Dana White claims Zuffa sold the UFC no to to the highest bidder, but to the best one
In a friendly interview with one of his own employees recently, UFC President Dana White claimed that the Zuffa regime sold the UFC not to the highest bidder, but to the best one, according to MMAJunkie.
Why, you ask? According to White, it’s because he and the Fertittas actually care about this company and this sport. They wanted to see it thrive after the sale, even if it meant a little less money in their pockets.
And sure, I guess I can believe that. You know, to a point. I’m not ready to throw a parade in their honor if it turns out they were willing to settle for $4 billion from a promising suitor instead of $5 billion from a questionable one, but still, it’s something.
Where I get skeptical is when White tries to make a point about just how little money means to him. The point comes in the form of a story about a recent conversation he had with a friend of his who’s a famous professional skateboarder, just so the whole thing seems even more relatable.
“Rob Dyrdek called me after the sale, and he said, ‘I’ve got to ask you a question – how do you get up every day and run the race when you’ve already won the race? I want to know how you strap your (expletive) shoes on and go to work every day,’” White recalled. “I said, ‘Because I was never in it for the money.’ I don’t even think about the money. I’m not like, woo-hoo. It’s a weird thing. It’s not what I’m in it for.”
The first thing about this is that, in a weird way, I actually believe him. Which is to say, I believe that he believes it.
If White just wanted money, and if he didn’t enjoy the work itself, he’d be gone by now. Look at former UFC matchmaker Joe Silva. He got his payout from the sale and then retired early to read books at home. If his job were solely a way to make money, White would have done the same (though maybe without the books).
But then, it’s easy to be flippant about money when you’ve got a bunch of it, as White does. Even before the sale, he was the guy who imported snow into his Las Vegas driveway. His video blogs showed him buying cars on a late-night whim – then forgetting about them by morning.
When you’ve got that much money, making more of it becomes not so much a matter of survival, as it is for most of us, but instead a way of keeping score. The money itself isn’t really the point anymore.
The problem with making this case now is that there are a whole lot of people in White’s employ for whom the money is still very much the point.
You know them. You see them almost every weekend. They’re the people getting their faces busted up on live TV and then leaning into the microphone afterward to make their plea for one of those $50,000 bonuses. They’re the people publicly questioning whether or not they can afford another training camp, or whether it’s worth all the pain and suffering for the relatively small paycheck they pocket in the end.
They’re the ones who make the sport itself – and the fortune White has derived from it – possible.
UFC fighters are, on the whole, some of the most poorly paid people in all of professional sports. That’s not an opinion; that’s a fact.
You play football in the NFL, your minimum salary is $465,000 (and it goes up every year). On the other end of the spectrum, in Major League Soccer, it’s $53,000, before any assorted performance bonuses.
Your first fight in the UFC? You’re probably looking at about $10,000 to show, another $10,000 if you win, plus $2,500 in “outfitting” pay under the Reebok deal. Of course, then you have to subtract management fees and training expenses, because, oh yeah, unlike most pro athletes, fighters are wholly responsible for paying their own coaches and trainers.
A mid-tier fighter in the UFC might crack six figures if he’s lucky enough to fight and win three times in a year (and neither is anything close to guaranteed). But after all the associated expenses and fees, not to mention the tricky tax situation that comes from working as an independent contractor in several different states and/or countries, his take-home pay could easily be dwarfed by the front desk staff at the hotels where he stays – and those people don’t usually risk concussions at work.
I point this out not to make you pity the poor professional fighters. They chose this life, signed the contracts, and willingly jumped right in. But that doesn’t change the fact that pay is a problem in this sport, and in a way it isn’t in others. Promising fighters leave this sport over pay. Potentially good ones don’t even get in.
So when you have a multimillionaire at the top telling us that he’s not in it for the money, it jars the senses. White made a reported $360 million from the sale of the UFC, plus a contract that gives him nine percent of the UFC’s net profits going forward.
If money means so little to him, why doesn’t he give some of that back to the fighters?
It wouldn’t have to be much. He could take $10 million – a sum he’d barely even miss – and spread it out equally among roughly 400 fighters. Suddenly everyone gets a $25,000 bonus, just for being them.
For $30 million a year, he could give every fighter a base salary of $75,000. If that didn’t completely silence the fighters’ consistent complaints about pay, it would at least undercut a lot of the sympathy for them among fans and media.
Plus he’d be a hero. They’d build statues to that man in fight gyms from Albuquerque to Rio de Janeiro. And it’s not like he’d impoverish himself in the process, since his nine percent stake will bring him roughly $14 million a year, assuming the UFC continues to do as well as it has in recent years.
A guy who doesn’t “even think about the money” could do a lot worse things with it than give more of it to the people who bleed for it.
Of course, he’s not going to do that. What, are you crazy? It’s money, man. People don’t just give huge chunks of it away. That stuff is valuable. Which is why, when someone claims not to care about it, it’s worth looking at what he does with what he already has – as well as what it costs others for him to get even more.