HARRIS’S TAKE: Dana White’s Big Mistake

BY JOHN HARRIS, MMATorch Contributor

Dana White (photo John David Mercer © USA Today Sports)

We are two days away from what will most likely be the most watched PPV in the history of combat sports as UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor takes on 49-0 boxing legend Floyd Mayweather. McGregor will go into this fight a huge underdog as he attempts to be the first man to defeat Mayweather.

Many have called this a freak show fight, but most every fan of boxing and MMA will certainly be watching.  Many believed this fight would never take place as McGregor is under contract with the UFC. However, after many months UFC president Dana White and the Mayweather team finally agreed to terms for this “superfight.” While it will be a huge pay day for all parties involved, I believe this is one of the biggest mistakes Dana White has made as president of the UFC.

I’m sure you are wondering why I would say this a huge mistake for the UFC. Sure, the UFC’s parent company, Talent agency WME-IMG, is getting a reported 10 percent of the revenue according to a report from ESPN.com reporter Darren Rovell. But my concern is the long term effects of allowing one your top stars in McGregor to bend the rules and compete in a fight outside of the UFC Octagon.

Many have speculated that McGregor may never return to the UFC after this upcoming bout with Mayweather. It’s unknown yet exactly how much McGregor will make when it is all said and done, but the number that has been floating around is in the $100 million range. That is a significant amount more than he has ever made inside the UFC. His last fight at UFC 205 vs. Eddie Alvarez had a disclosed purse of $3 million with PPV incentives.

The UFC and Dana White are at risk of losing their biggest cash cow if McGregor never returns to the UFC, all for just 10 percent of the revenue from this super fight. My larger concern is how this will effect contract negotiations with current and future UFC fighers if McGregor does decide to fight in the octagon again.

The problem would really increase if McGregor does return to the UFC after his boxing match with Mayweather. How much will his asking price increase is the big question that nobody seems to know the answer to. The UFC would never be able to touch the $100 million mark for one fight, but McGregor will probably demand $10 to $20 million. It could be more. McGregor has already proven to be difficult to negotiate with in the past and it will only get worse in the future. With that being said, this is going to open up the flood gates for fighters to demand more money.

The UFC has often tried to argue that everyone that competes in the UFC is already well compensated. If the UFC is not willing to pay their top fighters more, then they would run the risk of losing more talent than they already have. The UFC has already lost several fighters to Bellator for various reasons, most of which are due to per fight payouts and the Reebok deal which took away many of the figher’s sponsorships. More fighters could follow the likes of Roy McDonald, Gegard Mousasi, and Matt Mitrone to Bellator or even begin promoting their own fights.

Over the past few years the UFC has seemed to want to make it to where the UFC brand is the draw, not the fighters. In professional wrestling, the WWE has taken a similar approach the past 10 to 15 years. While their profit have increased year after year, their weekly TV ratings have dipped to losing over a million weekly viewers since 2013.  The UFC seems to be following a similar model, but is that best for the long term? In my opinion, people pay to see their favorite fighters compete against top level competition, not the brand.

Current superstars such as UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones will most likely want more money per fight if McGregor returns to the UFC and gets a significant pay increase. Jones earned a payout of $500,000 which does not include the Reebok pay out and other payouts such as PPV percentages. I don’t think Jones will be happy earning a signifcant amount less than McGregor if he does return to the UFC. The door is now open for Jones to begin demanding super fights for large pay days.

After his recent victory over Daniel Cormier at UFC 214, Jones called out former UFC Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar for what should a huge PPV success. Jones could also want to follow in McGregor’s footsteps and compete in a boxing match with a  champion such as Deontay Wilder. Does the UFC allow it? If not, how will Jones react?

What about other champions such as Stipe Miocic, Michael Bisping, and Cody Garbrandt? I assume they are not going to be happy if McGregor returns to the UFC and is making 10 times the amount of money they are. While the easy argument is that McGregor has earned a higher pay based off of his higher PPV buy rates, but how much more should he make than other champions? It’s a dangerous situation the UFC has now found themselves in.

The UFC would also be at risk of losing legends in the next few years such as Georges St. Pierre, Anderson Silva, Daniel Cormier, and others if they believe they are worth more than what they are being paid. In December of 2016 several fighters including St. Pierre formed the Mixed Martial Arts Athletes Association, the most prominent and well-backed collective organization for professional MMA fighters. This could present a major problem for the UFC if big names such as St. Pierre become more vocal if they believe they are being underpaid.

If the top of the card begins to demand more money, this would naturally lead to everyone else, including the fighters on the preliminary card, wanting to see their payouts increased. The UFC seemingly can afford this; the company was just sold for $4 billion. The question is, do they want to pay out more?

Jason Knight, who has now competed in six UFC fights, earned a total of $36,000 ($31,000 to show, $5,000 Reebok sponsorship) at UFC 214. I have often argued that their should be a minimum salary in the UFC just like other professional sports organizations such as the NBA, NFL, etc. While Knight is not quite near considered a top contender in the Featherweight Division, $36,000 seems rather low for a professional athlete who is only able to work three or four nights for a billion dollar company.

The WME-IMG group cannot be satisfied with the low PPV numbers the company has produced in 2017, so it’s doubtful that they will want to increase the purse for each event by any significant percentage. They may not have a choice in the matter, McGregor has changed the game for all mixed martial arts fighters with this upcoming fight against Floyd Mayweather. Dana White and the UFC are playing with fire by allowing this fight on Saturday to happen and it could come back to burn them in the not so distant future.

NOW CHECK OUT THE PREVIOUS HARRIS’S TAKE: HARRIS’S TAKE: The past, present, and future of the UFC Heavyweight Division

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