January 9, 2016
We leave the last review of 2015 to that of professional wrestling.
Let’s do some quick hits before we get to the high spots.
- New Japan debuted on AXS TV to rave reviews. Mauro Ranallo and Josh Barnett served as the English commentators for the shows.
- Ranallo recently made the move from New Japan and commentating boxing events to being the voice for WWE’s Smackdown. He debuted as the new voice as it the Smackdown brand moved from USA to SyFy this year.
- Lucha Underground on the El Rey Network was the most-talked about independent hit. The mix of telenovela and independent wrestling action served as something different for wrestling fans. The second season of the show was in peril as it lacked the necessary funding and a television deal. However, news surfaced late in the year that it would return to the El Rey Network for a second season starting in January.
- ESPN and the WWE entered into a partnership in which the sports cable network will feature a weekly segment with WWE wrestlers. 2015 saw ESPN expand a little more into the world of entertainment which included covering Summerslam (which was in Brooklyn, NY this year) and the announcement of Brock Lesnar’s re-signing with the WWE.
- Lesnar’s signing in early 2015 was big news as it seemed as though he was going to head back to the UFC. He was in attendance at UFC 184 in Los Angeles. He re-signed with Vince McMahon in LA as the WWE was at the Staples Center at the time. Also in LA at about the same time was Dana White who was promoting the Aldo-McGregor fight.
- The much maligned TNA Wrestling organization was dropped by SpikeTV and then picked up by Destination America. Soon thereafter, Ring of Honor was added to Destination America as a syndicated show for the network. However, it has since moved once again to POP TV.
- Ronda Rousey appeared with The Rock at WrestleMania in Santa Clara, California. The annual event drew in $139 million in economic impact for the Santa Clara/San Francisco region.
- The WWE and TapouT announced a joint venture in which performers would wear the former MMA brand which revamped itself into an athletic performance brand.
- The WWE was one of the many sports leagues to announces a deal with a fantasy sports operator as it announced a deal with DraftKings.
Hulk Hogan banished from WWE as a results of racist comments
Hulk Hogan was terminated by the WWE this past July after audio of a racist rant surfaced. The audio relates to racist remarks he made 9 years ago. It appears that the discovery was made as a result of an ongoing Gawker lawsuit in which the former pro wrestler sued the media outlet for publishing a sex tape. Hogan’s Gawker lawsuit continues into this year as a trial date last summer was continued.
CM Punk sued by WWE physician
UFC contracted fighter CM Punk was sued by a WWE physician for libel. The lawsuit stems from comments Punk made on Colt Cabana’s podcast about the type of medical treatment he received from the doctor while with the company. The podcast was one of the most listened to podcasts from Cabana, who was also named in the lawsuit. A motion to dismiss the case by Punk and Cabana’s lawyers was denied and the lawsuit continues.
More head injury lawsuits filed
The estate of former WWE performer Nelson Lee Frazier sued the WWE for wrongful death as a result of multiple head injuries/concussions while a wrestler with the WWE. Matt Osborne’s estate filed a similar lawsuit. In addition, Billy Jack Haynes,, Vito LoGrasso and Evan Singleton also filed lawsuits related head injuries they claimed they suffered while working in the WWE. The WWE is aggressively defending these lawsuits claiming that they were filed by “ambulance chasing” lawyers. The WWE file motion to transfer the lawsuits to the company’s home state of Connecticut.
In a unique strategy, the WWE filed a lawsuit against several former WWE stars seeking a declaratory judgment against them. The lawsuit would seek a ruling that any allegations of head trauma are “time-barred” by the statute of limitations.
Via our July post:
The WWE strategy is a result of the growing swell of lawsuits filed by former WWE performers claiming that the company knew or should have known about the risks of head trauma and that they suffered injury as a result. Although not a named defendant in the lawsuit, the WWE names (and blames) plaintiff attorney Konstantine Kyros for the litigation. It identifies several notice letters (below) which request that the WWE not destroy any information it may have. The lawsuit identifies the existing lawsuits Kyros has filed on behalf of former WWE stars including Billy Jack Haynes.
The lawsuit requests a court ruling indicating that the defendants’ claims are time-barred by the statutes of limitations/repose under Connecticut law. Essentially, the defendants did not file their claims on time. This is always a very hard issue to consider as most of the claims that wrestlers could make occur when they are still contracted by the company.
The WWE Network
What was once thought as a foolish idea, now reveals that the WWE Network was ahead of the curve with it’s over the top platform. With UFC Fight Pass making efforts to produce more content for its network reflects the fact that digital platforms are not going anywhere. Of course, we don’t think the UFC is going away from its PPV business but its digital service is becoming more of an economic driver for the company.
The WWE Network has kept its strategy of offering a free month for new subscribers in growing its current paid subscribers. Further, the expansion of the network to other countries has helped its subscriber base grow. In January 2015, it surpassed 1 million subscribers.
The fourth quarter has yet to be reported, but through September 2015, the WWE has brought in almost 2.3 million unique subscribers and half of those were active as of September 2015.
January 7, 2016
2015 was a big year for boxing. It featured the start of a new organization, a return to network television, litigation (of course), controversy and the long-awaited fight people waited years to see.
Mayweather-Pacquiao was the dream matchup that came several years too late. Still, the fight reaped the rewards due the brand names of its participants. At a $100 pay per view price point, it was guaranteed to compete for the De La Hoya-Mayweather buy mark. It far exceeded the 2.1 million PPV buys as the unique co-promotion between Showtime and HBO drew 4.4 million PPV buys.
The gate at the MGM Grand was an enormous $72 million as there were few, if any, comps for this event.
The fight itself was not exciting at all and widely criticized. Post-fight, Pacquiao admitted to having a shoulder injury and his camp placed blame on the NAC for not allowing him to take an injection they thought was allowable.
The news of the injured shoulder sparked outrage and litigation as a variety of lawsuits were filed against Pacquiao, HBO, Showtime, Top Rank and almost everyone else in the vicinity.
Mayweather came under scrutiny later in the year as a piece written for SB Nation by Thomas Hauser indicated that the undefeated fighter was allowed a TUE to rehydrate after weigh-ins the Friday before the fight. The Hauser piece drew the ire of USADA, the third party regulatory body that oversaw the testing for the event.
Mayweather fought one more time in September and announced his retirement. His fight against Andre Berto drew the lowest PPV buy rate under his Showtime contract.
Bob Arum announced that Manny Pacquiao’s April 2016 fight will be his last. It was recently announced that he will fight Tim Bradley for the third time.
Another big event occurring in 2015 was the advent of Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions (PBC). PBC was all over the networks this year. It forged deals with SpikeTV, Showtime, NBC Sports Network, Fox, FS1, Bounce TV, ESPN, CBS and NBC. The return to network television was a big event as it drew 3.13M viewers in March. In April, it drew 2.9M viewers. But since the nice starts, the boxing cards rarely make a dent in viewership.
Spike TV also made boxing a part of its “Friday Night Lights Out” promotion which started in March. Similar to other PBC events, they ratings have decreased since its debut.
|PBC on Spike|
The other big business story occurring in boxing in 2015 was the two antitrust lawsuits filed by Top Rank and Golden Boy against Al Haymon and his business partners in federal court in Los Angeles. The Golden Boy lawsuit (a detailed review here) was filed in May and the Top Rank lawsuit was filed in July. Both lawsuits are similar in nature as they claim that Al Haymon’s strategy violates antitrust laws.
An April 2015, a Sports Business Journal article on the finances of PBC may have been a driver toward these lawsuit. Obviously, one article does not decide whether or not an organization is willing to delve hundreds of thousands of dollars into a lawsuit which may impact the industry of professional boxing, but it did shed light on how Haymon (who is still a very private individual) and how he runs his business.
The lawsuit is still in its initial stages after several attempts by Haymon to dismiss both lawsuits. In the Golden Boy lawsuit, he sought a stay of the lawsuit pending the results of an arbitration.
Haymon did win a motion to dismiss the Top Rank lawsuit this past fall. However, the court allowed Top Rank to amend its complaint and re-file. And, a subsequent attempt to dismiss the amended complaint was denied by the court this past Wednesday.
We will see where this lawsuit heads in the coming year.
Although Wladmir Klitschko lost his heavyweight title in 2015, he drew the largest rating on HBO for boxing since 2012 when he made a rare New York City title defense this past April. His upset loss to Tyson Fury drew over 1 million HBO viewers this past November.
January 3, 2016
Welcome to another edition of Payout Perspective. This time we ring in the new year with UFC 195 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena where Robbie Lawler defended his middleweight title against Carlos Condit.
Lawler wins via split decision in all-out battle
The 5th round of Lawler-Condit may have been the greatest rounds in the history of the UFC. Both men gave it all they had and were exhausted at the end. Fights like these are the reason why the UFC added two more rounds to championships fights. Condit was the more active fighter based on stats, but it was Lawler’s aggression significant strikes which may have sealed this win. It really depends on how you scored round 3.
A rematch could be in the offing although Condit stated after the fight that he is contemplating retirement. If there’s not a rematch, then Tyron Woodley should be the next in line for the title shot.
Stipe stuns Arlovski
It took less than a minute for Stipe Miocic to stop Andre Arlovski with a shot to the temple and then finishing him off with strikes on the ground. Miocic immediately went over to Dana and Lorenzo asking for his title shot. His performance Saturday gave him ample reason for the request.
Look for Stipe to be the one to face Cain-Werdum. Possibly Memorial Day card?
Attendance and Gate
What a difference 3 weeks makes. It was clear that UFC 195 would not be as big as UFC 194. Attendance topped 10,300 for a gate of over $2 million. This was off from UFC 194’s attendance/gate record and not as much as the Jones-Cormier showdown at UFC 182 this time last year.
Bonuses were self-evident as Lawler-Condit earned FOTN and Miocic and Michael McDonald earned te $50K performance bonuses. McDonald countered and arm and triangle choke by Masanori Kanehara with a rear naked choke.
Brian Ortega and Abe Trujillo could have been candidates for bonuses as well.
Promotion of the Fight
This PPV is always hard for promotion purposes as most of the mainstream hits are focused on the holidays. Notably UFC Embedded caught Dustin Poirier doing interviews which goes in line with a stronger push for the UFC Fight Pass platform.
UFC Fight Pass, Monster Energy, Metro PCS, Harley Davidson, Toyo Tires, Bud Light, Reebok, WGN America’s new show, “Outsiders” were in the Octagon with Monster Energy having the center. The energy drink also had the fighter prep point.
Getting back to the WGN America show, the PPV showed a preview and had two of its stars in the crowd. What does it say about the demo that it appears that the show is about mountain hillbillies? But let’s move on.
Sharing the Octagon posts with Monster Energy was 7-11. The corner neighborhood store and Harley Davidson are rolling out a promotion which shall culminate at UFC 200.
UFC Fight Pass continued with its push as there was a commercial for Dana White’s upcoming show, “Looking for a Fight,” to be airing on YouTube and previewed on Fight Pass prior to the YouTube release.
Robbie Lawler still sponsored by Adidas? Looks like it as the logo was shown throughout the Embedded episodes. As we know, Adidas owns Reebok so not really any conflict.
MMA Junkie reports the Reebok payouts for this event which totaled $172,500. Outside of Lawler ($40K) and Condit ($30K), Larkin ($10K), Poirier ($10K) and Arlovski ($15K) were fighters making more than $5K.
Odds and Ends
There was a rumor that Carlos Condit had a concussion prior to the event. Nothing resulted out of that initial report. Condit jokingly said in his post-fight Octagon interview that he was not “neurologically” damaged heading into the late rounds. As in other sports (i.e., football) whether or not Condit should have fought due to a purported concussion may never surface.
The Embedded episodes this time around made special focus on the Fight Pass participants to push the platform.
Also on the UFC Embedded episode, it showed Condit swimming…without goggles. That is hard to do. Also featured with Carlos Condit…the Dolce Diet.
Despite the lack of strong needle movers, UFC was the number 1 trending google search in the US on Saturday night/Sunday morning.
It will be interesting to see the UFC Prelims ratings on FS1 as the UFC moved its strongest prelim fight to Fight Pass.
This was a very good card for fans of the UFC. Did it do enough to reach past the core fan base of UFC fans? Probably not. It’s unlikely that this show will do anywhere near UFC 182 last year. But, comparing the two New Year’s cards would not be fair considering there was so much promotion and hype for Cormier-Jones. While it’s clear that this year’s main event was much better, it will not post a big PPV buy number. I would suspect a range of 375-400K here.
January 1, 2016
It was the year of Conor McGregor. From January until December whatever McGregor did, people watched.
While we do not have an (unofficial) official PPV buy rate for December’s UFC 194, it’s expected to have cleared 1 million buys and the record gate ($10.1M) is due in large part to McGregor’s fans who travel to Vegas to watch his fights.
The year started off on cable TV for McGregor as he was the featured fight against Dennis Siver in Boston. It was one of the first UFC Fight Night’s which featured its own Embedded series. The Sunday, January 18th event which occurred on Championship Sunday in the NFL drew over 2.7 million viewers with a peak viewers of over 3.1 million. It exceeded expectations and is the biggest Fight Night ratings on the network.
The spring saw an extended Embedded series in which the cameras followed McGregor and Jose Aldo as they flew all over the world on an extended media tour to promote their fight which was to take place at UFC 189.
Even though Aldo was scratched due to an injury, McGregor’s persona, promotion and fan base made the event the biggest gate for an MMA event in Nevada at that time. While initial reports were bullish on the PPV buys, the event drew 825,000 buys. It was a considerable improvement over the previous July’s UFC event. UFC 175 topped out at 545,000 PPV buys.
McGregor was chosen as one of the coaches for The Ultimate Fighter opposite Urijah Faber. His presence on the show hoped to boost lagging ratings for the franchise. While the show did not produce a huge ratings increase, it was the best TUF series in terms of ratings, since the Rousey-Tate season.
Prior to his fight with Jose Aldo, McGregor secured sponsorships with BSN, Fanatics Authentics in addition to his Monster Energy Drink and Reebok. Although McGregor has not reached Ronda Rousey mainstream status, his quick KO of Jose Aldo helped him with the ascension. It is reported that he has been offered a role in Vin Diesel’s “XXX” sequel.
With his success, we could see McGregor looking for bigger and better things (i.e., a bigger piece of the financial pie). Lorenzo Fertitta told ESPN that McGregor will be the first in the UFC to earn $100 million.
When, and what weight division will McGregor fight next? We shall see. One might conclude that McGregor fights at UFC 200 in July and then in December. But will he have a fight prior to July’s massive event?
December 31, 2015
Coming off a poor PPV year in 2014, the UFC looked to come up big with events in 2015. It did with 7 events over 600,000 PPVs which was 7 more than it did in 2014.
The UFC branded its first quarter, “Welcome to the Show” and its last quarter “Go Big” which seemed to help. Despite the usual injuries which cancelled or delayed fights (notably Aldo-McGregor), UFC PPVs in 2015 delivered big events which the casual viewer purchased.
The first three PPVs of 2015 set the company off right. UFC 182 seemed to gain some steam on the basis of the feud between Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier. The PPV did 800,000 buys which was the best since UFC 168 in December 2013. UFC 182 was followed by a great matchup on paper between Anderson Silva and Nick Diaz on Super Bowl weekend which drew 650,000 buys. The surprise of the first quarter was how well the Ronda Rousey-Cat Zingano PPV did as it was the second time that Rousey was the headliner. Originally, she was just the co-main event but became the main event. The event, which actually lasted just 14 seconds, drew an estimated 600,000 PPV buys. Little did we know that this would be low for a Ronda Rousey PPV this year.
After a couple low buy rates, the UFC spiked once again with Conor McGregor facing Chad Mendes at UFC 189. On the same card, Rory MacDonald challenged Robbie Lawler for the welterweight title in what was the fight of the year. Despite Mendes replacing Aldo at the last minute, the event drew 825,000 PPV buys. It was reported that the event drew 1 million PPV buys. However, that number was calibrated down.
Despite a traditional slow month for UFC PPVs, UFC 190 on August 1st drew 900,000 PPV buys thanks in large part to Ronda Rousey. She was featured in the main event against Bethe Correia. There was some heat between the two which helped sell the fight. Still, it was all Rousey that drove a PPV which featured two TUF Brazil finals (i.e., 4 fighters many have never heard of) on the PPV. It was also a rare occasion in which a non-North American PPV event
Rousey’s next fight was moved up to November against Holly Holm. The event set a record for attendance and gate and scored once again on PPV. This time, a Rousey fight drew over 1 million PPV buys. Per Lorenzo Fertitta UFC 193 was tracking to be the second largest PPV in the company’s history. Despite losing to Holm, the PPV was promoted around Rousey as she appeared on Good Morning America and Ellen among other mainstream outlets to promote the fight.
McGregor’s third fight of the year (his first was a Fight Night from Boston), the long-awaited showdown with Jose Aldo is tracking at 1 million PPV buys as well.
With UFC 193 and 194, the UFC would have for the first time two straight UFC PPVs over 1 million buys.
Not everything was selling well for the company as Demetrious Johnson’s PPVs were the lowest of the year. Headlining UFC 186 and 191, those events received just 125,000 and 115, 000 PPV buys respectively.
The UFC averaged 565,000 PPV buys in 2015 as opposed to 267,000 in 2014.
Has the UFC found a formula for its PPV success? Or was this one year where it rode the popularity of Rousey and McGregor? 2016 should be a big year with the potential for UFC 198 in New York and UFC 200 in July. Will there be other big events this year that could keep up with 2015’s success?
December 30, 2015
After failed drug tests by Jon Jones, Anderson Silva, Nick Diaz and Hector Lombard, the UFC decided to revamp its stance on drug testing and established an anti-doping policy of its own. In conjunction with USADA, the UFC anti-doping policy went into effect on July 1st of this year.
In February, Lorenzo Fertitta, Dana White and Laurence Epstein presided over a news conference where it announced a “Call to Action.” The anti-doping policy would require all UFC contracted fighters to be subject to random performance-enhancing drug testing. When announced, it did not name a third-party administrator although we know now that it is USADA.
In an effort to provide transparency, the UFC-USADA policy was posted its policy online. The new policy would suspend fighters a minimum of 2 years for violating the anti-doping policy and harsher penalties for subsequent violations. Of the new responsibilities of the UFC contracted fighters was to provide “whereabouts” information so that USADA officials would know where to contact a fighter if they were selected to be tested. In addition, if a fighter would like to appeal a failed drug test, he or she would go through an appeal process with a third party organization. The cost of the appeal for the fighter would be $2,700 although a fighter could petition to receive a waiver of the fee.
Despite its attempts to ensure that loopholes were tied up, there are still issues with the handling of certain issues. For instance, there seemed to be ambiguity when a fighter requests a Therapeutic Use Exemption as in the case of Frank Mir.
The other big issue would be whether commissions and other fight organizations adhere to a fighter’s suspension.
One of the more controversial decisions by USADA was the elimination of the use of IVs to rehydrate from cutting weight. The ban on IVs went into effect on October 1st.
USADA posts the names of the fighters it tests on its website. In its first reporting period, Ronda Rousey was the fighter tested the most by USADA. At the end of 2015, USADA reports 81 fighters tested with 28 “in-competition” and 53 “out of competition.” So far, 2 fighters have been flagged for failing tests.
Mirko Cro Cop was the first UFC fighter flagged by USADA as having failed a test under the new UFC-USADA anti-doping program. Cro Cop was suspended 2 years although he had announced his retirement from the UFC prior to the punishment. He admitted to using hGH. Gleison Tibau was the second fighter flagged. Tibau was provisionally suspended although he has indicated that he would appeal the decision.
If Tibau appeals, it would be the first test for the new policy and its appeal procedures.
The cost of this program likely came as an unscheduled expense at a time of the year in which it was unknown how well financially the UFC would do. The UFC needed the program as it was suffering from a PR disaster. While Jones’ drug test was non-PED related, it still left a bad perception on the company. Moreover, the fact that both main event fighters of UFC 183 tested positive for banned substances led the company to do something.
We shall see if more fighters will be tested and how many will be flagged in 2016.
December 29, 2015
The antitrust lawsuit filed by former UFC fighters against the company continued on into 2015 with various motions attempting to move and dismiss the case. As we end 2015, the case is now in Nevada before Judge Richard Boulware and the parties enter the discovery phase of the lawsuit.
In December 2014, fighters filed multiple lawsuits against the UFC (“Zuffa” to be technically correct) in federal court in San Jose. The attorneys for the UFC filed a motion to transfer the venue to Nevada. In June, the court in San Jose granted the UFC’s request and the lawsuit was moved to Nevada.
The parties now are in the discovery phase as the UFC is turning over a voluminous amount of documents over to the plaintiffs. There is no trial date set. At some point in 2016, we may see the parties reach out to the third parties that may relate to some of the claims in the lawsuit (e.g., Scott Coker, Bjorn Rebney, etc.). Expect this to take some time as their lawyers will get involved. Also in 2016, we should may see depositions of UFC employees and plaintiffs. After that, you can expect a motion for summary judgment by either side (or perhaps both). If you were hoping to see a trial in 2016, you are probably hoping against hope.
December 28, 2015
In July, the UFC officially added Reebok as the company’s exclusive clothier. No longer would contracted fighters wear non-UFC sponsors on their shirts, shorts or hats as “fight kits” would be issued for each fighter. In addition, we said goodbye to fight sponsor banners. The overarching issue was the new pay structure which drew the most criticism.
The official policy was outlined by the UFC. The launch was self-gratuitous and felt out of place for an MMA organization. Judge for yourself.
Since the inception of the UFC-Reebok relationship, there has been criticism on the operation and execution of the sponsorship. The sponsor payouts for Reebok would now be based on the amount of fights within the company. Overall, this meant a loss of revenue for fighters. From our post earlier this year:
Fighters with 1 to 5 bouts will receive $2,500 per fight; 6 to 10 bouts get $5,000; 11 to 15 bouts get $10,000; 16 to 20 bouts get $15,000; and 21 bouts and above get $20,000. As it previously indicated, title fights would receive more. Challengers will receive $30,000 and Champions will receive $40,0000.
The sponsorship deal also left out cut people. Thus, cut men such as Stitch Duran were “cut” out of the sponsorship payouts from Reebok as they lost out on the previous sponsors they once had. Duran spoke out about this fact and was summarily dismissed from the UFC soon thereafter. Whether or not Duran’s comments were planned, the UFC suffered a PR hit as they let one of the more known cut people go.
Dana White addressed the Duran firing in an FS1 interview and was unrepentant about the dismissal. Rather, he used the old technique of switching the conversation (i.e, whether or not Duran was a friend of White; something Duran stated in an interview) in his interview with Karyn Bryant.
Sara McMann indicated that she would look into hiring an attorney as the Reebok deal may be unfair to women. No word on a lawsuit as of yet.
The rollout of the Reebok jerseys saw many glaring misspellings. Reebok attempted to address these issues. However, the mishaps continued through the year.
The start of the Reebok sponsorship has been one public relations problem after another. We shall see if the company rights itself in 2016. As for now, MMA fans have yet to warm up to Reebok as the company’s official sponsor.
December 27, 2015
The lawsuit filed by the UFC, its contracted fighters and others seeking to overturn the law prohibiting MMA in the state seemingly came to an end in March when Judge Kimba Wood dismissed the remaining claims against the state of New York. However, that was not it for the legal maneuverings for the UFC in the state.
The UFC subsequently appealed the decision and retained former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement and his firm to handle the appeal before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Clement also is known as the attorney working on the NFL Deflategate litigation.
Last month, the state of New York filed its response to the UFC’s appeal brief. The UFC filed its reply and requested oral argument. If granted, the oral argument should take place sometime in 2016.
The issues in question deal with whether the law banning pro MMA in the state violates the First Amendment and whether the law is unconstitutionally vague. The First Amendment issue presents an interesting issue as we have delved into its implications.
Not only does the UFC have an appeal, in September in filed another lawsuit in federal court in New York seeking an injunction to hold an event in New York’s Madison Square Garden this April. The new lawsuit takes heed to the words written by Judge Wood in its opinion dismissing the original lawsuit earlier in the year.
The one issue which has been brought up during the litigation by the state of New York was that the case should be decided by a state court. The state of New York does not buy the UFC’s argument that it would be harmed if it does not hold UFC 198 at MSG. Rather, it states that the UFC still does not have legal “standing” in the state even though it has signed a “conditional agreement” with MSG. Among its arguments opposing the grant of a preliminary injunction, New York argues that a state court should decide the law regarding the constitutionality of the law. It also claims that the deposit for MSG would be refunded to the UFC if it coincided with an NBA or NHL playoff game stating that the Knicks or Rangers would trump the UFC event.
In 2016, we should see a resolution to the preliminary injunction and whether or not UFC 198 will be in Madison Square Garden or not.
December 26, 2015
Free agency in MMA has been a relative unknown for fighters but with the Reebok sponsorship deal plus other organizations willing to pay them more than the UFC’s seemingly lockstep rate, fighters are thinking about testing the waters.
Benson Henderson and Aljamain Sterling are the first fighters to take their careers in their own hands by looking at options outside of the UFC rather than re-sign with the company before their last fight.
Henderson made the announcement in a subtle post-fight interview this past November and Sterling was informed that the company would waive its “matching” clause after his last fight at UFC Fight Night 80.
Aside from these recent moves, the UFC has allowed other fighters to let their contracts expire without actively pursuing them. Josh Koscheck and Phil Davis jumped to Bellator after their fight contracts with the UFC ended.
The UFC is not letting everyone go. It has signed fighters to long-term deals this years. Paige VanZant, Chad Mendes, Daniel Cormier and Fabrico Werdum all come to mind as contracted fighters signing deals. Mendes, Cormier and Werdum signed 8 fight deals. Nothing confirmed as to the length of VanZant’s new fight deal. At UFC Fight Night 80 she earned $40,000. Prior to that, she was making $12K/$12K at UFC 191.
The Reebok deal which assigns a payment structure based on the number of fights with the organization has eliminated the sponsorship market for fighters. The belief is that without sponsors, it has eliminated a lucrative revenue stream for fighters. While the Reebok deal will allow for gear and guaranteed payments, the word is that the Reebok payouts are low compared to the possibility of how much money fighters could earn by attaining sponsors for fights.
The UFC has been the major organization in MMA and most every professional fighter wants to fight for the company. But now, some fighters are considering other options in looking for the best payday.
Bellator has done well with packaging older, UFC fighters and making them stars for their tentpole events. Notably, Tito Ortiz, Ken Shamrock and Kimbo Slice have all headlined Bellator events.
We shall see if Henderson and/or Sterling make waves by signing with another organization. It will be interesting to see if 2016 will be a year that other UFC contracted fighters decide to take a leap of faith and sign on with another organization.