Capitalism: UFC Edition

As somebody who occasionally tunes in to UFC fights, or more appropriately, watches them after they’ve happened in the morning, I have always paid close attention to the disgruntled views of the fighters. “Sure they earn loads!” I thought to myself and brushed it under the rug.

No doubt many who follow the UFC probably think the same. The fighters are loaded, so no worries. From time to time though we see an insight into an alternative world regarding the pay scales and wages of fighters.

As recently as June, megastar Jon ‘Bones’ Jones highlighted how the wages he was getting didn’t match the work he put in, the concussions he received and health risks he took. Contrast this to Dana White’s luxury lifestyle choices.

Jon Jones isn’t the only one to have made comments like this. In fact, scores of fighters across the years have repeatedly pointed out that them getting mashed in the cage for the money they’re getting isn’t worth it, but because it is their trade and only income, they have to sell their fighting skills, their labour, for a wage from the UFC.

Attempts to Unionise

An article dated 2016 from the Guardian, highlighted that there were attempts to begin a ‘workers association / union’ that would “fight for the rights of MMA fighters and force UFC’s ownership to dramatically alter the company’s decade plus outrageous treatment of its athletes”.

The advocates for this association were equally very high profile and included superstar George St. Pierre, Cain Velasquez, TJ Dillashaw, Tim Kennedy and Donald Cerrone. They watched the huge profitability of the UFC and compared this to the wages they were being paid to smash each other up for other peoples amusement, and they took a stand.

The former President of Bellator commented that the goal is to drive up what the fighters are earning from over-all revenue from 8%, to about 50%. These stark numbers might give you a but a glimpse of the wealth distribution inside the UFC.

The last and most recent article I could obtain on fresh organising efforts was dated 2018, that unveiled “Project Spearhead”, which would once more take up the fight for pay, conditions and a greater input from the fighters into the process of the UFC.

The primary obstacle to unionising efforts that was raised in 2018, was an issue we will have heard of, but not through the UFC. We would have heard of this issue through Uber or Deliveroo. Are UFC fighters independent contractors, or are they employees?

Despite the evidence for Deliveroo riders being employees of Deliveroo, the High Court in England ruled otherwise and outlined that they do not fact have an employee-employer relationship.

In reality, such a dispute is no different to any dispute between a group of workers and their employer. Without the fighters, there would be no UFC. They create the headlines, the drama, the anticipation. They are the reason people pay per view, buy tickets and travel to see the fights. They, therefore, are the ultimate creators of all of the wealth that goes through the accounts of the UFC and its President, and as a result, they deserve a significantly greater proportion of wealth than what they get.

The struggle for better wages, conditions and democratic ownership of industry happens everywhere, high or low, because the relationship between an employer and employee is the same everywhere, regardless of the size of your wages.