In a new feature piece on former UFC fighters moving to Bellator in free agency from Mike Chiappetta at BleacherReport.com, Benson Henderson, Matt Mitrione, Phil Davis, and Josh Thomson all discussed their motivations for making the move and some of the issues they had with the UFC that pushed them over the edge.
In one of the key discussions, the topic of the infamous “back room bonuses” was brought up, with both Henderson and Thomson breaking down how unreliable those can be.
“When you talk about backroom bonuses and discretionary bonuses, they’re awesome, they’re cool, but it’s not a steady salary, it’s not promised,” Henderson told Bleacher Report. “Some guys never get a bonus. It’s all at the whim of the higher-ups. And you shouldn’t have a problem paying your mortgage because of the whim of the higher-ups, because they didn’t feel your fight was worthy of a bonus. That struck me as wrong. It’s not right at all. Fighters are professional athletes. As much as we sacrifice, we shouldn’t have to live hoping that we get a bonus, hoping that we did enough to impress them.”
“I can’t base my livelihood on how much you like me,” Thomson added. “You hear, ‘Oh yeah, we’ll take care of you.’ I can’t do that. When it comes down to paying bills and they say they’ll take care of you, you should be real careful in that situation. I needed to have it where I know I get this much money. I get that now. I know what the numbers are. Your bills don’t give a crap if you get a backroom bonus or not. Your bills are coming the same either way.
Mitrione is the latest to make the move, taking a guaranteed fight purse over the typical win/show figure offered from the UFC. As the most recent defector, Mitrione also seemed to be the most emotionally hurt in how things played out, based on a couple of his comments.
“The MMA business is very similar to the NFL business,” said Mitrione, who played with the Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants during a four-year pro football career. “There’s no promise of loyalty. If you’re not expecting the business aspect of things, you’ll get your feelings hurt. I guess I’m the same way. I’m hurt because I displayed loyalty and none was given back. I guess it’s just human nature to expect to give and to get back, but that’s not the case when it comes to sports. When you know you have a value and you’re worth something to them, you’ve got to monetize it. I’ve got to capitalize, and it’s not fair to be criticized because I want to capitalize on it.”
“They steal from your left and your right pockets and you’re stuck there. Not to be incredibly crass—but you’re stuck there with your d–k in your hand. I was doing what was expected from me, and they okey-doked me. They pulled the chair out from underneath me.”
Penick’s Analysis: There’s much, much more in the full feature and I encourage everyone to check it out at the link, with all four discussing the appeal of Bellator thus far, sponsorships, and other relevant topics. But these were a few of the things that stood out, because they’re among the pitfalls many fighters face, and have been a way for the UFC to manipulate their roster for quite some time. The promise of that big money payday, that huge locker room bonus, makes a lot of fighters continue to take less than they might be worth elsewhere to stay in the UFC. The lack of say in any decision regarding their revenue – especially with the Reebok deal killing all ability to make legitimate money in sponsorships – isn’t a good thing, and the moves these particular fighters made are the beginning of a movement which could eventually improve things. More and more fighters have to get on board with forcing the UFC to change things, and it’s not going to come overnight. For any and all UFC fighters who are doing it for the right to say they compete in the UFC, or who stay with the organization out of some sense of loyalty, they’re doing themselves a disservice, and their bank accounts are likely to take the hit because of it.
[Photo (c) Ron Chenoy via USA Today Sports]
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