Last night some troubling news broke in the MMA media.
Jacob “Stitch” Duran, the UFC’s most famed cut-man, has apparently been fired by the organization due to dissenting comments he made about the recently signed Reebok sponsorship deal.
Duran had expressed to the media that he was considering leaving MMA based work altogether, due to the fact that the new deal had negatively effected his income. The much loved “Stitch” detailed how he and other cut personnel had lost their right to wear sponsorship logo’s to the cage, but that they were not receiving any allowance as compensation.
Executives at Zuffa (the UFC’s parent company), and possibly those in Reebok, obviously didn’t take kindly to Duran’s public criticism, as the veteran announced on twitter last night that his contract had been terminated.
In the immediate aftermath a number of name fighters, like middleweight champ Chris Weidman, have expressed their disappointment regarding the news, as well as their respect for a man who had become a fixture in a number of corners.
This ugly occurrence, comes in the wake of plenty of previous criticism of the Reebok deal in the media.
While a number of fighters initially expressed worries over how it might effect them financially, that furor was quickly quietened. Having seen the way Duran was dealt with, one can imagine the silencing methods UFC president, Dana White, employed.
In May of this year, however, MMA website bloodyelbow.com conducted an anonymous survey of UFC fighters of varying experience levels. The findings were not positive.
Every UFC contracted fighter quizzed was losing money due to the deal. A fighter labeled “UFC Top Contender”, claimed that he could potentially make up to $100,000 dollars per fight in sponsorship prior to the deal, but was now looking at an income of $15,000-$20,000.
He concluded, “Zuffa are evil”.
The UFC have made the corporate move by signing this contract. In the process it has bitten the fighters. A large segment of the company’s roster was making the majority of their cash from individually negotiated sponsorship deals. Making the most of your television exposure was a necessity, as base wages within the company are not particularly handsome.
Yesterday, PunditArena referred to the salary of Todd Duffee for UFC Fight Night 71 as an example of how paltry pay outs can be under the Zuffa umbrella. Duffee, who was a main event attraction on said card, pocketed a mere $12,000 dollars for his losing effort against Frank Mir.
Things have gotten so bad, in fact, that one innovative group is putting together an online service to allow fans to tip fighters based on their performances.
The UFC seems to be flexing it’s monopoly muscles, doing what is best for the business, at the expense of staff’s interests. In an environment where they are the dominant entity they obviously feel they can get away with such tyrannical behaviour.
They may, however, be playing a dangerous game.
Recently, ex-UFC combatant Josh Koscheck made a move to Bellator MMA. Free from the verbal shackles of the UFC, the former welterweight title contender expressed his relief that he would not be tied to a “shit Reebok deal”.
Koscheck’s example may be a sign of things to come.
Bellator MMA are undoubtedly the UFC’s biggest competition stateside. They are also expanding into more markets globally, having recently found a home in the UK and Ireland on Spike TV.
In May, shortly following the announcement of the Reebok deal, Bellator’s President, Scott Coker, told mmafighting.com “I’ll tell you this, the phone’s been ringing”. Coker indicated that a number of UFC fighters had contacted him and expressed interest in making a move to Bellator when their current contracts expired.
Base pay in Bellator is not necessarily better than in the bigger league, but the company still allows fighters to secure their own sponsorship deals. Additionally it does not impose a tax on that sponsorship income.
The UFC’s association with Reebok has already alienated a number of it’s fighters, and likely discouraged several promising free agents from signing with them. The company’s treatment of “Stitch” Duran, a well liked member of the fight fraternity, and it’s censorship of contracted athletes, will only act as a further disincentive to those with a contractual decision in front of them.
With an emerging competitor to the UFC’s hegemony in the MMA world, Dana White should keep in mind that the talent is the company’s most valuable commodity.
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