It’s no secret Zuffa, parent company of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, has been prudent about their finances from very early on in their acquisition of the company in 2001, and it seems to have been an intelligent approach thus far. Now the UFC has a pair of stars on their hands that may be the biggest in the company’s history, but problems are arising not only in the discrepancy of pay between the newbies and the seat fillers, but even amongst their fellow champions.
THE MILLION DOLLAR BABY AND THE HUNDRED MILLION DOLLAR IRISHMAN.
If there’s a person who has stumbled across ESPN even on accident, or seen a magazine cover at their local grocery store in the past two years and has not seen or heard of Ronda Rousey or Conor McGregor, the UFC has been fabricating lies or been doing a poor job in promotion. There are individuals who can’t name you Rousey’s next opponent or how long Jose Aldo has been champion for, and yet both UFC 193 and 194 are projected to be the biggest pay-per-views of 2015.
Very shortly after the comically overmatched Bethe Correia ironically faceplanted over the Straight Outta Compton logo in her home country of Brazil, UFC president Dana White would come on Fox Sports 1 and state that the Rousey vs. Correia headlined UFC 190 was trending higher than UFC 189, which showed every sign of being an immense success.
Ronda Rousey will have innumerable awards, records, TV appearances, and magazine covers when 2015 is said and done. It almost seems as if she’s crossed into this Floyd “Money” Mayweather realm of publicity, the feel of a cultural moment when her fights are on are ever present, but to an even further extent. The push against Rousey has been from some of the hardcore MMA fanbase, but with the amount of eyeballs Rousey is able to draw when she fights, those few thousand disgruntled fans are quite inconsequential.
Ronda’s not only the “it” girl of the UFC, she is bigger than the UFC and Zuffa is well aware of this. There has been a term that has come to prominence in the past few months of “Rowdy’s” rising popularity and that is the “Ronda only” fans. In the women’s MMA circle it is a household term, but it’s becoming clear that it doesn’t only apply to female fights. There are hardcore Ronda Rousey fans who have purchased numerous shirts and every pay-per-view she’s been in who might not even know what Strikeforce was. This is a big percentage of the audience and the UFC is desperately trying to grip at the few who may stick around after Rousey’s prize fighting departure, because they may be invaluable fans in the near future.
Although Rousey may have the cameras and pay-per-view numbers rivaling those of Floyd Mayweather, it is Conor McGregor who stole the accomplished pugilist’s business savvy. “The Notorious” one should be lauded for taking a page from boxing’s most successful athlete of this generation. Say what you want about either Mayweather or McGregor and their personas, but their numbers don’t lie. Sure, trash talking may seem like an easy and cheap tactic to generate fight buzz, but it’s only one part of the equation. Mayweather’s unbeaten record was essential to his success at the box office as his style is not one prone to garner any interest from casual fans, the brilliance of McGregor’s success is in his fighting style. McGregor is one of the most unique and outstanding pressure fighters MMA has seen in quite awhile, his last fight with Chad Mendes also showed he can take a punch and go tit for tat against a power puncher with respected wrestling credentials. It is McGregor’s willingness and ability to get in a brawl that makes his fights must-watch TV. Not only does his style quench a casual fan’s thirst for entertainment, his trash talking makes his fans want to see him succeed and his detractors long for the moment he falls.
McGregor recently raised some eyebrows by stating that he would become the first athlete in the UFC’s history to be offered a nine figure contract. Given the recent trend of the UFC’s questionable efficacy of its business model, that seems incredibly unlikely. Can the UFC afford it? Of course, but would it be worth it? Long-term, the answer would seem like an easy no, but the need for stars is at an all-time high and the loss of them cannot be undersold.
Fighter pay is an issue that seems to have no end in sight at the moment, but McGregor and Rousey are the top two highest paid athletes in the sport right now, so a few bucks lost by either of them isn’t too big of a deal. It is the remainder of the roster that needs to be addressed in the manner, because even UFC champions are finding troubling ways of gaining additional, outside the cage income.
VAI CAVALO’S BLOOD MONEY.
Earlier this year, Patrick Wyman wrote an article for Deadspin about Chris Weidman, Frank Mir and Fabricio Werdum attending an MMA event with Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov. The name Ramzan Kadyrov may not stick out to MMA fans, but to anyone who keeps up with the turmoil and political problems in Russia, Ramzan Kadyrov is a red flag for shady and violent political figures.
Kadyrov is an alleged war criminal, who aside from being accused of being responsible for the assassinations of a few journalists, has also been accused of many murders and tortures of Chechen citizens. Kadyrov is one of the most fascinating figures in all of geopolitics because he literally comes off as a villain in a James Bond film. Kadyrov is quite fond of using social media, particularly Instagram, where he posts many videos and pictures of himself with fighters like Mike Tyson, actresses like Elizabeth Hurley, and animals like his pet lions, tigers and kittens. It is surreal to comprehend the presence of Kadyrov and difficult to explain it to others because it all seems like a poor joke, but this is a man who aside from his peculiar eccentricities and standing as one of the most trusted members of Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, loves hand to hand combat, and recently a well-known and respected UFC champion decided to form a business relation with the man.
Akhmat Fight Club is the name of the gym and promotion that Kadyrov has funded and that UFC heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum has decided to assist in becoming an ambassador for.
It is definitely irresponsible to claim that the UFC is responsible for Werdum latching his name with that of an accused human rights abuser, but it is puzzling to consider why no apparent steps have been taken to neutralize this situation. Is it the UFC’s responsibility to have a say in how their independent contractors can earn additional income? Although the Reebok deal may conclude otherwise, the answer should be no, but it should go without saying that it is not a good look to see the UFC heavyweight champion, the most undisputed title of all, in cahoots with a man with such an unsettling past.
The UFC needs to be cognizant of this and come up with manners to prevent issues such as these in the future. Werdum’s deal is signed and is set for quite awhile, he will make various trips to the Caucasus to train with these Chechen up-and-comers, and one can assume that Werdum is content when he looks at his bank account, but this is not the money of a fight promoter who worked his league up to a degree of recognition and success. This is money coming from the hands of a man who has been labeled by citizens of the land as a “medieval tyrant” and is ruler of one of the most violent and corrupt areas in the 21st century. Would Werdum consider taking this offer if he had the zeroes in his bank account of a LeBron James? Perhaps not, and this is not to say that Werdum either deserves or could be given that amount of money, but if the UFC’s business practices are proving to be problematic, it’s PR issues are no better. Instead of trying to cover up stories like a sketchy drug test of Vitor Belfort or come up with reasons as to why Rousey perhaps did not hang up on a media member during a phone conference, there should be talk of why it may not be wise for their fighters to take the money of people who sit on exorbitant wealth made on the backs of the helpless and the intimidation of the voiceless.