS to have at its disposal as a very real option is to be able to walk away for a long time if they don’t like a deal with management. If management knows they have such real intentions, it keeps management honest. Now, it’s one thing for a baseball player to mentally be at peace with missing a season or two in order to get a better longterm deal. Chances are that baseball player can play anywhere from 10 – 17 years in the league so they have a very real chance to take risk/opportunity. However, when you’re in a sport where you’re realistic prime window of money making is just 3 – 5 years, it’s beyond an enormous sacrifice to walk away for long, long periods of time. Plus, you have a scenario in boxing and MMA where 1% of the athletes make almost all of the money. This is not unusual. In fact, it’s very much the norm in most forms of entertainment: bands, acting, etc… But it makes it tough for the heavy bulk of all other fighters. Convincing Anderson Silva to walk away from a series of multi-million dollar fights so that random guy A can make $15,0000 to show instead of $8,000 to show is, well, highly unlikely.

  2. Matt C. on November 24th, 2012 11:38 AM

    Every time I see talk of a fighter’s union the first thing that comes to mind is the myriad of different laws covering unions. Even in the U.S. it varies from state to state. This would be navigating union laws from various countries around the world. I see the logistical nightmare of getting an effective one started as a near insurmountable obstacle.

    Also I don’t see how the union could get around not targeting the smaller MMA promotions with the same standards they would want to place on the UFC. That could deter new investors from entering the market with a new MMA promotion.

  3. Jason Cruz on November 25th, 2012 12:30 AM

    @Weezy02,

    Good take. My thought is that the more dangerous it gets, the more likely a union could happen. With the danger, fighters may band together to lobby for safety (e.g. rule changes, etc. ) I think MLB has one of the stronger unions out there. But, I think real options are key like you say. For instance, NBA players played in China during the strike last year and this year (although I haven’t checked) I’m sure NHL players could be in Europe playing in Hockey leagues there. And that may be a reason why that lockout continues with no end in site.

    Another thing that I may have assumed is that top stars would be paying a disproportionate amount to fund a union. It could be that each pays a set amount of dues (no one pays more, no one less).

  4. Brain Smasher on November 25th, 2012 1:44 AM

    The biggest problem a Union would have that White mentioned by seems over looked. UFC in an attempt to fight the best fighters in the world cycle through a ton of different guys. A Union would have the difficult task of deciding how many members get into the Union. How many fights is required? How do they deal with the UFC when they attempt to release fighters that can cut it? If a noob comes in like Strange Brew from TUF 1 is that noob Union? If he goes 0-3 does the Union protect him and force the UFC to keep him? Now we run into safty and talent level issues. I would guess 25% of the fighters who fight in the UFC in a given year wont last in the UFC more than 6-8 fights. Those number of fights will be lower once the UFC settles on a set number of events. It used to be 3 fights and new guys were gone. Will the top stars of the UFC give up huge chunks of money for guys who most dont consider UFC level and dont last past their first contract? I dont think they will and i dont think they should. There is a lot of bums and low level fighters who get into the UFC because they ran off a few wins in their small town. The UFC gives them a chance to prove themselves but they should not get rich if they turn out to be cans. Large pay during first contracts will cause a huge increase in padding records at lower levels to cash in on a UFC contract. Right now it isnt a huge issue because you dont cash in unless you beat guys in the UFC.

    Any way you slice it a Union doesnt make sense for anyone except those who are so low on the MMA totem pole that they really should look for a different line of work. Not mooch money from the sport, promoters, and other legit fighters.

    With increased fighter costs we could be running off our favorite fighters if MMA declines and stays at this holding pattern its in. In happened before. Fan Favorites Tank Abbott and Ken Shamrock left to WWF/WCW because UFC could no longer afford their old salaries. I think fighters need to assure the future of the sport before getting greedy and sucking the blood out of the sport like Tito tried to do. If the sport keeps growing fighters will get paid. We have seen this very clearly over the years. UFC isnt screwing anyone. When they make money they spread the wealth. Maybe not to everyone satisfaction but they do raise pay at the rate they grow.

  5. JUICE on November 25th, 2012 3:37 PM

    Brainsmasher I don’t think you have ever been a part of a union. If you were you would have mentioned union dues. The money they take out of your check to cover the existance of the union so it can protect you. That would be highly contentious because it represents a percentage of your pay going to someone other than yourself. The people at the top have some to gain from a union coming onboard because it would guarantee them high amounts of pay. See how much Brandon Vera was offered when he was still trying to be both heavy and lhw champ vs how much he makes now. Same with any washed up champ. In most unions its hard to make less than what you were making preivously and if a washed up fighter can make the same money as he did as a champion then I think there is plenty of incentive for a union.

  6. Brain Smasher on November 26th, 2012 6:11 AM

    So the UFC would be more likely to release a washed up champ because of his high wages. Which goes back to what i said. The Union would be in a position to try and force the UFC into a very watered down talent pool as it would be hard to release cans protected by the Union and if they didnt get protected the UFC could release anyone the Union secured a high wage for and didnt come down. Cant have it both ways. Basically it isnt good for the sport and for the top guys. I dotn think fighters stay on top long enough for a Union to be able to work. Top guys in the NFL start out at the top and stay there 10 years. That never happens in MMA. You are on top maybe 2 years on average.

  7. Anthony on November 27th, 2012 10:20 PM

    Now, the mainstream sports may be a different story, but everything the Left and unions touch, it poisons. Just look at the latest examples of Hostess and the Chicago teachers’ strike. Despicable. Simply despicable. And what’s with the forced union dues and demonization of right-to-work states. It’s RIGHT to work. Once you give entitlements, you cannot take them away. Just look at the pathetic masses in Greece, where they are BEYOND broke and still rioting in the streets over austerity measures. The UFC simply cannot survive a union at this point in time. As has been proven time and time and time…and time again, good union leaders willing to negotiate in good faith is extremely difficult to find.

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