The UFC is all about big names and tough men and women. It seems like it’s a sport of individuality and larger-than-life characters, but when you look behind the scenes, you start to notice that there’s a very corporate structure to everything that a fighter goes through.
From what they wear to who can sponsor them, their pay structures and drug policies—the UFC keeps a tight stranglehold on their athletes. They can do this because Zuffa and the Ultimate Fighting Championship has a monopoly on the sport, with Bellator and Pride FC taking a small percentage of the pie.
The parent company and UFC in general, as well as the managers and owners, make huge amounts of money off the backs of their fighters, while offering their employees (contractors, actually) very little in return.
Here are 17 rules that every UFC “employee” has to follow.
17 Fighters Must Qualify As Independent Contractors
Because UFC (and Bellator, in the way) have a monopoly on mixed martial arts broadcasts, they can set the rules any way they want—and one of the shady things they do is offer their fighters a pittance. UFC fighters are independent contractors, which means they don’t get benefits, health insurance, or any other perks of being an employee. There have been class-action lawsuits to change this, but for now, the fighters are getting screwed.
16 Fighters Must Wear Reebok Gear
Many ex-UFC fighters are moving to Bellator because of the absurd Reebok deal that Dana White made as part of a 6-year, $70 million sponsorship deal. Many fighters are getting paid out via the Reebok deal (which isn’t that much money, in the grand scheme), but along with everyone having to wear Reebok gear exclusively, fighters are forbidden from outside sponsorships, or getting endorsements from other sports companies.
15 Fighter Compensation Is Tiered
As of 2018, the “Reebok pay” became a thing of the past, and it was rolled up into a new pay policy for fighters, along with two other types of pay. Formerly, fighters were paid via a tiered compensation structure, where fighters earned money based on their tenure with Zuffa, the UFC’s parent company. The compensation tiers have been changed, so now the lowest tiered athletes (with 1-3 fights in the UFC) earn $3,500 per bout, athletes with 4-5 fights earn $4,000 per bout, 11-15 fights earn $10,000, Title Challengers earn $30,000, and Champions earn $40,000.
14 Promotional Guideline Compliance Pay
The new pay policy with UFC is called a “promotional guideline compliance” pay, where three things are rolled into one and make up a performer’s pay: fighter conduct, media obligations, and outfitting. This new compensation package isn’t called “Reebok pay” or “outfitting pay,” but rather a “fight week incentive pay.” Formerly, UFC fighters couldn’t wear their own apparel or logos, and to compensate for that loss of income, the UFC paid the entire amount of the Reebok contract ($70 million) back to athletes.
13 Year-Round Drug Testing
In 2015, the UFC partnered with USADA for stricter drug testing standards than they’d ever had before after fighters were starting to get popped left and right on random drug tests. Now, in an effort to clean up the sport, all UFC fighters must agree to be tested in and out of competition year-round. The first offense is a 2-year suspension (or 4 years for “aggravating circumstances), the second offense is double the sanction of the first, and the third offense is double the sanction of the third. Specific drugs hold their own consequences.
12 Championship Title Holders’ Contracts Are Auto-Extended
Here’s another way that Zuffa and the UFC exploit their fighters, by making fighters sign long-term, coercive contracts. One of the stipulations of the contracts severely limits a fighter’s negotiating power by automatically renewing and/or extending their contract should they hold a championship title. Basically, if a fighter wins a title, because their publicity will be raised, they’re forced to stay on and defend that title—they can’t just split to Bellator or Pride or something.
11 The UFC Has The Rights To Retired Fighters In Perpetuity
The UFC tries to squeeze every drop of publicity and earning power that a fighter offers, even if that fighter is no longer on the roster. This is another contract stipulation that rubs many the wrong way. One clause of the contract allows the UFC to retain the rights to a retired fighter’s name in perpetuity—so they can promote that name, show former bouts and monetize them, and do whatever they want with that fighter’s likeness.
10 Fighters Must “Cooperate And Assist” In Promoting Bouts
This requirement makes sense, but it’s still extra effort on the fighter’s part for not a lot of gain. Fighters in the UFC are required to “cooperate and assist” in promoting their bouts and the UFC brand without additional compensation. This clause was famously invoked when Conor McGregor was removed from his rematch bout with Nate Diaz at UFC 200 after he failed to show up at a press conference.
9 UFC Has The “Unrestricted Right” To Exploit Fighters’ Names
Not only do fighters have to put everything into their brand (and the UFC brand, really), but even when they aren’t fighting, the UFC gains the “unrestricted right” to exploit that fighter’s name, image, and likeness in perpetuity. For example, a fighter who no longer fights for the UFC can still be used as a character in a UFC video game—without compensation for that person—and other content that UFC monetizes.
8 Fighters’ Contracts Can Be Terminated For Losing A Fight
This is one of the biggest slap-in-the-face clauses against a UFC fighter. Not only do they have to be drug tested year-around, promote their own fights and advertise the UFC brand, not wear their own gear or apparel, and the UFC can still terminate their contract for a myriad of infractions… But, extraordinarily, the UFC retains the right to terminate a fighter’s contract if they simply lose a fight!
7 No Unionization
One of the most important fights for UFC fighters is outside the octagon, where they’re fighting to unionize and thus give them more labor rights and employee benefits, instead of being classified as contractors. As Kobe Bryant said about basketball, a rising tide lifts all boats, and fighters are desperately seeking greater protections for the men and women grappling in the cage. The UFC is obviously fighting this tooth and nail because it jeopardizes their monopoly and stranglehold on the sport.
6 All Athletes Are Outfitted By The Equipment Team Every Fight Night
Justin Liming works for the UFC and has been for over five years, as the Senior Equipment Manager. He told Carolyn Muse Grant of Chic Compass that his role is to outfit every athlete before fight night, by shipping Fight Kits and ensuring all the gear arrives safely. He says, “Typically, there are 13 fights in one night, which means we are responsible for outfitting 26 athletes.” This happens everywhere there are UFC fights, and the gear is obviously Reebok-based.
5 There Is No Off-Season
Justin also pointed out that, “Unlike any other sporting event, we don’t have an off-season—we work year-round. Our work here in Vegas is usually two or three shows in advance. We concentrate on shipping, travel, and everything else we need for the fights.” Fighters train year-round as well, to prepare for important fights because a win can often mean the difference between a meager payday and a big one.
4 No Competing Logos
Justin also told Carolyn that, “Prior to the actual events, the athletes have to wear their “uniforms,” all sponsored by Reebok, meaning there can be no competing logos. For anything that is press-related, the athletes must wear their uniform. And if there is a time-lapse between fights for an athlete, we have to make sure that the fighter’s height, weight, and size remained the same or we make proper adjustments.” A lot goes into making every fighter look the part.
3 Fighters Must Wear Walkout Hoodies
You might have noticed that all UFC fights have “walkout hoodies” that they enter the octagon with. The sport of MMA differs from boxing in this. In boxing, the athletes walk through the seating area to the ring wearing robes. In UFC, they must wear the designated Reebok hoodie and jersey before a match, when they walk out to the octagon. Also, their gloves are already on, though those aren’t provided by Reebok.
2 Fighters Do Not Keep Their “Fight Kits”
A lot of time and energy goes into creating each fighter’s “Fight Kit,” but after a bout is done, the fighters don’t get to keep that gear. The Equipment Team informs the fighters what they will wear on Fight Night (gloves, shorts, and shoes). It’s a very corporate, capitalist structure to a seemingly individual-based sport. Some of the gloves, jerseys, and hoodies are donated to charities or sold after a fight, but the fighters don’t keep them.
1 There’s An Extensive Anti-Doping Policy (And Handbook)
Every fighter has to maintain strict guidelines in order to stay healthy and drug-free in the UFC. Because of the year-round testing, they need to know the rules like the back of their hands. The UFC Anti-Doping Policy Handbook goes into intense detail and is over 34 pages long, as of 2015. You can find the handbook online, if you’re interested in checking out the strict guidelines toward doping, at UFC.USADA.org.
References: ufc.usada.org, chiccompass.com, theringer.com, bloodelbow.com, mmafighting.com