Bellator MMA made headlines last week signing previously top 5 ranked UFC Middleweight Gegard Mousasi. As of late, Mousasi is as hot as he has ever been riding a 5 fight win streak against high level competition. Although the Bellator Middleweight Division is arguably it’s worst in terms of talent, signing Mousasi is very much a step in the right direction. The signing continues to make headlines due to the trend of UFC fighters defecting the top worldwide organization for apparent greener pastures in Bellator.
The most common headline is addressing the manner in which the UFC treats their fighters. Every fighter who has left tells a story of how badly the UFC has treated them and how much better of an offer they received from President Scott Coker, primarily in terms of reimbursement. This could very well be the case, but one must consider that anyone who leaves for a new company is going to speak better of their new employer to fortify the decision they made. The question at hand is whether they are speaking the truth or not. Furthermore, if it is the truth, does it apply to everyone or just their current situation within the organization?
As anyone who follows me knows, I am a wise-ass who enjoys relaying my thoughts to the ever entertaining MMA world in anywhere from 140 characters, to long rambling blog posts. It should also be apparent through my lack grammatical skills, twitter followers (cut me some slack, the account is only a month or so old), that this is not my full time gig. My income is generated from a staffing business I own, Ivy Staffing Group, LLC (need a job? hit me up on LinkedIn). In my career thus far I have learned a few things that always hold true:
- Great employees are never content with their current earnings
- When employees leave, the often elaborate on only negative experiences
- Numbers never lie
Using these lessons I have learned to trust regardless of what I hear, I will analyze how fighters are treated in the UFC vs. Bellator from a numbers standpoint. Sample sizes are small and public information is often limited, but unless our following sets me up a GoFundMe page this is the best you are getting.
In comparing the two organizations as well as their parent organizations, a few things standout. The first being that it is tough to compare them. The most recent UFC figures are from 2015 and were revealed when WME-IMG purchased the company for a staggering $4 Billion dollars. If Bellator’s company information is out there, it is hidden well. Something to take into consideration here is the fact the UFC purchase will be largely profitable over the long term for WME-IMG, but as of now the UFC organization is in huge debt. The Bellator parent company, Viacom, is ranked as the 538th largest Public Company in the World by Forbes Magazine. Obviously, a very small portion of their total investment is in Bellator MMA, but the money is there if need be.
For the next comparison, two January 2017 events which were broadcast on television free of charge were used to create the best possible comparison of an average event.
The 12 televised match ups from each card were used in this analysis. The gate revenue for each organization was very similar, but it’s easily seen that the fighter pay including bonuses (Reebok Bonus subtracted) is not similar whatsoever. In looking at the total Bellator payout of just over $702K, they are close to the UFC at $1.24M but very top heavy with Tito Ortiz making $300K. A good statistic to use when looking at the two samples is the median pay. The UFC median was $27,000, significantly higher than the Bellator median of $8,900.
Next we examine the prize possessions of each organization, the Champions. To investigate how the Champions are paid the most logical data is their guaranteed money in their most recent title defense (This removes obvious outlier Conor McGregor who has never defended). If the current title has not been defended by the Champion, the data is obtained from the previous holder. Note: very little applicable information was available for Bellator due to titles changing hands and events in non-disclosure states.
As previously noted, the lack of available data proves the comparison of Champions to hold far less value than if all the up to date information was there. Regardless of this unfortunate hiccup, it is easily apparent that UFC Champions get paid very well and substantially more than Bellator Champions. If we want to talk about fighters being treated poorly, it is absolutely absurd Michael Chandler only made a base of $50K in his Bellator 165 defense vs. Benson Henderson.
Champions are the best of the best and often times big money makers, but there are also personalities that sell for a variety of reasons. These personalities are those that can sell a card to certain audiences by themselves, or as I call them “Headliners”. These Headliners are often the top compensated individuals in the company regardless of fight outcome.
As Gegard Mousasi pointed out, his contract with Bellator is much more beneficial for him in terms of guaranteed “show” money. The UFC, despite his talent, did not view him as a headliner. In looking at the Bellator roster, he is much more likely to be viewed as one. Based on the level of talent, popularity, and career of these fighters I feel the reimbursement makes sense. Bellator pays their top personalities well, the discrepancy between the two organizations is a Headliner in Bellator isn’t necessarily a Headliner in the much deeper talent pool the UFC possesses.
The last example of comparison is to sum up all of the numbers we have examined regarding the two organizations. This helps to develop a better overall picture of how different levels of athletes are treated.
Bellator MMA is making a hard charge to steal a market share from the UFC, and if they can lure more Gegard Mousasi’s and less Wanderlei Silva’s I believe they can slowly build to that. The fact of the matter is right now the UFC is a better career move for the majority of fighters. The average fighter, median fighter, Champions, and Headliners all make significantly more. Could a larger sample size changed these numbers? Yes, but it is unlikely it would be very much different. The one luxury to the fighters that Bellator possesses is freedom to obtain sponsors rather than living under the Reebok dictatorship, but it still is unlikely to close the gap much.
For now and the near future top prospects, Champions, and personalities are far better fit in the UFC by a long shot. The one demographic that favors Bellator is fighters like Mousasi. Well known fighters that are in the latter half of their career without being a threat to the Championship or outshining the current UFC Headliners greatly benefit from migration to Bellator. Scott Coker is investing in the top talent that fits this criteria. Fighters like Mousasi, Bader, Davis, Nelson, etc. have taken a long look in the mirror and realized they can become the Champions and Headliners in Bellator that they can’t in the UFC. At the point they have reached in their career it makes more financial sense to earn slightly more with the lesser organization than to continue to strive for a big UFC payday. Trust me, this trend will continue with talent that matches the criteria, but it isn’t because the UFC treats everyone so poorly.