What’s Up with So Many MMA Fans Not Supporting Better Fighter Pay?

If you are a fan of the sport, and a fan of the fighters that put their bodies and health on the line to compete in it, why wouldn’t you support more equitable pay?

Why on earth are so many (extremely vocal) MMA fans seemingly against better fighter pay? It seems completely nonsensical: if you enjoy something, why wouldn’t you want the people who do it (and do it so well) to be paid accordingly? The topic also comes up often: just recently, top-tier, main event and co-main event fighters like Jared Cannonier and Meisha Tate have mentioned it, to much fan chagrin. What the hell is going on?

On Best Camp with Fernanda Prates this week, Fernanda and guest — MMA reporter and podcaster Petesy Carroll — go in on fan entitlement and the ways the UFC (and its president, Dana White) have created the environment.

“Well, it’s just a really bad optics problem for the UFC as far as I’m concerned, because they keep on talking about how they’re breaking into the top four, you know the NBA, the NFL, and the MLB and all this stuff…” said Carroll. But the pay for fighters doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what elite athletes make in those leagues. Fighters have mentioned how broke they are, even when fighting in the top tiers of the sport. 

“I mean, that just doesn’t look good,” he said. “That is the opposite of what people think of when they think of a major sport.”

“The thing that annoys me the most… It’s the fans’ replies that really piss me off,” he said, speaking of the glut of fan replies that balk at the idea of fighters advocating for better pay.

“These are real people and they genuinely feel like a Main Event fighter should be happy enough to get, you know, $300,000 over the course of two years of fighting in Main Event slots. I just think it’s ridiculous and until they change, I don’t think the UFC will feel a need to change… I just feel like [it’s] kind of enabling the UFC when they constantly seem to support the brand over the fighters themselves.”

Needless to say, some kind of organizing effort may help, but, naturally, the UFC has never been keen on unionization for fighters, despite the fact that nearly 80% of fighters would like a union, according to The Athletic’s 2020 fighter survey. And many fighters fear retaliation if they speak out in favor of unionization, as noted in the same article.

It’s a very, very frustrating aspect of the sport in 2021: that it’s obvious to so many of us what’s needed, and yet, for a very vocal group, progress feels so far away.