It didn’t take more than one minute before the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) commentary booth switched from marveling over Francis Ngannou’s dominating knockout win over Stipe Miocic at UFC 260 last night (Sat., March 27, 2021) to talking about who would face him next. Daniel Cormier — possibly rubbing his hands together like that guy in the meme — insisted the only fight to make was Ngannou vs. Jones. And we’d say he’s right ... if you live in a world where UFC still puts together the biggest fights that the fans want.
Unfortunately, UFC is a business first and foremost, and part of the business model that makes it so successful is that it has depressed fighter pay down to 19.5 percent of gross revenue. This is an undeniable fact, one revealed during UFC’s antitrust monopsony lawsuit that has been winding its way through the courts since 2014.
When Dana White and Jon Jones last tussled over money (a fight that resulted in the G.O.A.T. contender and best Light Heavyweight champion in the world vacating his belt), White claimed Jones was asking for “Deontay Wilder money,” which would be somewhere in the ballpark of $30 million for a big fight like Wilder vs. Fury 2 that sold 800,000 pay-per-view (PPV) units. Jones denied he was asking for that amount, but given the number of PPVs he’s sold (his two fights with Daniel Cormier sold similar numbers to Wilder / Fury 2), would it be so crazy for him to make Deontay Wilder money off a Francis Ngannou fight?
Detailed breakdowns of fighter pay based on numbers from UFC’s antitrust lawsuit have Jones generating an additional $50.8 million in revenue for UFC in his fights with Daniel Cormier. His pay with all bonuses taken into account? No more than $6 million per fight ... and probably less.
Jones has been headlining UFC events for 10 years (15 fights thus far). He’s made UFC tons of money, something that is often overlooked because he’s been a problem child along the way as well. But let’s be clear: UFC wouldn’t have gone to all the trouble it has over the years — covering for his bad behavior, fighting USADA suspensions, moving events from Las Vegas to California — if it wasn’t making tons of money off the “Bones” business.
Dana White is willing to play six-figure blackjack hands and bet $2 million on Ben Askren beating Jake Paul, but he will not pay Jon Jones $10 million to fight Francis Ngannou. The only fighter making that kind of money in UFC is Conor McGregor, and we could argue that the main reason White remains boss of UFC is to keep the doors to the eight-figure fight realm firmly shut behind McGregor. Nevermind the fact that there are more and more individual fighters and fights that are generating massive PPV buys for UFC (and ESPN+ subscription sales for Disney). The pay structure will remain the same. Top fighters not named Conor McGregor are stuck around the $5 million mark ... if they’re lucky.
#UFC president @DanaWhite responds to @JonnyBones' recent tweets following @Francis_Ngannou's KO win at #UFC260:— MMAFighting.com (@MMAFighting) March 28, 2021
"If Jon Jones really wants the fight, Jon Jones knows he can get the fight."
Watch full video: https://t.co/zRXsTxQwDa pic.twitter.com/cTLrywB0kF
In a world where UFC was a benevolent force, you’d think a big payment for a big fight like Francis Ngannou vs. Jon Jones would make sense. It’s a guaranteed record breaker, possibly the biggest fight of the year even with Conor McGregor champing at the bit for multiple 2021 fights. But, we’re talking about a company that still refuses to pay Nate Diaz enough to fight again. That’s Nate Diaz, who was in three of the biggest UFC events of all time. Nate Diaz, whom UFC criminally underpaid for years as he headlined important major network broadcasts. There’s simply no consideration for dues paid, no respect for sweat and blood spilled building up to massive events.
If Ngannou vs. Jones doesn’t happen, it’s because greed has once again gotten in the way of great fights being made. Even Ngannou vs. Derrick Lewis would be a pale shadow of the fight we’re supposed to see, the Zhang vs. Esparza that Dana White threatened we’d get if Rose Namajunas, “didn’t really want to fight for the title.” Anyone paying attention should see through these lines, yet there’s never any push back during press conferences when White says these things. No, “Does Jon Jones not deserve to get paid more for moving up in weight to fight Francis Ngannou?”
All this takes place as UFC owner Endeavor is set to buy out its minority stakeholders for billions of dollars. UFC’s value continues to rise, from the $4 billion it sold for in 2016 to over $12 billion now. Out of Endeavor’s extremely diversified sets of assets, it’s UFC that has accounted for more than 60 percent of the parent company’s profits. As Endeavor once again attempts to issue a public IPO that will generate massive amounts of money, it cannot signal that there may possibly be a change in UFC’s business model. And that involves killing a Jon Jones vs. Francis Ngannou fight in its crib, oh well. Because other fighters even sniffing at the potential of making more than $10 million on a single fight is too much money out of the higher ups’ pockets.
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